‘Don’t you dare!’

“I want to warn them that they are playing with fire,” Mugabe said in an address to multitudes gathered in Harare on Tuesday to mark the country’s independence from Britain in 1980. “Anyone who dares lead a group of persons to embark on a campaign of violence . . . will be inviting the full wrath of the law to descend mercilessly on him or those who follow him,” Mugabe said, departing from his prepared speech. It was the second such warning by Mugabe in as many months. He made the first last month after the leader of a faction of the divided British-backed opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, called for street protests to unseat the veteran guerilla leader-turned-president, in power since 1980. Then, Mugabe told Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, not to even think about it, warning him he would be dicing with death if he embarked on such a course. Tsvangirai, who once called on Mugabe to go “peacefully” or be removed “violently”, has called for various forms of civil disobedience in his quest for presidency, including mass stayaways and a march to State House. The calls have mostly fallen on deaf ears, while the state security machinery has been swift and effective in its dealings with the few who heeded the calls, mostly unemployed youths seeking to take advantage of the expected confusion and loot shops. New Ziana quoted Mugabe as saying those who aspired to rule the country should win the hearts of the electorate and not use unorthodox means to gain power. Attempts by the country’s detractors to put Zimbabwe on the agenda of the Security Council, the General Assembly and the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, Mugabe said, had failed because the progressive members of the international community were able to see beyond the fa’ade of those who were intent on falsely tarnishing Zimbabwe’s image. “We know that these evil forces have not given up on their designs and hence we should remain vigilant while also counting on the support we have so far received from our friends in the region and beyond,” he said. Mugabe commended veterans of his country’s 1970s war for liberation and those who vanished into the mists of that war for attaining independence for the country and the security forces for preserving the national sovereignty against saboteurs, conspirators and criminals. Turning to the country’s mining sector, Mugabe said Zimbabwe is determined to have control over its minerals and enjoined foreign investors to recognise the need for a balance in ownership between them and Zimbabweans, according to a report in the mass circulating The Herald. The paper quoted Mugabe as saying his government would soon put in place policies and regulations to ensure Zimbabweans take control of the exploitation of the country’s natural resource, including minerals. Mugabe said discussions were still underway on the level of shareholding Zimbabweans and government would hold in joint ventures with foreign investors in mining and the exploitation of other natural resources. Mugabe said while foreign investors bring in money and machinery to extract minerals, they should know that the resources belong to Zimbabweans who have the right to determine the level of ownership. “The non-renewable resources are ours in the first place. The investor will get a reward, but that reward should be balanced with what we keep for ourselves,” said Mugabe. He said Zimbabwe has over the years lost a lot of wealth as only foreign companies benefited from the exploitation of its minerals, some of them non-renewable. Time had now come for Zimbabweans to take control of their natural resources. Turning to his prepared speech, Mugabe said the rationalisation of the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements showed his government’s commitment to bolster investor confidence. “It should be clearly stated, however, that foreign investment should take cognisance of our Indigenisation and Empowerment Policy and programmes under which the equity balances between foreigners and Zimbabweans are regulated.” Early this month, Mugabe told the 65th ordinary session of the Zanu-PF Central Committee that the uproar over the proposed indigenisation of the mining sector was uncalled for because there was no policy in place yet as discussions in government were still in early stages. Suggestions have put been forward for equal shareholding between Zimbabweans or the State and foreign investors or 51-49 percent shareholding in favour of Zimbabweans or the State, but a final decision is still to be made. Concerns were raised recently after Mines and Mining Development Minister Amos Midzi announced a proposed mining law that seeks to give the government and indigenous Zimbabweans stakes in mining firms. Mugabe noted that over the past three years, the economy had suffered from the effects of devastating droughts and unjustified sanctions, resulting in shortages of food, drugs, electricity supplies and steep rises in prices of essential commodities. Government was taking measures to deal with the situation. “In response to these challenges, Government has adopted the National Economic Development Priority Programme to stabilise the economy in the next six to nine months by focusing on food security and increased agricultural production; foreign currency generation and mobilisation through the full utilisation of the idle capacity in all sectors of the economy, to be accompanied by aggressive marketing of Zimbabwe as a conducive investment destination.”Consequently, the economy is expected to grow by between 1 and 2 percent this year, underpinned by agriculture with a forecast growth rate of 9 percent.” Mugabe hailed the financial sector — which was hit by crises of fraud and misuse of depositors and investors’ money a few years ago — for the discipline it has shown under the leadership and direction of the Reserve Bank. He hailed the banking sector for sustaining the economy under difficult conditions by providing funding for agriculture and essential imports. Zimbabwe is up against its worst economic challenges since independence, dramatised by the world’s highest inflation, foreign currency and fuel shortages, unemployment and food shortages following years of drought. Mugabe accuses former colonial master Britain, which reneged on its pledge made at the Lancaster House conference of 1979 to fund an orderly land reform programme in Zimbabwe – which prompted impatient landless peasants to repossess the land – for sabotaging the country’s economy over his government’s land reform programme. Britain, acting in concert with its ally America, has sought to internationalise its dispute with Zimbabwe, skirting its political truancy with regard to the Lancaster House agreement and crowing on alleged human rights abuses in its former colony. Before Zimbabwe embarked on its land reform programme, the British adored Mugabe and hailed him as a self-made, exemplary statesman. (Additional reporting The Herald)

April 2006
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