Harare/Johannesburg - Nicknamed "Tyson", Zimbabwe
Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere doesn't shrink from a fight when it
comes to taking on foreign companies that own mineral rights in his country.
"Somebody has to get them to understand the
message," the man who has forced global miners to give up majority stakes
in their Zimbabwe operations told the Reuters Africa Investment Summit in
Johannesburg on Monday.
"You can't continue with that old mentality of islands
of prosperity and seas of poverty, it just can't work any more. When we talk to
these companies, we are not being malicious or cruel, we are making them see
the reality," said Kasukuwere, who takes his nickname from the US
heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson.
Critics accuse the former officer in Zimbabwe's feared
Central Intelligence Organisation of acting outside the law in forcing foreign
companies to comply.
Some say President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party is using
the empowerment drive to squeeze money out of foreign firms to finance its
"Tyson's" opponents also are suspicious of his
leadership role in the Zanu-PF youth wing blamed by many for violence that has
marred Zimbabwe elections over the last 12 years.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the rival Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC), who works uneasily with Mugabe, has been critical of
the way the empowerment drive is implemented.
He says the campaign is driven by the upcoming elections and
is scaring investors away.
But the burly, 41-year-old Kasukuwere, the youngest minister
in the MDC-Zanu-PF coalition cabinet, is seen as a rising star in his party.
He often is touted as a potential successor to 88-year-old
Mugabe, though for the moment he brushes such talk aside.
"I have been asked by my president to serve as a
minister. I am quite happy with this position," he said. "I don't
have an ambition to go beyond my call of duty right now."
What that means in practice is taking on some very powerful
players in the world of global mining.
Last month he forced Impala Platinum Holdings [JSE:IMP], the
world's second-largest platinum producer, to transfer 51% of its stake in its
Zimplats operation to locals, ending months of wrangling between Implats and
That has emboldened him to pursue other miners - including
Anglo Platinum [JSE:AMS], which is developing Unki mine in central Zimbabwe -
to comply with the empowerment law.
His reputation for being tough on foreign firms was
burnished by a public spat with Implats CEO David Brown, which dragged on for
"The problem with Brown is that he talks too much. We
are sick and tired of his delaying tactics," he told Reuters in February,
a month before Implats bowed to Zimbabwe's pressure.
He also says the empowerment drive strikes a personal note,
saying he faced racism in building one of his early business ventures, oil
"I know what it means for a young black business person
to go into business and during the times I did, the financial institutions were
controlled by colonial institutions," he told the Summit at Reuters
offices in Johannesburg.
"If they gave you a loan to buy a truck, the following
day they will come and repossess because you would have failed to honour your
obligations by one day."
Unlike the stiff image conveyed by most senior officials in
his party, Kasukuwere is tech-savvy, trending on social network site Twitter
and maintaining his own homepage.
He easily took questions from participants in a Reuters
chatroom for financial clients, and used jokes to deflect questions about
Mugabe's succession plans.
He said he also has a business in South Africa but declined
to give further details, citing concern about international sanctions against
leaders in Zanu-PF for suspected human rights violations.
He is a farmer, having benefited from Mugabe's seizures of
white-owned commercial farms, and owns a freight business. All of his
businesses are said to have flourished since he became a politician.