, JOHANNESBURG September 17- Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe vowed on Tuesday to press ahead with a empowerment drive to force foreign firms to surrender majority shares to local partners.
“The indigenisation programme is to be pursued with renewed vigour,” Mugabe said, opening a new session of parliament after disputed elections in July.
He vowed to make Zimbabweans “significant stakeholders and not mere bystanders to the running of the national economy”.
“Government should mainstream the indigenisation and empowerment programme.”
The controversial indigenisation law was first implemented in 2010, forcing foreign companies to cede 51 percent shares to Zimbabwean partners.
The law has so far been applied to mines. Retailers were next in line.
Critics say the law will benefit Mugabe’s allies and scare away foreign investment at a time the country is grappling massive joblessness.
Mugabe, in power since 1980, won another five year term in general elections on July 31 which were dismissed by his main rival as “a fraud.”
He said in his address to parliament he is also ready to mend fences with western countries.
“We stand ready to work with even those who before were at odds with us,” Mugabe said.
“On the other hand we will continue to demand the immediate and unconditional removal of sanctions imposed by some arrogant western countries.”
Relations between Zimbabwe and western countries were strained after elections in 2002, which Western observers said were rigged to hand Mugabe victory.
Lawmakers from the main opposition boycotted the opening of parliament by the veteran president, saying he did not win elections which extended his stranglehold on power.
Mugabe said the new parliament will amend laws to align them with the country’s new constitution adopted in a referendum in March, pass laws to ensure zero tolerance to the scourge of corruption and implement pro-poor development strategies.