Harare — Nestlé Zimbabwe has been asked to reopen its factory after assurances were given by the Government over the safety of staff and agreement was reached over how milk from Gushungo Dairies will be processed.
In a statement yesterday, Industry and Commerce Minister Professor Welshman Ncube said he had held consultations with Nestlé Zimbabwe, Gushungo Dairies and other "key stakeholders in the dairy sector".
"As a result of those consultations, the parties have collectively reached an understanding to work together in ensuring that milk produced at Gushungo Dairies is absorbed by the local dairy processors.
"For its part, Government has given its assurance on the safety of staff and management at both Nestlé Zimbabwe and Gushungo Dairies," said the statement.
While no details of the "understanding" were made public, it appears that milk from Gushungo, which is owned by the First Family, will go into the general pool of milk processed by Dairibord and others and that Nestlé will buy its requirements from that pool.
Minister Ncube said he had been asked to intervene in the dispute by both President Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai after Nestlé's Zurich head office said it was temporarily closing its Zimbabwe factory after two managers were questioned by police and the factory was forced to buy a tanker of milk from a "non-contracted" source.
On Wednesday during a Press conference by the three principals to the Global Political Agreement to review the operations of the inclusive Government since its formation early this year, PM Tsvangirai said: "Shutting down the plant is an overreaction that is totally unnecessary," he said.
Nestlé head office in Zurich had issued a statement saying that it was temporarily closing its Zimbabwe factory "since . . . normal operations and the safety of employees are no longer guaranteed".
The company said, in its statement through AFP, that on Saturday the factory was visited by Zimbabwean "officials" and police, and forced to accept a tanker of non-contracted milk. Two managers were questioned by police but were released without charge after questioning the same day.
The company said its Zimbabwe subsidiary stopped buying milk from non-contracted farmers in October when normal supplies resumed from Daribord.
It had started buying direct in February this year as a temporary measure to ensure food supplies when Dairibord could no longer pay farmers but had then returned to its normal system.
However, Nestlé had been under pressure from Western activists to stop buying milk from Gushungo Dairy Estates, a business owned by the First Family and which was supplying up to 15 percent of the factory's milk, and from at least seven other new farmers.
The reason of switching back to Dairibord was not accepted by Zimbabwean pressure groups, who saw the move as an imposition of sanctions on the eight new farmers.