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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:54 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 6:54 pm, 30th March 2009

I am very pleased to follow Mrs. Curtis-Thomas, who has delivered a very powerful message from her professional experience. Interestingly, what she said linked in well with the thoughtful speech of my right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley. Although I have been to both South Africa and Namibia in recent months, my comments are going to be focused exclusively on Zimbabwe.

Like very many people in this country, I feel a very strong bond of affection for the country of Zimbabwe and its people, and I have spoken of them in this place for nearly 38 years—from the time I first entered the House. I also speak with some degree of hope that a corner may have been turned. Zimbabwe has been through some very dark days and there is still huge suffering as a result of hunger, cholera and other widespread health emergencies. However, there are encouraging reports that the courageous Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his highly able finance Minister Tendai Biti are bringing some order and some sense where, for too many years, the country has been at the mercy of a regime bent on plunder and pursuing wantonly destructive policies in the selfish pursuit of power and privilege.

Even Matthew Parris wrote in The Times quite recently that he had

"never quite been able—even at the lowest points of Robert Mugabe's despotism—to dispel a good feeling about the future. Hopes and anxieties for South Africa, a country whose memories and internal fractures run deep, dark and bitter, may flicker; but Zimbabwe is different."

Having said that, I do not think that we should overestimate the progress made, although it is perhaps worth highlighting one or two of the interesting experiences of people in Harare.

I am advised that a refuse disposal vehicle was spotted in Harare, with

"Men in orange Harare city council overalls, shovelling into it heaps of fly-blown, stinking, rat-infested refuse that had been accumulating for about five years."

Not far away were a

"dozen men and women in reflective yellow vests with machetes, hacking down the 3m elephant grass on the road verge. And lo, nearby, were four shiny new tractors with mowers, turning a suburban eyesore of rank, mosquito-laden weed into parkland."

Although there had been

"only rare glimpses of the Harare council maintenance department since 2000...Zimbabwe's power-sharing marriage"— which is now, I think, just about six weeks old—

"to everyone's surprise...has made an electrifying difference. Suddenly, up there and running the Government, alongside the malevolent and apparently indestructible"

Robert Mugabe, is that great man, Papa Morgan—Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister, and somebody whom I describe as the champion of the people. What was one of his first moves? It was

"simply to dump Robert Mugabe's joke currency and allow US dollars and other convertible currencies to circulate freely. Immediately it unjammed a multitude of cogs in the nation's stricken engine. The infusion of just a little real money has enabled the Harare city council to make a modest start on the worst of the decay left by the shameless Mugabe, his ministers and officials."

As I have said, we do not want to be over-optimistic at this stage, because Mr. Tsvangirai is dealing with a most unpleasant individual in Robert Mugabe, who seems oblivious to the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe who have AIDS and cholera, and are suffering from starvation. It is, in fact, a tapestry of unbelievable suffering. Is it possible that this whole decline is a deliberate programme of extermination? Do we recall the words of Didymus Mutasa when he was ZANU-PF's administrative secretary and the party's senior bureaucrat way back in 2002? He said that he

"would not mind if Zimbabwe lost half of its 12 million people because of the collapse of agricultural production", going on to say:

"We would be better off with only 6 million people".

Clare Short, the British International Development Minister at that time, was right to say:

"To welcome the death of nearly half the people in a country is... unforgivable—no one should forgive him." —[ Hansard, 11 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 244.]

Amanda Hammar, a leading Danish academic, commented:

"Mutasa's infamously stated desire to discard surplus populations has resonance with historic precedents such as National Socialism in Germany and its translation into routinised governmental annihilation."

Many well-informed observers of the region believe that the architecture of the inclusive Government was, in fact, never designed to deliver real reform. Sydney Masamvu of the International Crisis Group, who has already been quoted in the debate, has said that:

"the grand plan of Mbeki was to legitimise Mugabe and sanitise him in the eyes of the international community."

That may explain why SADC—the Southern African Development Community—and the African Union have been so forthright in calling for the lifting of the European Union travel restrictions on certain named individuals, yet so reluctant to censure Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF hardliners for blatantly undermining both the spirit and the letter of the global political agreement.

The efforts to undermine the stability and progress of the new Government are very evident. They operate through a parallel power structure controlled by the joint operations command. That junta, comprising the chiefs of the army, air force, police, prisons and intelligence, still refuses to accept the new political order, and is manoeuvring to maintain its grip on power. Ever since the swearing in of the new Government, elements loyal to the JOC have continued to use abduction, beatings, arrest and detention as a means of intimidation and control, along with, of course, the continuing invasion of white farms. There are too many in southern Africa—not only the unreformed ZANU-PF hardliners, but the fervent ideologues of the region—who seem incapable of moving on from the anti-colonial rhetoric of their glory days to a politics that deals with the needs and aspirations of the people today in their country.

