The Multinational Monitor


G L O B A L   N E W S

Zimbabwe Buys South African Bank, Plans Minerals Board

As Zimbabwe approaches this first anniversary of its independence, the government of Robert Mugabe has taken steps to bring the nation's economy-still heavily dominated by foreign business - under more Zimbabwean control.

Mugabe has directed two of his actions against South African interests in critical sectors of the economy. The government announced in late January it was buying a majority share in the main local bank, Rhobank, formerly owned by South Africans. Bank of America was also bidding for control of Rhobank, but Mugabe won out. The bank has been renamed Zimbank.

The acquisition followed Zimbabwe's purchase of the South African Argus newspaper chain in January. That act gave the national government control over the five major newspapers in the country. "The media is very important in formulating and inflating the ideas of people," says Nicholas Goche, first counselor at Zimbabwe's Washington embassy. "We did not want South Africans to control the media and thereby to be able to manipulate the thinking of our people."

Mugabe also has moved to bring the minerals sector= Zimbabwe's largest earner of hard currency-into line. The government announced in late February it was considering the creation of a national minerals marketing board, to serve either as a means of monitoring the exports of the multinational mining companies, or as a national purchasing and marketing board for the nation's minerals.

For multinational mineral companies with Zimbabwe operations, such as Union Carbide and Rio Tinto Zinc, the idea of the marketing board has not struck a popular chord. "We don't think it's the right thing," says Paul Willmott, assistant to the chairman of Union Carbide, Southern Africa. "We consider ourselves expert in marketing. If the government did the marketing you would end up with people who are not quite as expert." Willmott also cautioned, "The formation of a state marketing agency would discourage foreign investment in Zimbabwe because it would be seen as a form of nationalization."

From Zimbabwe's point of view, the board is being considered as a means both to regulate the amount of minerals produced and to ensure that the government receives a fair market price for its goods.

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