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Outrage over £200m UK investment in Zimbabwe

Times Online
June 25, 2008

Outrage over £200m UK investment in Zimbabwe

Anglo American, the London-based mining giant, is to make what is believed to be the largest foreign investment in Zimbabwe to date, just as the British Government puts pressure on companies to withdraw from the country.

Anglo will invest $400 million (£200 million) to build a platinum mine in Zimbabwe — a move that has raised concern among some of the company’s shareholders and been condemned by politicians.

The Foreign Office was investigating tonight whether the company’s investment breached sanctions against Zimbabwe. Anglo insisted that its involvement in the country did not break the law.

The decision, which was criticised roundly as likely to give succour — and possibly money — to the Mugabe regime, is in stark contrast to the policy of nearly all other main British corporations in Zimbabwe. They are either withdrawing from the country or waiting for Mr Mugabe to be deposed before expanding their businesses.

Lord Malloch-Brown, the Foreign Office Minister, said this week that Britain could push for tougher sanctions against Zimbabwe and put pressure on companies doing business there to withdraw. The Government will also call a halt today to next year’s tour of England by the Zimbabwean cricket team.

International condemnation of President Mugabe and his regime intensified today when the UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the “campaign of violence against the political opposition ahead of the second round of presidential elections”.

Despite the political concern about President Mugabe’s regime, Anglo American is pressing ahead with its plans to build a mine at Unki, in central Zimbabwe. The company employs 188 people and a further 450 contractors at Unki and hopes to be producing platinum, one of the world’s most expensive metals, by 2010. A spokesman for Anglo said: “We are developing the Unki platinum project because we have responsibility to our employees, contractors and the local community. We are keeping the situation in Zimbabwe under close watch.”

Zimbabwe is rich in mineral resources and has the second-largest deposits of platinum but most large miners are avoiding the country or have put their investments on hold. Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest miner, has a small diamond mine in the country but said yesterday that it would not invest further until President Mugabe was gone.

British American Tobacco, which makes Benson & Hedges cigarettes, and Barclays Bank also have operations in Zimbabwe. Both companies said that they would remain for the good of their local employees but neither would expand there. BP and Shell jointly own a chain of petrol stations in Zimbabwe and tonight said that they were reviewing their presence in the country. The advertising agency WPP is selling its 25 per cent stake in a Zimbabwean media company part-owned by one of Mr Mugabe’s relatives. The agency is understood to be desperate to offload the stake and willing to sell at any price.

Almost no large investments have been made in Zimbabwe for years over uncertainty about the Mugabe regime. Anti-Mugabe campaigners said that the Anglo investment was likely to be the largest ever in the country.

Some of Anglo’s shareholders said that they would raise the investment with the company amid concern that it may breach pension fund ethical guidelines. Legal & General is Anglo’s largest single shareholder with about 5 per cent of the company. A spokesman said: “We have a corporate and social responsibility policy and that overrides all investment activity. We do engage with companies to ensure they act in an appropriate fashion.”

The mine plan provoked a chorus of condemnation. Roy Bennett, treasurer of Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC party, said: “Any company doing business in Zimbabwe is keeping that regime alive. Anglo American is complicit with the regime as whatever they are doing in Zimbabwe has the endorsement of the regime. The money they invest is a lifeline to the politicians and government of Zanu (PF).”

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: “Such an investment could only bolster this discredited evil regime and shows how pathetic the current sanctions regime is. It must now be time for the UN and EU to get serious about sanctions. If Anglo American go ahead with this, it will be the worst mistake in their history and the biggest PR disaster imaginable.”

Peter Luff, Conservative chairman of the Business and Regulatory Reform Select Committee, said: “This is a curiously bad investment. Robert Mugabe may interpret this move as a vote of confidence in himself. How can a company possibly satisfy itself that this investment will be seen truly ethical in its nature at this moment.

Zimbabwe will change and those who will be seen to have supported the old regime may in the long term pay a heavy price for that decision.”

Kate Hoey, chairwoman of the all-party Zimbabwe group, said: “Clearly this is not a time for any British company to be investing in Zimbabwe.”

William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said: “Companies investing in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe . . . should examine their consciences very carefully. No British or international company should in any way help to prop up the regime, whether by an investment in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe or by any kind of dealings with it.”

Peter Hain, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, urged the company to put the investment on hold. “It’s unacceptable to be handing this to Mugabe on a plate at a time that mini-genocides are happening across the country.”

Earlier Mr Davey said in the Commons that British companies were operating through subsidiaries in Zimbabwe. He asked what ministers were doing to end the “scandalous situation where a British bank, namely Barclays, still bankrolls Mugabe’s thugs by operating through a local subsidiary, thereby bypassing EU sanctions”. This was, he said, an insidious loophole that flouted the spirit, if not the letter, of the sanctions against the Zanu (PF) hierarchy.

Barclays said that it complied with all European Union sanctions.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said: “I condemn anything that gives succour, either financial or moral, to the Zanu (PF) leaders.” He was not aware, however, of any British company breaking sanctions and added that companies operating in the country could offer employment and support for ordinary Zimbabweans as well as succour for the regime.

Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary, is to write to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) stating that the Government will not allow the Zimbabwean team into the country. This means the tour is off and the ECB will not face compensation claims from the International Cricket Conference (ICC) for pulling out. Mr Burnham will also urge the ECB to begin moves to exclude Zimbabwe from next year’s Twenty20 World Cup in England.

African mineral riches

— Anglo American was founded by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer in South Africa in 1917. Oppenheimer had already taken over De Beers, the diamond corporation, from Cecil Rhodes, who founded the country that became Zimbabwe

— Anglo still owns 45 per cent of De Beers and is the fourth-largest mining company in the world

— The company’s headquarters are just off Pall Mall, Central London and is listed on the FTSE 100. It employs 162,000 people worldwide

— It is being sued over working conditions in South Africa during the apartheid era. Miners claim that they were treated as slave labour, The company denies wrongdoing

Source: Times database and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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