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Zimbabwe Industry Minister Blames Western Media for Nestle Imbroglio

Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube accused media in the West of mounting a campaign to pressure Nestle to stop doing business with a Mugabe-controlled dairy firm

Zimbabwean Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube has blasted the international media for what he charges was a pressure campaign against Swiss-based multinational Nestlé over its now-ended supplier ties with a dairy company owned by the family of President Robert Mugabe.

Ncube was quoted by the state-controlled Herald newspaper as charging that South African, British and American media outlets campaigned to pressure Nestlé to terminate its business relationship with Gushungo Dairy Estate, a company controlled by Grace Mugabe, the president's wife.

Nestle suspended operations at its Harare processing plant last week charging that its managers and staff had been pressured to take milk from Gushungo. Two ministers of Mr. Mugabe's former ruling ZANU-PF party were said to have intimidated managers while leaving off a tanker truck full of milk.

Industry Minister Ncube organized talks among the parties concerned and came up with a proposal to resolve the matter with an arrangement under which the Mugabe-controlled dairy would supply milk to a cooperative organization from which Nestlé would then purchase raw milk.

In effect, such an arrangement would keep the Mugabe firm at arm's length - though critics have already said such a deal would be a travesty.

A Nestlé spokeswoman said Monday that the corporation is examining the conditions in Zimbabwe and had not decided whether to resume operations at its plant in the Zimbabwean capital, which employs some 200 people.

Supa Mandiwandzira, president of the Affirmative Action Group, which has taken the side of the Gushungo firm in the matter, insisted in an interview with VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that the Mugabes like any other Zimbabweans have a right to do business in the country.

Others have argued however that Nestlé should be free to choose its business partners, as it has an international reputation to defend.