PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday came face-to-face with reality after visiting South African President Jacob Zuma demanded more clarity on the country’s investment policy.
Zuma said Mugabe government’s dithering on the easy of doing business, security for investors and indigenisation policy could prove costly for Zimbabwe.
Mugabe has consistently scoffed at the suggestion by the West to improve the investment climate arguing it was part of a “regime change agenda against his administration”.
But Zuma, facing growing unrest in his country, told Mugabe that South African businesses were willing to invest only if the Zimbabwean leader dealt with the murky investment policy.
Zuma added he was worried about issues of economic “policy consistency and the easy of doing business”.
Zuma made the remarks in Harare during the official opening of the inaugural Zimbabwe-South Africa Bi-National Commission (BNC).
The BNC is the successor to the Joint Commission, a platform where the two countries discuss bilateral issues ranging from the economy, security to social agreements.
“Our business community stands ready to play their party if, as government, you improve the ease of doing business and policy certainty,” Zuma candidly told a bemused Mugabe.
Many investors have been sceptical about investing in Zimbabwe after the government started implementing the indigenisation law that compels all foreign companies to cede 51% of their shareholding to locals. Mugabe’s haphazard land reform programme has also been blamed for investor flight and indecision.
The toxic empowerment law also has clauses that reserve specific sectors for locals while foreigners can only operate such businesses with a special licence.
Mugabe, in an earlier address, had assured Zuma that South African investments were safe in Zimbabwe. This was contrary to reports that some South African investors, including others protected under the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements, especially in the tourism and agricultural sector, were expropriated.
“I want to assure South African businesspeople that their investments are safe here in Zimbabwe. We wish to see more South African investments here as much as we wish to also see more Zimbabwean investment in South Africa,” Mugabe said.
“The empowerment programmes we are implementing in our respective countries have graduated to a new class of businesspersons who should be empowered for the national and regional market.”
Mugabe, however, bemoaned the aborting of the business forum that should have been held on the sidelines of the BNC.
“It is regrettable that the Business Forum, involving business representatives from Zimbabwe and South Africa, was, due to some logistical problems, not held as part of the programme of this inaugural session of the BNC. The Business Forum should become an integral feature of our BNC sessions in future,” Mugabe said.
Zuma immediately flew back to South Africa after the address, where his political life was hanging by the thread as opposition parties there were demanding his resignation.
Mugabe took the chance to poke fun at his colleague about his uncertain political situation.
“We are happy that you are in one piece despite what is being written in the (South African) papers.”