Foreigners operating retail and wholesale businesses in Zimbabwe risk being arrested if they continue doing business after a deadline for them to relinquish their businesses to Zimbabweans, state media has reported. 

The state-controlled Herald newspaper said on Friday that the move was in line with the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act. 

It added barbershops, hairdressings, beauty salons, bakeries, employment agencies and grain milling to the list of those who may be prosecuted if they fail to comply. 

The Herald said the threat was made by George Magosvongwe, the Secretary for Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, while appearing before a parliamentary committee in Harare, the capital. 

The Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act also lists agriculture, transportation, estate agencies, tobacco grading and packaging, advertising agencies, milk processing and provision of local arts and crafts as reserved sectors of the economy. 

"I confirm that some non-indigenous entities are still operating in the reserved sectors and there is a deadline for January 1 for them to comply with the requirement to relinquish their holdings in that sector," Magosvongwe was quoted by the paper as saying.

Magosvongwe said the government was in the process of identifying indigenous Zimbabweans who would take over ownership of the businesses, the Herald reported. 

Chinese retailers

This, he said, was meant to avoid creating shortages when the foreigners leave. 

"There is need to ensure that we don’t create shortages in the economy, but certainly the ministry is going to enforce the reserved sectors rule," he said. 

"And we will bring in the enforcement agencies from right across the Government departments and the local authorities to ensure that enforcement happens." 

The paper said Nigerians and the Chinese who flooded the country in recent years were likely to be the biggest casualties as they set up shops dealing in various wares in almost every town. 

Last August Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, threatened to expel foreign-owned firms over what he said was the West's interference in the politics of the country since 1980, when the country gained independence from the UK. 

That threat came nearly a month after he won elections that the European Union and the United States refused to recognise, saying they were marred by irregularities. 

One of the longest-serving presidents in Africa, Mugabe embarked on land reform more than a decade ago, seizing commercial farms owned by white Zimbabweans and giving them to landless people in a move that was widely criticised by Western governments and the media. 

The 89-year-old leader has said he needs no "ideas from London or Washington" both of which imposed sanctions on senior figures in his ruling ZANU-PF over human rights violations.