Zimbabwe opposition leader reportedly wants to give Chinese investors the boot

Key Points
  • Nelson Chamisa, Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, has reportedly vowed to tell Chinese investors in Zimbabwe that their deals are "unacceptable," should he win the country's July election.
  • Chamisa's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said in a statement on Wednesday that it "will audit all business deals and those that fail the national interest will be reviewed."
  • Anti-China sentiment speaks to the MDC's political base, an expert said.
  • Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa has pledged "free and fair" elections this summer, the first in decades without ousted former leader Robert Mugabe on the ticket.
President of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change Nelson Chamisa delivers a speech during a worker's day rally hosted by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in the capital Harare on May 1, 2018.
Jekesai Njikizana | AFP | Getty Images

Chinese investors are "busy asset-stripping" Zimbabwe's resources, the country's main opposition leader said in a speech this week, according to reports.

"I have seen the deals that (Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa) has entered into with China and others, they are busy asset-stripping the resources of the country," Nelson Chamisa said at a May Day rally on Tuesday, as reported by the BBC and local press.

Chamisa is leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

"I have said (that) beginning September when I assume office I will call the Chinese and tell them the deals they signed are unacceptable and they should return to their country," he added.

CNBC was not able to independently translate Chamisa's speech.

On Wednesday, the MDC published a statement on its website addressed to Zimbabwean state-owned newspaper The Herald. The statement accused the newspaper of publishing "malicious falsehoods" about Chamisa, although it did not specify what these were.

The "gist and essence" of Chamisa's May Day speech was that his party "will not allow the mortgaging of this country for political expedience," it said, attributed to Luke Tamborinyoka, presidential spokesperson and director of communications.

An MDC government "will audit all business deals and those that fail the national interest will be reviewed," it said.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on April 3, 2018.

"Chamisa's comments will play well with the MDC's political base, who see Chinese loans as being fundamental for helping keep the former Mugabe regime afloat," William Attwell, practice leader for Sub-Saharan Africa at emerging markets advisory firm Frontier Strategy Group, told CNBC on Thursday. "His comments seek to tap into growing frustration in Zimbabwe that Chinese investment has brought very little in terms of material benefits for locals."

Mnangagwa's nascent presidency has been characterized by his intention to revive the country's economic fortunes through building bridges with both the East and the West. He initially came to power after former leader Robert Mugabe, under whom Mnangagwa served as vice president, was ousted in a military coup in November.

Mnangagwa's first visit outside the African continent was to China last month, with attracting foreign investment high on the agenda. China has described itself as an "all-weather friend" of Zimbabwe.

Zanu-PF, the party of Mnangagwa and Mugabe, is to release its election manifesto on Friday.

Mnangagwa has pledged "free and fair" elections to be held in July of this year, and has said that he will invite international observers.

Attwell said that it was unlikely that Chamisa would be able to deliver on his pledge, should he win the upcoming vote.

"The raw fact is the Zimbabwe needs Chinese investment," he said. "Whoever wins the July election is going to need as much funding as possible — from China and the West — to rebuild the country's decaying infrastructure."