UPDATE: No-show for president Mugabe, but in right speech says Zimbabwe to loosen laws for investors

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A day after giving the wrong address, ageing leader seeks to woo business to battered economy

IN the end, despite much anticipation, president Robert Mugabe did not show up in parliament despite having summoned legislators back in an attempt to atone for his Tuesday blunder of repeating a speech that he gave last month.

Instead rival party lawmakers squabbled over the nature of the gaffe, before government leader of business, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also a Mugabe deputy, moved to have the correct speech adopted on Wednesday. 

” The mistake is regretted however it is not the duty of parliament to interrogate mistakes. It is responsibility of Executive,” Mnangagwa, who has been reported to be effectively running government, said.

The clerk to the parliament, Kennedy Chokuda, had earlier in a statement only said the House would be meeting for “special business”.

Legislators in his ruling ZANU-PF party called for “heads to roll” given the international attention to the mistake and Mugabe’s stature as the chair of the African Union.

Mugabe, 91, had read the 25-minute speech through to the end, apparently unaware that he was delivering the same text he presented during his state of the nation address last month.

The presidency later blamed a “mix-up of speeches resulting in a situation where… the president delivered the wrong speech.”

The opposition MDC called on Mugabe to resign over the blunder, saying it showed that “he is too old.”

Party spokesman Obert Gutu said Mugabe “is way past his prime” when he failed to recognise that he was reading the wrong speech in parliament.

But when the dust had settled the new speech sought to focus on the faltering economy, which is now half its size from its 2000 level.

More flexible
The southern African country will make its black empowerment laws more flexible and set up a “one-stop” office to cut the time it takes to invest there.

The government will give the state-owned Mineral Marketing Corp. powers to explore for deposits and rename it the Mineral Exploration and Marketing Corp., according to the text of the speech published earlier by state mouthpiece Herald.

Mugabe’s administration is “carrying out a raft of measures to improve the business environment,” including easing company and investment procedures and establishing Special Economic Zones to “boost industrialisation,” according to the speech.

Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic crisis since 2008 as tight liquidity forces company closures and the government struggles to meet a wage bill that swallows 83% of the revenue it collects. 

The size of economy has shrunk by about half in the last 15 years, while about 1.5 million Zimbabweans face some hunger after drought slashed production of corn, the nation’s staple food.

The government will also establish a Land Commission to bring about “fairness and transparency” in the farming industry, according to the speech.

Since 2000, mostly white commercial farmers have been forcibly and sometimes violently evicted from their land and homes to make way for the settlement of black producers. The process resulted in a slump in farm production and disputes over land ownership between new occupants.

According to Mugabe’s other deputy, Phelekezela Mphoko, in comments reported last week, the country plans to to pass a law that will force large and small-scale farmers to pay a quarterly rent to the state or face eviction, in a bid to improve productivity.

‘Nothing for free’
“Zimbabwe has the potential to regain the status of being the breadbasket of Africa if those who were allocated land use the land productively in a commercial manner,” he said on September 11 in a speech to farmers.

“Farming is a business and we don’t expect to see subsistence farming on A2 farms,” he said in reference to commercial holdings expropriated from mainly white farmers in the land reform programme backed by Mugabe but which benefited largely party officials and well-connected individuals.

We long suspected evictions were coming because nothing is free and only fools believed life would improve,” Philemon Mucherechete, a 62-year-old seller of thatching grass on the roadside 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital, Harare, told Bloomberg news wire.

“Two hectares (5 acres) of land is two hectares of land and just because it is on a white man’s former farm doesn’t mean we would suddenly become rich.”

A drought last season saw harvests of corn, the country’s staple food, and tobacco, the country’s biggest crop export, slump. The southern African nation will have to import about 700,000 metric tonnes of corn between now and the harvest in March, government has said.

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