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Nestle Reopens Harare Plant
Government says it won't "interfere" with Swiss food giant
Thondhlana Barnabas (kudzanai)     Print Article 
Published 2010-01-08 11:08 (KST)   
Nestle has reopened its factory in Zimbabwe after a top government official reassured the firm on the safety of its staff and operations, the Swiss-based multinational said.

A spokeswoman for Nestle's Equatorial African Region, Brinda Chiniah, said: "On the basis of the written assurances given by the Minister of Industry and Commerce of Zimbabwe to guarantee the security of Nestle management and staff and not to interfere in the company's operating processes, Nestle decided to restart the activities at its Harare factory."

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Nestle, which has operated in Zimbabwe for the past 50 years, shut its Harare factory last month, complaining of harassment by authorities after it stopped receiving milk supplies from Gushungo Dairy Estates. Gushungo is owned by Grace Mugabe, the wife of President Robert Mugabe.

The shutdown was precipitated by a shipment of milk delivered from Gushungo by force, in addition to other harassment. Immigration officials had, reportedly, refused to issue Nestle's new managing director with a work permit and the firm's bank accounts were also temporarily frozen, on orders from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

The work stoppage at the factory was seen by many as a setback to efforts by the coalition government of Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to attract foreign investment, which is needed to help restart Zimbabwe's economy.

Chiniah said the reopened factory will "source milk exclusively from contracted farmers." Gushungo is not a contracted supplier to Nestle Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe Industry Minister Welshman Ncube told the press that he assured Nestle officials that their operation would be safe, adding that he was acting on instruction from his superiors.

"I was assigned by my superiors to have meetings with them [Nestle management] and I assured them that their concerns will be addressed," Ncube said. "We cannot afford to lose investors at this stage when we are rebuilding the economy."

Nestle, which until October had bought between 10 and 15 percent of milk processed at its Harare plant from Gushungo, stopped accepting dairy from the farm after due to international pressure to avoid purchasing from a farm seized during Mugabe's controversial land reforms.

Some human rights groups threatened to organize a boycott of the company's products if it did not stop buying Gushungo milk.

Grace was allocated Gushungo under her husband's chaotic and often violent land reforms that also saw senior members of the military and Mugabe's ZANU PF party, their friends and allies handed some of the best farms in the country.

Critics say Mugabe's farm seizure program destroyed Zimbabwe's, but the President vehemently denies the claim. Mugabe, who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980, says Zimbabwe's economic crisis was due to sanctions imposed by Western nations in response to his land reforms.
©2010 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Thondhlana Barnabas

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