Harare - Zimbabwe has given foreign-owned banks one year to
hand over 51% stakes to locals, according to a government notice, as President
Robert Mugabe ramps up a drive to force all foreign-owned businesses to
surrender majority control to blacks.
A government notice released last week said all
foreign-owned banks with a minimum net value of $1 had one year to reduce their
shareholding to 49%.
The southern African state has already forced mining
companies such as Rio Tinto and Impala Platinum Holdings [JSE:IMP], the world’s
second-largest platinum miner, to turn over majority stakes in their local
units to black Zimbabweans.
Emboldened by his success against miners, Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere is now targeting banks.
Kasukuwere, a member of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party,
has clashed with central bank governor Gideon Gono and Finance Minister Tendai
Biti over the banking sector.
Biti, a senior member from Prime Minister Morgan
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party and Gono, a Mugabe ally, have
opposed Kasukuwere, arguing Zimbabwe only has four foreign banks out of 26
Kasukuwere could not immediately be reached for comment but
he has previously vowed to pursue foreign banks, which he accuses of refusing to
provide loans to the agriculture industry and small black businesses.
“Foreign banks are safe because they deny you funding... so
we have got to transform them,” Kasukuwere was quoted as saying by the private
NewsDay last Thursday.
Standard Chartered Bank, Barclays Bank and South Africa’s
Standard Bank Group [JSE:SBK] and Nedbank Group [JSE:NED] all have operations
in Zimbabwe and would be affected by the latest regulations.
Zanu-PF has been criticised over the past decade for
patronage when seizing white-owned farms. Critics say many farms are now in the
hands of party loyalists instead of the landless black peasants who were
supposed to benefit.
Critics of the takeovers of mines and banks say Zanu-PF is
using the policy to try and win votes ahead of elections which will be held in
the next 12 months.
The government notice also said private schools, which used
to be a preserve for whites but are now largely multi-racial, should in the
next year be majority owned by blacks.
The majority of Zimbabweans attend government-run schools,
which are only starting to recover after a decade of economic crisis left the
schools without books and teachers, who sought employment in neighbouring
The energy, tourism and telecommunications industries also
have to comply with the empowerment law in the next year.