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S. African Activists Slam Zimbabwe Minister for Blaming Nestle Row on Media

The state-run Herald newspaper reported that Industry Minister Welshman Ncube said international media pressured Nestlé to terminate a supplier relationship with a dairy company controlled by the family of President Robert Mugabe

A South African activist group has taken aim at Industry Minister Welshman Ncube for reportedly blaming the decision by multinational food maker Nestlé to suspend operations in Zimbabwe on the international media.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper on Tuesday reported that Ncube said South African, British and U.S. media had campaigned to pressure Nestlé to terminate a supplier relationship between its Harare processing unit and a dairy company controlled by President Robert Mugabe's family. Gushungo Dairy Estate is controlled by Grace Mugabe, the president's wife.

People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty, or Passop, said Nestlé has the right to choose the companies with which it does business. The company terminated the relationship with Gushungo in October after coming under fire from human rights activists in South Africa and elsewhere.

That drew a backlash from ministers of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party who tried to force Nestle to buy milk from Gushungo, leading Nestlé last week to announce that it was suspending operations in the country. Ncube said late last week that a solution had been reached for Nestlé to purchase Gushungo milk through a cooperative, but Nestlé said it had not reached a decision as to resuming operations and was "examining conditions" in Zimbabwe.

VOA was unable to reach Ncube on Tuesday or Wednesday to confirm his reported comments and seek a response to Passop's criticism.

Ncube is the secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change wing headed by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

Passop Chairman Braam Hanekom told VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that boycotting goods of companies doing business with ZANU-PF is the most effective way to promote democratic change in Zimbabwe.

The government meanwhile said it will hold a second international investment conference in February hoping to attract scarce capital to the country.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the so-called Friends of Zimbabwe Summit, as the event is being described, falls under Harare’s effort to step up re-engagement with the international community.

Biti said the unity government involving Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the MDC formations led by Mutambara and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is seeking partnerships, in particular to rebuild or expand the country’s worn-out infrastructure, notably water and sewage systems and roadways. The electric power grid is also in need of a major overhaul and modernization.

Economist Prosper Chitambara of the Labor and Economic Research Institute told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that the February conference, like one held in October, may not yield much in the way of investment as the government has yet to win the confidence of global investors.