UNITED STATES ambassador to Zimbabwe, Peter Harry Thomas (Jr), has dismissed claims that sanctions against some Zimbabwean leaders and entities are affecting ordinary citizens, insisting the measures are “targeted”.
Responding to journalists’ questions during a roundtable discussion at the American Corner at the Bulawayo Public Library on Thursday, Thomas Jnr said his country was the biggest supporter of ordinary people in Zimbabwe.
“Other restrictions and the Zidera (Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act) are against 98 officials and 68 entities, most of which are owned by those officials,” he said. “The sanctions were imposed by George Bush over several issues including lack of freedoms in this country. We will continue to look at those sanctions. We don’t support any political party, but political processes. We will continue to engage the leadership in this country.
That’s what diplomats do in every country. We will continue to meet them.”
He added: “It is not true that US sanctions affect ordinary people the most. We are the biggest donor in this country; we give more scholarships to support people. People can argue about politics, but no one can argue with figures: $2,6 billion.”
Thomas said his country had been the largest donor to Zimbabwe giving the Southern African country $2,6 billion since independence.
“We have just announced an additional $20 million to help those affected by drought. We give over $135 million to Zimbabwe for HIV work,” he said.
Thomas said his embassy was funding, to the tune of $400 000, the opening of an American office at the National University of Science and Technology (Nust).
“This is going to be our initial involvement. We are sure that the office will serve as a cultural space for people at universities in the area,” he said.
The US diplomat said the challenges that had led to the closure of many Bulawayo industries were a phenomenon all over the world.
“India and the Philippines were affected by the loss of textile industries, just like Bulawayo. Even in the US, textile towns are shutting down,” he said.
The ambassador suggested that considering alternative industries like tourism could be the answer to de-industrialisation.
Thomas said farmers and businesspeople who lost their land during the land reform programme had gone to court or were waiting for the government of Zimbabwe to honour its promise to pay for improvements on the contested land.
“There is a Bill that has been passed that talks about compensation. We will wait to see what happens with the Bill,” he said.
The diplomat, who admitted being surprised by President Robert Mugabe’s sense of humour, has been touring his country’s projects in the Matabeleland region since Tuesday.
“Something I didn’t know was that he has a wicked sense of humour. I knew he was an intelligent man. His humour was what surprised me. I wish to meet him again in future. He was very clear in his opinion and what he wanted to see for the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.