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Zimbabwe - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:27 pm on 31st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 2:27 pm, 31st January 2019

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, on securing this debate at such an appropriate time. He referred to neighbouring countries that I, too, know fairly well, including not just Zambia but Botswana. There is a hub of countries which we can compare with Zimbabwe.

Reading a blog from an expatriate Zimbabwean returning to his country from Cape Town reminded me of the times when my organisation had thriving design offices in burgeoning Bulawayo and Harare. I shall quote the anonymous blogger:

“Once upon a time, my country was one of the most developed in Africa, with an envied infrastructure and education system. It was … blessed with abundant mineral resources, well-educated people, and regarded as Africa’s bread basket”.

The city streets were well maintained and people took pride as they walked around the centres of Bulawayo and Harare, which were free from hustlers and street vendors. He went on to write that,

“things started changing ... The roads are rutted … and full of potholes. The struggle is real as people’s stories tell of hardship, deepening poverty and unemployment. The youths standing on street corners … drug use. Communities are falling apart …

Christina Lamb, foreign correspondent of the Sunday Times, reported that just the other afternoon in Pumula in the Bulawayo suburbs, two girls—one aged 11 and the other 12—were playing between each other’s homes. They made the mistake of peeping through the wall of the police station to see what had happened to their neighbours, who had been locked up. They were spotted by the soldiers, dragged inside the compound and raped in the courtyard.

Rapes, beatings, floggings, shootings and murders, handed out by the army, have become commonplace as a reign of terror spreads across Zimbabwe. In this regard, we must congratulate the DfID personnel and the whole UK FCO team in Zimbabwe on the outstanding support they are giving to the victims. The abuses are the worst seen in Zimbabwe for at least a decade, dashing any remaining hopes that the departure of Mugabe would lead to political reform. Leading human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa states that there can be no question but that Zimbabwe is under military rule—the army is in control.

In response to the strikes in protest at the doubling of fuel prices and the crackdown by troops using systematic and brutal torture, government spokesmen reportedly said that the people had to learn to behave “correctly”. Hundreds have suffered gunshot wounds and more than 800 citizens—possibly over 1,000—have been arrested, often without reason or charge, since the “stay away” protests were called by the unions. The monitoring report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission on the “stay away” and the subsequent disturbances resulting from the deteriorating economic and security situation highlighted that on 16 January the commission’s monitoring teams were denied access to, or any interaction with, those detained in police stations across Harare and Bulawayo provinces. Efforts to monitor detainees proved futile.

Nevertheless, the commission has produced an extensive monitoring report on the actions of the police and on the military crackdown and arrests. It reports on the losses of life through gunshots—at least 12—and the targeting of members of the opposition and civil society organisations. It reports on the beatings and arrests late at night, the denial of bail, the excessive use of force and police brutality, and countless examples of breaches of citizens’ rights under the constitution.

There are chilling parallels with Zimbabwe’s history under the Mugabe regime, perpetrated in the past by Manangagwa, reinforced by the demands for personal enrichment by those leading the Government and the armed forces by directing the country’s precious resources into their own pockets.

Over the last 12 months, the UK has given financial support to election monitoring initiatives and has set up a $100 million investment facility for growing businesses in Zimbabwe—the first such initiative for 20-odd years. Can the Minister say whether this initiative is now under review? In April last year, the Government strongly supported Zimbabwe’s application to rejoin the Commonwealth. Are they now reviewing their support for that application, given the fresh outbreak of atrocities?

According to Stevens Mokgalapa writing in the Zimbabwe Situation, lifting sanctions would serve only as a reward to the Zimbabwean Government. President Ramaphosa and the Minister of International Relations, Lindiwe Sisulu, have failed to grasp the repercussions of economic and political instability in Zimbabwe on the neighbouring country of South Africa. They must not reward brutal regimes that gun down their own people in the streets. They should use their influence to defend the victims, not to protect the aggressors. Does the Minister agree?

Finally, the Democratic Alliance in South Africa notes that, given the failure to manage border security, the only option is to stop the problem in the first place. South Africa’s standing in Africa, as well as its position on the UN Security Council, are platforms from which to draw attention to the crisis in Zimbabwe. Does the Minister agree? In that context, can he enlighten us on the outcome of the Minister for Africa Harriett Baldwin’s meeting with the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security and the outcome that she hopes to achieve during her visit to the region?