With Kate Hoey, I recently had the privilege of meeting Thabitha Khumalo, MDC Member of Parliament for Bulawayo East. Morgan Tsvangirai has appointed her to a vital role as a member of the joint monitoring and implementation committee, the body set up under the global political agreement to oversee the monitoring and implementation of that agreement, which is the foundation on which the new and fragile political framework in Zimbabwe was built.

To those who listened to Thabitha Khumalo's accounts of life in Zimbabwe—of the continuing petty interferences, and the far more worrying abductions and detentions of those engaged in the political life of the country—it was apparent that JOMIC had a critical role to play. Its role is defined as being—I quote precisely—

"to ensure the implementation, in letter and spirit, of the Global Political Agreement, to act as a conduit for complaints and to promote an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding between the parties".

JOMIC is supposed to be guaranteed by both SADC and the AU. However, as Thabitha told us at the meeting at which we saw her, it is barely able to function because of its lack of funds. It is difficult for members to attend meetings, because not even their travel expenses can be covered. It should be an absolute priority for South Africa and other SADC nations to ensure that that vital committee is properly resourced.

The memorandum of understanding between political parties in Zimbabwe says that implementation of the global political agreement—again, I quote precisely, in order not to mislead the House—

"shall be underwritten and guaranteed by the SADC Facilitator, SADC and the AU".

I personally interpret "underwritten" as implying a certain financial responsibility. It certainly ill behoves the SADC nations to call so stridently and vehemently for the United Kingdom and other donor nations to provide financial backing for Zimbabwe when their response to the continuing breaches by ZANU-PF Ministers and Mugabe loyalists is either non-existent or so muted that it is as good as silent. Given the responsibilities that SADC took upon itself and into which it freely entered, I fear that silence in such circumstances amounts to complicity.

We must remain firm and resolute that financial support, other than the essential humanitarian support that we have always provided, will not be released until there is clear evidence of respect for the rule of law in Zimbabwe. For as long as the old guard, as I describe them, continue to have their fingers on the levers of power—and their fingers in the till—we would be foolhardy in the extreme to advance financial assistance through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Furthermore, it would do little if anything to advance the prosperity or security of the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, about whom we in the House are most concerned.

A clear and immediate threat, which I have already mentioned, is the renewed wave of farm invasions. It has shown utter disregard for the rule of law and contempt for both investment and production, both of which—as many Members have pointed out today—are central to development and security. If donors and commercial investors are to be attracted back to Zimbabwe to rebuild the shattered economy, to provide more jobs and income, to produce goods and to grow food, the upsurge in violence against commercial farmers must be halted.

Zimbabwe continues to be a test case for the institutions of Africa, for the Southern African Development Community and for the African Union. The accepted wisdom over recent years has been that Zimbabwe is an African crisis needing an African solution. The basis, agreed at Gleneagles, on which African leaders have been invited to attend recent G8 meetings is that in return for increased aid, Africa as a whole—but particularly the countries neighbouring Zimbabwe—will take responsibility for human rights and good governance. I do not know what we are to make of the recent comment by South Africa's interim President Motlanthe, who said, speaking in Zimbabwe:

"I think the notion that Africa has a collective responsibility for what happens in African countries is a misguided one."

I find that very difficult to understand.

I hope that African leaders as a whole will be challenged by the United Kingdom Government, not least at the G20, which will take place a few yards from here later this week, because they need to be challenged over their apparent attitude. The welfare and development of millions of people are at stake. The attitudes of Africa's leaders to their international obligations are important considerations in our debate on Africa as a whole. That surely goes to the heart of respect for the rule of law and respect for the treaty obligations which commit African nations—just as much as they commit nations elsewhere in the world—to upholding the freedoms, rights and dignity of individuals. We must make it clear to Africa that we are watching.

Let me express, from this House, my sympathy to Morgan Tsvangirai for the loss of his wife Susan. She was a wonderful person, and gave him great support. He has borne that tragic loss with huge courage and dignity. I hate to say it, but perhaps he has benefited from that great loss. The people of Zimbabwe—I referred to this earlier in my speech—describe him as "Papa Morgan". I say to the House that Morgan Tsvangirai, the champion of the people and the current Prime Minister of the Government of Zimbabwe, deserves all the support that we can give him, and I hope that the world will rally around a man who can restore the peace, stability and security of Zimbabwe.

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