Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Davos — Zimbabwe’s government will press on with painful economic reforms to overcome years of crisis despite recent bloody unrest, says finance minister Mthuli Ncube. 

“The economic reform agenda is a very serious one, but also we are determined to see it through,” he said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “This [unrest] is part of the pain in terms of the reform road map.”

“The truth is we’ve had 20 years of economic decay and morass, and we’re determined that we fix this and move Zimbabwe to the next level,” he said.

Zimbabwe has been rocked by deadly violence after the government hiked fuel prices as part of its hard-hitting reform plan, enacted following the ouster of Robert Mugabe 14 months ago.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa was meant to be in Davos with Ncube but had to cut short his overseas tour amid the clashes.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mnangagwa vowed to investigate security forces over their deadly crackdown on protesters, but said raising fuel prices “was the right thing to do”.

Civil society groups have reported at least 12 people killed in the crackdown, scores treated for gunshot injuries, and hundreds of incidents of assault and torture.

About 700 people have been arrested, officials say.

Nevertheless, Ncube said investors could see Zimbabwe’s potential given its well-educated workforce, especially in mining, tourism, energy, telecoms and infrastructure.

“Zimbabwe is open for business,” he insisted, after what he characterised as positive meetings with company representatives in Davos.

“There’s incredible opportunities in Zimbabwe right now for privatisation,” he said, after identifying 11 companies that are ripe for private-sector investment, including mobile and fixed-line telecom firms, and banks owned by the state.

Ncube’s rehabilitation plan includes currency reform after bouts of hyperinflation under Mugabe wiped out people’s savings, and compensation for white farmers whose land was expropriated without compensation.

Such measures would reassure investors of financial stability and the rule of law in Zimbabwe, the minister said.

Investment of $8bn is expected over the next few years in mining alone, and “the fuel matter is only a small blip in the whole reform agenda”, Ncube said.

“Investors understand that Zimbabwe is going through a temporary phase of economic strife, but this strife is needed as a way to make sure that the reforms are achieved. Investors get it, so they’re making long-term decisions, they’re engaging with us,” Ncube said.

Other countries in Africa and beyond have been turning to China for much-needed investment, though popular anger has been building over the debt incurred as the Asian giant flexes its international muscles.

In Zimbabwe’s case, past contracts negotiated with China had been “fair” and new investment is welcome, provided the terms are reasonable and transparent, Ncube said.