Zimbabwe: Public Servants

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:43 pm on 22nd October 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, International Development 9:43 pm, 22nd October 2007

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Waddington for his continued commitment to the welfare of those who served the Crown in Southern Rhodesia before UDI in 1965.

Our debate has been invaluable for this House to reconsider the plight and the desperate situation of all those condemned to live under the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe. This chaos has been brought about, in some cases deliberately engineered, entirely by Robert Mugabe's ruthless determination to hold on to power at any cost. The human suffering is enormous.

We on these Benches feel great sympathy for those loyal servants of the Crown who now find themselves victims of grave economic injustice. We are sympathetic to all Zimbabweans who must suffer the torment of living under the ZANU-PF regime.

At independence, in 1980, when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, the exchange rate of the Zimbabwe dollar to the pound sterling was one to one. Today, on the parallel market, it is a staggering 2 million to one. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Luce, about the disastrous inflation situation. How right he is. Inflation is expected to reach 1.5 million per cent by the end of the year and is already reliably estimated at 22,000 per cent. This means that not only the pensions of former Crown servants but also all pensions have been eroded to dust. A recent story in the Guardian of a man no longer sent his pension statement as his fund was worth less than the price of a stamp is, tragically, not an uncommon case.

Many former Crown servants remained in Zimbabwe after independence and became Zimbabwean citizens. They put their trust in the future of the independent state under majority rule. They were failed by the tyranny of Robert Mugabe. Without a Government to support them, many of these people now need financial support and they need it desperately. Their faith in and commitment to the future of Zimbabwe have been badly betrayed.

The trust of the international community has also been betrayed, not only by the Government of Zimbabwe but also by regional leaders. At the Southern African Development Community summit this year, they offered no meaningful reprimand to Mugabe or his ZANU-PF machine. It seems that President Mbeki is still not prepared to adopt the firm approach towards Mugabe that could so swiftly topple his Government. The SADC countries that buffer Zimbabwe geographically also buffer Zimbabwe politically. Economic aid is of no use unless it is spent well. SADC Governments need to recognise the cost in both human and economic terms of their failure to censure Mugabe and the damage that it is doing to the reputation of the whole region.

To think that this area was known centuries ago as the land of Ophir, supposedly the site of Solomon's mines, rich and blessed with the most formidable and mysterious cultural ruins in the world. But in Zimbabwe today, 4 million people are on borderline starvation and more than 3,200 people are dying every week from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses.

Will Her Majesty's Government review how they donate their economic aid in the future so that it no longer props up the Mugabe regime? We on these Benches urge the Government not only to listen but also to act. It is too easy to say that Zimbabwe is an African crisis and that it requires an African solution. We are all stakeholders. Why should British taxpayers be expected to foot Mugabe's bill for a country that was once an agricultural and economic jewel of the continent?

The Prime Minister's robust refusal to attend the EU-AU summit later this year if Mugabe attends is most welcome and must be commended. It is an example to other EU leaders and I hope—but, sadly, do not expect—that they will follow him in refusing to condone the presence at an EU assembly of so ruthless a man.

We have long pressed for a more robust stance, as stressed by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, only to be told that there was nothing that could be done by Her Majesty's Government. Some of your Lordships may find it surprising, to put it mildly, that Mugabe still holds the honorary knighthood that he was awarded in 1994. Are Her Majesty's Government still reviewing the situation, or do they think that it might now be time to address their adversary head-on and strip Mugabe of his knighthood and his affiliation with this nation?

The British embassy website has a link to the excellent charity Homes in Zimbabwe, which supports care homes for the elderly in Zimbabwe. Its method is to build on existing establishments and infrastructures to benefit as many vulnerable pensioners as possible; I hope that many former Crown servants benefit. I pay tribute to the splendid job done by Her Majesty's ambassador in Harare, Andrew Pocock, in very difficult circumstances. He and his staff do much to maintain the morale of Zimbabweans and those British subjects still resident in Zimbabwe, particularly the elderly. I know that the register of the British citizens in Zimbabwe kept by the embassy is currently being updated and I trust that the exercise will also help to identify individuals at risk or in particular need.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to the questions put to him and hope that he will reassure us that Her Majesty's Government will do all that they can to save this dwindling band of former Crown servants in Zimbabwe from anxiety and distress in the twilight of their lives.