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Zimbabwe's Indigenization-themed Festivities Irk MDC

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, left, and President Robert Mugabe, Harare, November 11, 2011.
Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, left, and President Robert Mugabe, Harare, November 11, 2011.

Zimbabwe celebrates 32 years of independence from Great Britain this Wednesday, but already the mood surrounding planned festivities appears tainted by disagreements within the country’s coalition government.

The official theme of this week's festivities -- "Indigenization and Empowerment for Social and Economic Transformation" -- references to the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Bill, a measure President Robert Mugabe signed into law in 2008, which forces foreign-owned companies in Zimbabwe to grant 51 percent of shares to locals.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said Mugabe's ZANU-PF party imposed the theme without consensus.

Tsvangirai, whose MDC party strongly opposes indigenization on the grounds that it disincentivizes foreign investments, said he will nevertheless attend stadium celebrations in Harare that Mugabe is scheduled to address.

"I am sure the people -- I know people do not subscribe to this nonsense -- will react accordingly," he said, seeming to suggest crowds of Zimbabweans will jeer if Mugabe touts the measure.

As the country prepares for prospective elections -- possibly happening later this year or next -- he said an appropriate theme to celebrate independence should have something to do with peace.

"Today, even in the work of inclusive of government, policy and ideological discourse have meant a betrayal of people’s aspirations," he said, explaining that Zimbabweans remain split after enduring the violence of 2008 elections. "We have disagreed in this government because there are others who want to perpetuate the old culture of looting and self-aggrandizement clad in the misleading name of indigenization. It is such wild political jingoism which stands in the way of investment promotion for the people."

Indigenization Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, who is responsible for implementing the policy, has repeatedly said the law is meant to reverse imbalances left over from British colonial rule, and that the ZANU-PF won't reverse its decision.

"Why should the people of this country suffer when we have resources? We have a country with money; we have a country with resources; we are only seeking friends, partnerships where we share [resources] equally," he said. "We come from the history of colonialism, [and] we have to deal with issues of colonial challenges that have been left upon us."

But Tsvangirai has said policies such as indigenization conflict with the need for Zimbabweans to show respect for human rights, jobs, unity and prosperity.

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