Zimbabwe again hinted it might show flexibility in its stance towards foreign mining companies, with a government official saying a law forcing them to surrender 51 percent stakes to local people was an aspiration, not a hard target.

The remarks at a mining conference on Thursday by Prince Mupazviriho, the permanent secretary in the mines ministry, follow comments by other officials suggesting a softer tone.

This is a negotiated process, it is not an issue that is dictated to companies. It is more to deal with evaluating and negotiating with each company, Mupazviriho said.

The issues that affect each company are different. What has been of concern to investors is the 51 percent (equity) but it is only an aspiration, he said.

Some analysts see the drive for local ownership as designed chiefly to drum up votes ahead of elections next year that President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party is desperate to win. .

The government until recently acted like the 51 percent requirement was set in stone and had threatened to cancel mining licences over the issue from companies like Zimplats , the local unit of Impala Platinum .

But on Tuesday Zimplats was given an extension to come up with an acceptable plan by Nov. 15 and the government has since sharply altered its tone on the issue.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu told the same conference on Wednesday that the government would not cancel licences for mining companies that have not complied with the local ownership laws.