Monday, August 3, 2009

Zimbabwe investor pact 'nears completion'

August 3, 2009 - Business Report - By Basildon Peta Johannesburg

The South African government was in the last stages of negotiations and was "ironing out a few things" with the Zimbabwean government before signing a long-delayed bilateral investment protection agreement (Bipa), an official said last week.

A pact is eagerly awaited by embattled South African investors in that country. Some South African farmers in Zimbabwe have often asked their government to protect their farms without success and now hope the Bipa will solve their problems.

"If we were to finalise all outstanding issues tomorrow, we would sign up the agreement at the next available opportunity for the responsible ministers," said George Monyemangene, the chief director for African bilateral issues in the Department of Trade and Industry.

But he was unable to give an estimate of when the two countries would finalise all the outstanding issues.

Farmers of South African nationality in Zimbabwe are still having their farms seized despite the establishment of a unity government in February. Many had hoped a dilution of President Robert Mugabe's power would put an end to their suffering.

They have frequently asked the South African embassy in Harare to help them and have sometimes been promised help but none has come.

While some have pinned their hopes on Bipa and would want it signed as soon as possible, others think that the deal would not do much to protect them.

One businessman said the Bipa pact would leave the draconian laws used to seize businesses in Zimbabwe very much intact.

In a country where deals and laws were routinely flouted, he held little hope for any substantial protection being offered for business owners as a result of Bipa.

"South Africa's greatest failure has been its inability to use its leverage to get Mugabe to install the basic tenets of this thing called the rule of law in Zimbabwe," said the businessman, who did not want his name used for fear of victimisation.

"What South Africa is doing is like a father who will say to the murderer Mugabe; yes you killed my first daughter, but you can marry my second daughter provided that we sign an agreement that you don't kill her as well."

Other investors believe a Bipa would give them more legal authority to encourage the South African government be tougher on Mugabe if he does not budge.