There was reason to be sceptical about Zanu PF’s intentions when it called business to an indaba in Harare in the first week of the month.
The quest by Zanu PF, fronted at the meeting by Vice-President Joice Mujuru, to portray the party as pro-business had many questioning the sincerity of the gesture, more so after Indigenisation and Empowerment minister Saviour Kasukuwere had told an earlier business meeting that government would treat investment from supposed enemy states with hostility.
Kasukuwere’s disclosure was generally regarded as personal exuberance not representative of government policy. But at the party conference in Mutare at the weekend, that position on business got impetus. Zanu PF remains a major threat to foreign capital.
In Mutare, the message to business was clear.
President Robert Mugabe threatened to nationalise British and American companies if international sanctions against him and his inner circle were not dropped.
Mugabe, in retributive mode, upped the ante and for the first time talked of taking “revenge” against the international community by using the indigenisation law to take over foreign firms operating on Zimbabwean soil.
“Why should we continue to have 400 British companies operating here freely?” Mugabe told his supporters
“Why should we continue having companies and organisations that are supported by Britain and America without hitting back? Time has come for us to revenge,” he said.
He added: “We can read the riot act and say this is 51% we are taking, and if the sanctions persist we are taking over 100 %.”
There is not a more straightforward way to kill off foreign direct investment into the country.
Mugabe’s statement sent out a clear message to investors that their businesses were only safe in this country if their governments were friendly to Zanu PF.
Foreign-owned businesses will deduce from Mugabe’s statement that they are now saddled with a new role over and above trying to run businesses in a difficult environment.
The businesses are now expected to play a political role of egging their governments to lift sanctions on Mugabe and the ruling elites.
This is a big ask. What is clear is that Mugabe is threatening to use bullyboy tactics on the foreign-owned companies after diplomatic efforts to have sanctions lifted failed.
The ageing leader is now training his shots at the soft underbelly of business to hopefully fight off the West. In doing so, he brings out a dangerous policy issue which if pursued could have serious ramifications to this economy.
His fight against the West no longer distinguishes between individual business and their governments or countries of origin.
All British and American companies are now targets of the 100% takeover as long as sanctions stay. The firms are now hostages in the fight with Western governments.
This is poor politics especially coming just a week after President Mugabe launched the One-Stop-Shop Investment Centre for investors in Harare.
All this is going to waste because no investor would want to do business in a country whose leadership threatens business when diplomacy fails.