In a surprise move, the United States on Tuesday (5 October) removed Zimbabwean individuals and companies from the sanctions list that were barred from doing business with US companies, but President Robert Mugabe and First Lady Grace remained on the sanctions list.

The US started imposing targeted sanctions on 98 Zimbabwean individuals and 68 entities – mostly farms and legal entities owned by the 98 individuals – in 2003. Sanctions included asset seizures and travel bans. The US Embassy in Harare said the sanctions were implemented "as a result of the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Zimbabwe and other persons undermining democratic institutions and processes in Zimbabwe".

Political rhetoric has typically blamed Zimbabwe's economic woes on the "illegal western sanctions", but Sharon Hudson-Dean, public affairs officer for the US Embassy in Harare maintained the sanctions were "not blocking Zimbabwe's economic recovery".

Two previously sanctioned firms, ZB Financial Holdings Limited and Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe (IDC, a government-owned entity) claimed the embargo had hampered efforts to attract investors and obtain international credit lines.

The removal from the list will come as a relief to ZB and the IDC, which has in the past noted that the embargo hampered its efforts to attract investors and obtain international financial assistance.

"The removal of IDC from the Ofac means recovery. Our assets and resources will become accessible. We are now able to trade normally and access funding. The financial institutions that used to give us credit had stopped due to sanctions, but now we will be able to access funding," IDC chief executive, Mike Ndudzo, was quoted as saying by NewsDay newspaper.

"We are happy about the development. The company incurred losses, but it's behind us. We are looking forward the future."

The moves comes as cash-strapped Zimbabwe's Finance Ministry has been forced to delay pay for civil servants – including doctors and the military – and authorities have imposed strict limits on the amount that ordinary people can withdraw from bank accounts.

Despite the sanctions, there is no US bilateral trade embargo against Zimbabwe, and the US has not cut-off aid to Zimbabwe.

Who are the individuals and firms removed from US Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) sanctions list?

Notable companies that have been removed from the list include ZB Financial Holdings Limited, Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe (IDC, a government-owned entity), Scotfin Limited, Intermarket Holdings Limited, Chemplex Corporation Limited and Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company.

Individuals include Aeneas Chigwedere, Sabina Mugabe, Charles Utete, Jocelyn Chiwenga, Cephas Msipa, Georgina Nkomo, Abina Chapfika, Ever Chombo and Rudo Charamba.