The company says it has faced pressure to continue buying and processing fresh milk from non-contracted suppliers, including from an estate managed by Grace Mugabe, the president’s wife, after stating its intention on 1 October to end the practice.
This pressure culminated on 19 December when Nestlé Zimbabwe received an unannounced visit of government officials and police who forced the deposit of a tanker containing milk of non-contracted suppliers at the company’s Harare plant, the company told FoodNavigator.com in a statement.
The milk in the tanker had neither been purchased nor processed by Nestlé, it said.
Safety of employees
A company spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com: “Two Nestlé Zimbabwe managers were questioned by the police and released without charges the same day. Since under such circumstances normal operations and the safety of employees are no longer guaranteed, Nestlé decided to temporarily shut down the factory.”
As part of its October statement, Nestle confirmed that it would stop buying milk from a Zimbabwe farm appropriated from white owners and now run by Grace Mugabe because the Dairy Board of Zimbabwe would start buying the farm’s milk instead.
Nestle was widely criticized after it revealed that it formerly bought between 10 and 15 per cent of the milk processed at its Harare plant from the Gushungo Dairy Estate managed by Mrs Mugabe.
The company said earlier this year it had been operating in Zimbabwe for 50 years and strived to maintain a long-term viable operation under what it described as often challenging conditions. “We operate in Zimbabwe, as we do in every country, through good times and bad. We work for the long-term, in a way which has positive impact on our consumers, employees and suppliers,” said the company.
Meanwhile, The Zimbabwe Telegraph reports that the two government officials who visited the Harare plant were Saviour Kasukuwere, empowerment, indigenisation and agriculture minister, and Joseph Made, mechanisation and irrigation development minister.
Earlier this week, Kasukuwere told Zimbabwe’s state-owned newspaper The Herald that there was a new strategy of using local companies with foreign shareholders to impose sanctions on the country; citing Nestle as an example.
“We will bring under indigenous control all companies that continue to pursue the policy of sanctions,” he told the publication.
Companies were importing raw materials that were available locally and, in doing so, were thwarting efforts to create jobs in Zimbabwe, he added.
“They are ignoring local producers. If they don’t want to support local producers, tough luck to them,” Kasukuwere is reported to have told The Herald.
No one was available from the Zimbabwean government to answer questions before publication.