South Africa’s blind eye on Zimbabwe

HAVING largely destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy over the past decade, rendered its currency pointless and sent a huge proportion of its population scurrying out of the country in search of the most meagre subsistence, President Robert Mugabe’s game of economic thuggery has one last card, and yesterday it was played.

The platinum sector, which consists of just a handful of mines, was told it has one month to sell 50% of its shares to indigenous Zimbabweans — read members of Zanu (PF). 

The law might have been a long time coming but few thought a government which experienced first- hand the effect of the brute theft of economic assets in other areas of the economy would go through with it. But another election looms, and the last barricade has to be manned. To do so, Mugabe has to pay off his military backers and offer a fillip to his narrowing support base.

No doubt the mines currently operating may soldier on, and this will be cited by the African National Congress Youth League as evidence that nationalisation is not the end of the mining sector. Yet there will be no mention of the opportunities lost because no one will dare start a new mine in a country where their investment will be snatched precisely when it becomes valuable.

The critical part of the announcement in the Zimbabwean Government Gazette yesterday states that "the value of the shares or other interests required to be disposed of to a designated entity shall be calculated on a basis of valuation agreed to between the minister and the non-indigenous mining business concerned, which shall take into account the state’s sovereign ownership of the mineral or minerals exploited or proposed to be exploited by the non-indigenous business concerned".

In other words, the government will set the price and we can assume that it will bear little resemblance to the actual value. South African shareholders in the two major mines in Zimbabwe will need to brace themselves because they are about to get screwed, a fact indicated by the dramatic fall in the share prices of Impala and Aquarius yesterday.

You can’t but wonder where the South African government stands in all of this. Here are South African assets effectively being stolen. In most countries that would result in angry declarations and strained relations. Yet SA has for so long turned a blind eye to the theft of its citizens’ property by the Zimbabwean government that it now happens without so much as a shrug.

The Zimbabwean government might try to claim that its actions are justified since SA has it own indigenisation programme, black economic empowerment (BEE). Yet, the comparison is specious. BEE originates from different circumstances and, most crucially, it is an agreed programme between the government and industry. The Zimbabwean programme is not.

Hence, the Zimbabwean tragedy continues, more potential and jobs will be lost and a new wave of Zimbabwean economic refugees will flood SA. What do you do when a government refuses to notice the obvious? And that question could be asked as much of the government in SA as that in Zimbabwe.