Zimbabwe on Wednesday gave foreign businesses until April 1 to comply with controversial equity laws that compel them to cede majority stakes to locals or risk closure.
“The law is the law. The law must be adhered to,” Indigenisation Minister Patrick Zhuwao said at a news conference.
The minister said the cabinet had on Tuesday “unanimously passed a resolution directing from 1 April 2016 all line ministries proceed to issue orders to licencing authorities to cancel licences of non-compliant business.”
Zimbabwe’s controversial indigenisation scheme, which came into effect in 2008, forces foreign companies to transfer 51 percent of their shares to local entities or individuals.
Government says the move is aimed at empowering the majority black population who were disadvantaged by colonial rule, but critics say the law has benefitted President Robert Mugabe’s allies.
Zhuwao said some companies had “continued to disregard” the law, prompting the government’s latest decision to order the closure of non-compliant companies.
“The failure to adhere with the laws to the laws of our land must attract immediate consequences that must be severe and dire enough to ensure that the law is respected and adhered to,” he said.
Compliance with the regulation had been slow, despite the January 2014 deadline.
Critics say the law scares away desperately needed foreign investment.
But Zhuwao dismissed those fears.
“We are a market driven economy and when there is a vacuum others will come in,” he said.
“From 1 April 2016 indigenous Zimbabweans will be looking with expectation to see the law that enables them to own their economy begin to be effectively enforced.”
According to independent political analyst Earnest Mudzengi the latest announcement will worsen the struggling economy.
“That is unnecessary especially when our economy is on its knees,” Mudzengi told AFP.
“It (the decision) will worsen the economy, worsening the situation.”
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)spokesman, Obert Gutu, also criticised the government’s decision, saying it would not help the country attract investment.
“What we want is to resuscitate the economy, which is virtually dead. We all know the formal sector has been decimated, capacity utilisation is very low,” Gutu said.
“The country is already facing a drought and there is a minister threatening the few operating businesses with closure…Zhuwao must stop whatever he is smoking that is toxic.”
The International Monetary Fund has urged Zimbabwe to review the indigenisation policy to give potential investors confidence.
Major multinational firm operating in Zimbabwe include mining firms, banks and retailers.
This the second deadline government has issued in two years. A January 2014 deadline attracted little compliance.
Mugabe has in the past threatened to nationalise foreign companies that refuse to comply.
Zimbabwe’s economy has been on a downturn for more than a decade-and-a-half since veteran Mugabe’s government oversaw the often violent eviction of white farmers under controversial land reforms.