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Zimbabwe House Ratifies Investment Pact With S. Africa Amid Indigenization Debate

Innocent Gonese, chief parliamentary whip of the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said the agreement should be ratified within days by the Senate

Zimbabwe's House of Assembly on Thursday ratified the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement signed by Zimbabwe and South African officials last November.

Parliamentary sources said the move likely meant that South African firms would be exempted from the highly controversial indigenization process that was launched this week. The 2007 legislation requires indigenous Zimbabweans - under the definition this means black Zimbabweans - to hold a 51 percent stake in all firms with assets in excess of US$500,000. Neither the law nor related regulations issued last week distinguish between foreign and domestic companies.,

Innocent Gonese, chief parliamentary whip of the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said the agreement now awaits ratification by the Senate, which should take place in the next few days. He said putting the treaty in place will ensure the safety of South African investments in the country.

“The essence of the bilateral agreement is to enhance South African investor confidence in Zimbabwe through guaranteeing the safety of their investments against expropriation and nationalization,” he said.

But some critics of indigenization say it remains to be seen if Zimbabwe will respect the bilateral agreement in light of numerous violations of property rights during a decade of fast-track land reform. Zimbabwe rejected the authority of a Southern African regional tribunal after it ruled against Harare in a land reform case.

Meanwhile, indigenisation was driving another wedge into the troubled Harare unity government with the main poliical partners divided over how to proceed in a way that will benefit the nation as a whole.

Sources said the Council of Ministers agreed Thursday that only Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere should be authorized to make statements on the subject – but differences clearly have not been settled.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change formation argues that the Cabinet was not consulted before Kasukuwere gazetted the new indigenization rules last week. The rival MDC formation of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara is divided on the issue, however.

For a closer look at the indigenization question, VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira turned to Affirmative Action Group President Supa Mandiwanzira and political commentor Paul Rumema-Chimhosva.

Mandiwanzira said that contrary to what many skeptics have contended lately, the indigenization process will benefit as many Zimbabweans as possible.

But Rumema-Chimhosva argued it was likely the new regulations would benefit the same group of individuals within and connected to ZANU-PF who benefited from the farm invasions of the past decade.

He said indigenization should have been put on hold to be covered under the new constitution - though that process has also become contentious.