'Peaceful polls key to business'

HARARE - The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) says peaceful elections are key to business and in consolidating economic gains realised in the past few years.

Zimbabwe is expected to hold watershed elections — in which President Robert Mugabe squares off Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai — this year.

Traditionally, the country’s polls have been violent, scaring away investors and destabilising business.

The industry representative body’s concerns come as Mugabe last week told delegates at Zimbabwe’s 33rd independence celebrations that political parties should campaign peacefully ahead of the polls.

Mugabe, who has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980, urged police to ensure that all perpetrators of political violence be brought to book, adding that Zimbabwe should not be known for a culture of violence during elections.

Kumbirai Katsande, CZI’s president, said Mugabe’s call for peace before, during and after the plebiscite was “truly impressive and encouraging” to business.

“He wisely chose this high profile occasion of our national independence celebrations, a time when the ears of the whole country traditionally listen to his address, to eloquently emphasise that peace and tolerance are essential for Zimbabweans to enjoy life in independent Zimbabwe,” he said.

Industry, which was one of the main casualties of the hyperinflation and political instability — and is still struggling to get a solid footing in the dollarised economy, has repeatedly called for a peaceful environment that encourages investor participation and protection.

To buttress their call for a peaceful environment industry recently coughed up $40 million for the referendum.

Katsande implored other leaders “at all levels to enthusiastically and actively embrace and spread this message...”

Finance minister Tendai Biti is also on record saying Zimbabwe’s prospects of a five percent economic growth rate this year could be scuttled if elections turn violent.

“The biggest risk remains a violent and contested election. A repeat of the bloody presidential run-off election of 2008 would collapse the nascent foundation we have built over the last four years,” said Biti.

He warned that if Zimbabwe continues with its political fighting, there was a huge risk of plunging the economy into an abyss.

Economic experts argue that war-ridden economies lose approximately eight percent of their gross domestic product for five consecutive years.

Zimbabwe’s coalition government between Mugabe and Tsvangirai was formed after violent elections in 2008, when Zanu PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence and Mugabe lost first round voting to the latter.

Part of the aim of the coalition government was to promote reconciliation and quench political temperatures. - John Kachembere

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