* Mine ownership drive seen filling ZANU-PF coffers
* Mugabe party was struggling to raise funds, dispense patronage
* Policy polishes ZANU-PF Africanist, liberation narrative
By MacDonald Dzirutwe and Ed Stoddard
HARARE/JOHANNESBURG, March 14 (Reuters) - A platinum miner’s surrender to Zimbabwean demands for it to hand a majority stake in its local unit to black investors will embolden President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party to pressure other foreign companies before elections expected this year.
Other miners are likely be targeted to help fund the campaign of ZANU-PF, which controls the mines ministry in the uneasy coalition government, although analysts say the policy will portrayed as a blow to the remnants of white colonial rule.
South African-based Impala Platinum, the world’s second largest platinum producer and the biggest foreign investor in the country, bowed on Tuesday to Zimbabwe’s pressure to surrender a 51 percent stake in its Zimplats unit following months of argument.
Platinum’s spot price has been soaring and shot past gold on Tuesday.
Mugabe, who has held power since Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980, has been hit along with top ZANU-PF officials by international sanctions after being accused of using political violence to stay in power.
One of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, 88-year-old Mugabe wants elections a year ahead of schedule, arguing that the unity government he formed with Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai after a violent 2008 vote has broken down.
ZANU-PF welcomed the Implats decision and attacked the MDC’s attitude to mining firms. “We are absolutely delighted. We have said this time and again, that we need to control our economy and resources,” said party spokesman Rugare Gumbo.
“The opposition has no programme. I do not take them seriously, they don’t understand the dynamics of liberation and they are just parroting their masters’ line of thinking.”
Tara O‘Connor of Africa Risk Consulting said Mugabe’s party had suffered from the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009 and its replacement by foreign currencies, along with ZANU-PF’s loss of control of the finance ministry.
“This is more about ZANU-PF not having ready access to cash ever since the MDC took control of the finance ministry,” she said. “And dollarisation has taken away ZANU-PF’s ability to print money and decimated the power of the central bank. They are strapped for cash and the mining industry has become the next target to fund the ZANU-PF patronage system.”
ZANU-PF has been criticised over the past decade for patronage when seizing white-owned farms. Many farms are now in the hands of party loyalists instead of the landless black peasants who were supposed to benefit.
Analysts said the big winner from the Implats move was Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, a ZANU-PF stalwart, while MDC leader, Prime Minister Tsvangirai, was a clear loser.
“It will be construed as a big political victory for Mugabe and ZANU-PF and defeat for Tsvangirai who has been saying such actions will hurt the economy,” said Tony Hawkins, a professor at the University of Zimbabwe’s Graduate School of Business.
“The guys (ZANU-PF) will have certainly been emboldened and will look to extend this to the other mines,” he said.
Other companies in the firing line now include Mimosa, a 50-50 joint venture between Implats and Aquarius Platinum , and Rio Tinto’s Murowa diamond mine.
ZANU-PF has also been accused of profiting from the Marange diamond fields, where human rights groups estimate at least 200 small-scale miners were killed in 2008 when security forces seized the workings. Mugabe’s government has denied this.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti said on Wednesday that the government faces a shutdown because projected revenue from the diamond industry has failed to come through.
But Biti is an MDC member while ZANU-PF has access to diamond revenues through its control of the mines ministry.
The valuation of the Implats stake transfer has not been worked out and the murkiness surrounding the agreement has raised questions. However, Implats insisted on Wednesday that it would not transfer the shares unless it was paid.
Of the total, 31 percent is nominally earmarked to go to the state’s National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Fund, which is ZANU-PF-controlled. Ten percent will go to local communities and 10 percent to Zimplats employees, according to the agreement announced by both sides.
The nationalisation drive also ties in with ZANU-PF’s plan to portray itself in the election campaign as a black liberation movement recovering assets seized by white colonialists.
“Mugabe is determined to show that he is the true Africanist taking back all the land and resources that whites have stolen. This is the image he wants to create,” said Allister Sparks, a Johannesburg-based independent political analyst.
By contrast ZANU-PF has persistently portrayed Tsvangirai, a former miner, as a puppet of white capital.
“Morgan loves the mining industry because he was a miner and was given his start in life by Anglo American. He is a miner at heart but he sees both sides of the picture and this policy is not good for the workers or investors,” said Tsvangirai’s biographer Sarah Hudleston.
Zimbabwe is not the only African country pushing for a bigger share of state ownership in resources. But while governments from South Africa to Ghana are trying to get a bigger slice of their resource pie, Zimbabwe stands out for its radicalism.
“Zimbabwe always provides us with an extreme example of things happening elsewhere. Resource nationalism is not unique to Zimbabwe, it is happening across the continent. But Zimbabwe is just taking it to extreme levels,” said O‘Connor.