According to the state-owned Herald newspaper, Wharton said Mugabe, 91, had dedicated his life to fighting for the liberation of the continent.
“Robert Mugabe is a lion of Africa. He has dedicated his life to create a free and independent Zimbabwe. He is a leader not only of Zimbabwe, but he helped to bring down apartheid in South Africa,” Wharton was quoted as saying.
Wharton said this during his final media breakfast meeting in Harare.
But he also had some advice regarding the country’s harsh economic conditions.
Posts on Twitter by the US Embassy in Harare quoted Wharton as saying that the southern African country had the “potential to triple” the size of economy as it had enough “intellectual capital, natural resources and infrastructure” to do so.
Controversial indigenisation law
Zimbabwe’s economy is currently on its knees. According to New Zimbabwe.com, statistics show that formal unemployment is over 80% as companies continue to shut down.
Wharton also said the Zimbabwe government needed to “clarify its indigenisation law, restore human rights and property rights for competitiveness”.
Zimbabwe’s controversial indigenisation law of 2007 states that foreign-owned companies operating in the country should hand a 51% shareholding to local partners to reverse the imbalances created by colonialism.
Mugabe’s critics say the policy was the chief cause of investor aversion with some saying the indigenisation campaign had been fraught with ambiguity and corruption on a grand scale.
“Indigenisation is a very good worthy concept; all governments have the responsibility to protect their citizens’ economic rights first,” New Zimbabwe.com quoted Wharton as saying.
This was not the first time Wharton has spoken about the deteriorating economy. Last year, he told the ruling Zanu-PF party to stop blaming the country’s economic woes on sanctions and focus on sound policy decisions that would assist in developing a new trajectory for the nation.
Wharton said at the time that the economic and political problems that Zimbabwe faced were self-made.
The European Union (EU) imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2002 over electoral fraud and human rights abuses.