A Barclays Africa branch is seen in downtown Harare. Picture: Nicola Mawson

Johannesburg - Employees of Barclays’s Zimbabwean unit filed an urgent application seeking to stop the sale of the bank to First Merchant Bank of Malawi, or any other investor.

Workers are demanding the right of first refusal on the deal, according to court papers filed in the Harare’s High Court on May 22. The sale needs to comply with laws aimed at encouraging local ownership, the employee group said.

London-based Barclays is reducing its operations in Africa as CEO Jes Staley, 60, looks to support a trimmed-down investment bank focused on London and New York. The lender is seeking to sell down its remaining 50.1 percent stake in Barclays Africa Group to less than 20 percent to deconsolidate the unit from its accounts, releasing capital that can be invested elsewhere in the business.

Talks between the London-based parent and its Johannesburg unit in which Barclays Africa would’ve bought the British lender’s Zimbabwean and Egyptian businesses failed in December 2015 after they couldn’t agree on price.

Read also: Malawi interest in Barclay's Zim unit

Zimbabwe’s economy has halved in size over the past 16 years, and the population is struggling with a shortage of cash, with banks limiting customer withdrawals.