Tsvangirai denounces Zimbabwe nationalisation plans

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's main rival on Monday denounced his plans to nationalise foreign-owned firms as "looting and plunder" by a greedy elite.\r\n

In a statement for Zimbabwe’s 31st independence anniversary, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai dismissed as "empty rhetoric" a drive by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party to force foreign companies to transfer majority shareholding to local blacks.

Mugabe’s seizures of white-owned commercial farms about a decade ago under the banner of correcting colonial injustices had ruined the economy and benefited "avaricious politicians" over the last decade, Tsvangirai said.

"Now thirty years after independence, we are being told by multi-millionaires and multiple farm owners that indigenisation will set us free," he said.

"By this, they are not referring to broad-based empowerment of the ordinary man and woman, but the looting and plunder of national resources by a small, parasitic elite," he added.

Mugabe, 87 and in power since Zimbabwe’s since independence from Britain in 1980, signed an Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act in 2008, which forces foreign-owned companies worth over $500,000 to achieve at least 51 percent black ownership within five years.

Mugabe defended the policy later in the day at an independence rally also attended by Tsvangirai.

The president said a government notice giving foreign mining companies until May 9 to submit their plans on the share transfer was part of a broad economic empowerment programme.)

Mugabe also denounced political violence and avoided his usual attacks on Tsvangirai in a reconciliatory speech.

Zimbabwe, Mugabe said, had stabilised politically after a power-sharing government brokered by regional leaders in 2009 and could complete constitutional reforms ahead of elections.

Mugabe has been pushing for an early poll this year before agreed democratic reforms, accusing his opponents of wasting time on petty quarrels over state appointments.

Analysts say an election without reforms, including a new constitution, a free media and improved voter registration, will favour Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. MDC officials warned an early election could lead to a bloodbath.

Although Mugabe called for national unity and peaceful political co-existence, he made no direct reference to a spate of clashes between his supporters and backers of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change or the arrest of opposition officials.

Moses Mzila-Ndlovu, a minister from a small MDC faction led by Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube, was detained at the weekend on charges of addressing an illegal meeting and using hate speech.