Mnangagwa’s Unki comments expose worrying policy inconsistency

President Mnangagwa with Unki general manager Walter Nemasasi during the commissioning of the mine's US$62 million smelter on May 16, 2019/XINHUA

President Emmerson Mnangagwa rarely misses an opportunity to assure business that policy vagueness and inconsistency, the bane of the Mugabe years, is now a thing of the past.

“My government will continue to ensure that there is policy clarity, certainty, cohesion consistency and will guard against policy overlap information asymmetry and policy reversals,” he told business at a meeting early last year.

But his baffling announcement on Thursday, that government had already relaxed local ownership requirements for the platinum and diamond sectors contradicts his ministers and muddies the policy position.

Mnangagwa was responding to Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) executives’ pleas that indigenisation requirements, which government scrapped last year for all other sectors save for the two minerals, be similarly removed for the PGM sector.

Last March, the government scrapped the 51% local ownership requirement for all other major sectors, including mining, but retained the rule for platinum and diamonds.

The president toured Amplats’ Unki mine in Shurugwi on Thursday, as the company commissioned its US$62 million smelter.

“While in our briefing, Unki Mines management alluded to the fact that indigenisation was putting some bottlenecks on shareholding and our government had not included platinum and diamonds on our new indigenisation policy,” Mnangagwa said.

“Yes, it’s true we did not include these minerals in our initial changes, but we later included both platinum and diamonds in October last year and probably the Unki Mines management missed this.”

It reflects badly on how government communicates policy, that Unki, one of the three major platinum mines operating in the country, could have “missed” such a major policy shift.

But what’s worse is that Mnangagwa’s claim appears to contradict recent pronouncements by his ministers.

On November 26, 2018, Mines Minister Winston Chitando told Reuters on the sidelines of an investment conference in London, that there would be “no change” in the local shareholding for diamonds and platinum when asked about industry speculation the indigenisation rules could be eased further.

In March this year, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube told Bloomberg that government was, indeed, considering loosening the indigenisation requirements for the remaining sectors.

“We are removing that indigenisation rule that is discouraging foreign direct investment. Our Zimbabwe is open for business, it can only be open if you’re allowed to own 100 percent of the investment as an investor. You can own 100 percent of any mining investment, that is what is coming through,” Ncube said.

Given its poor record with international investors and the desperate need for foreign capital, Zimbabwe cannot afford being anything but sure-footed with its policy pronouncements.