The Foreign Office has hit out at an “irresponsible” threat by Robert Mugabe to seize British businesses in Zimbabwe
On Wednesday the Zimbabwean president launched a campaign to gather two million signatures for a petition against sanctions imposed by the West over alleged human rights in the former British colony.
Addressing a rally in Harare, Mugabe made special mention of UK-controlled banks and firms, saying British interests controlled 400 businesses in the country.
He said: “It is time now to take action and to start looking at these companies we must take over.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “This action is irresponsible. It will damage Zimbabwean livelihoods and deter much-needed foreign investment at a time when the Zimbabwean economy is starting to recover from the disastrous effects of Mugabe’s earlier economic policy.
“The minister of finance and many others in the Zimbabwean government and business community share our concern about the effect such statements will have in deterring the investment needed to allow the country to develop.”
Mugabe accused Barclays and the Standard Chartered banks of taking money out of Zimbabwe’s economy and using it to support a British banking freeze against Zimbabwean leaders. He said British firms and European and American interests also took out profits on mining and other ventures. He also demanded executives of foreign-owned companies condemn the sanctions placed by their governments.
The Foreign Office vowed “to do what we can” to support British companies that may be forced to sign an anti-sanctions campaign to avoid nationalisation.
The spokesman added: “This mirrors the anti-sanctions petition that many ordinary Zimbabweans have been forced to sign. Most Zimbabweans are under no illusions as to the cause of their economic difficulties, and welcome the fact that it is donor countries such as the UK that are providing them with essential food aid and other essential services.”
Mugabe insists Western sanctions have destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy, but critics and economists blame his violent land distribution programme for crippling the country’s agriculture industry since 2000. The sanctions include visa bans and asset freezes on Mugabe and his party leaders.