AP Interview: Zimbabwe leader says state will take a stake in mines | VailDaily.com

AP Interview: Zimbabwe leader says state will take a stake in mines

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS – Zimbabwe’s embattled and isolated leader said Friday that his government will take a stake in privately operated mining enterprises in the mineral-rich southern African nation, but he does not intend to nationalize the industry as he has commercial farmland.In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Robert Mugabe claimed his people – including hundreds of thousands made homeless by a recent controversial slum clearance and others facing famine because of disastrous land reform – are “very, very happy.”Mugabe, 81, who has ruled since a guerrilla war brought independence 25 years ago, said he plans to retire when his term expires in 2008 and live between the countryside and the city, farming and writing.He spoke in a 75-minute interview at the U.N. World Summit, which he said he was pleased to have attended even though it produced “very little by way of expectations” toward promised goals to fight poverty and eliminate trade tariffs.For that he blamed the United States, saying it should not be allowed to derail the agenda of dozens of other nations “just because they are the strongest and wealthiest. The United Nations isn’t owned by them.”He said Africa’s 52 votes at the U.N. – more than a quarter of all votes – and the Non-Aligned Movement’s more than 100 member votes should be mobilized to ensure that the “very important, sacrosanct goals” are not dismissed.Mugabe also railed against the U.S.-led war in Iraq: “Iraq was attacked and attacked in violation of international law. … They went on this rampage, on this campaign, which has destabilized Iraq, on the basis of lies,” he said.With globalization and the fall of the Soviet Union, “the world is fast becoming a world in which small states are threatened by the bigger ones, by the bullies.”Mugabe himself has been the subject of international condemnation. His government is accused of stealing elections, most recently in March, and of gross human rights abuses to suppress opposition.On a national level, Mugabe said his government would take a share in private mining enterprises because it wants Zimbabweans to benefit from their own natural resources. And he expects companies currently mining there, including the multinational Anglo American, to understand that desire.”What we intend to do is for the state to have a stake in the production of some of our minerals – gold, platinum, diamonds,” he said. “We are behind countries like Botswana and Namibia …””We just want to be partners. We are not doing anything unusual, and this is the practice in many countries,” he said.Zimbabwe mines coal, chromium ore, asbestos, gold, nickel, copper, iron ore, vanadium, lithium, tin and platinum group metals as well as diamonds, emeralds and semiprecious stones.Zimbabwe has also signed several agreements for state-owned Chinese companies for mining under joint ventures with the government, he said.But he stressed there are no plans to nationalize the industry, as he had threatened to do when first was elected, and dreamed of created a one-party Marxist state.Mugabe also said his government has no plans to seize white-owned businesses, as Transport and Communication Minister Christopher Mushohwe was quoted as threatening in a ruling party-allied newspaper this week.Mushohwe reportedly said they would take over the businesses as they did commercial farms, if business owners did not cooperate with the government.The government already has seized thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans, leaving thousands of acres of once-cultivated land to run fallow. Together with years of drought, the often violent campaign has crippled Zimbabwe’s agriculture-based economy and brought banks carrying farm mortgages to their knees.The Zimbabwe dollar, once traded at the same level as the greenback, is in free fall and collapsed this week to 52,000 to the U.S. dollar. Fuel shortages reached chronic proportions, with queues three miles long. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country.Yet Mugabe denied he has destroyed an economy that once was one of the most vibrant on the continent.”You describe it as if we have a whole cemetery,” he exclaimed. “We are very much alive, very agile and very very happy in spite of the difficulties we are having with continuous years of drought.”Last week, the International Monetary Fund decided to defer a decision to expel Zimbabwe after Mugabe made a surprise partial payment of millions of dollars toward arrears.He indicated there were financial problems, saying it’s become very difficult to find the kind of soft loans that would help him exploit Zimbabwe’s natural resources without foreign investors.Still Mugabe insisted his policies were correct, ignoring charges his government steals elections to stay in power, most recently in March, and grossly abuses human rights to suppress opposition.Instead he told a story about a traditional chief, from the minority Matabele tribe that his Shona-dominated government has repeatedly abused:”He said to me: ‘Mugabe, we are born chiefs, you were chosen. We have it in our blood to be chiefs. You don’t have it in your blood but you depend on the people (for your power).”‘—Editors’ Note: Michelle Faul is AP’s new Chief of Africa News