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Zimbabwe - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:34 pm on 31st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative 2:34 pm, 31st January 2019

My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Goschen on obtaining this debate and I thank him for his kind comments in relation to my PNQ last week.

I would like to touch on just two subjects. One is my experience of having been an electoral observer in Zimbabwe last year, and the second is the role of South Africa, which the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, also referred to. However, before I do so, I pay credit to Christina Lamb, who has been referred to previously; to Kate Hoey in the other place for her constant pursuance of assistance and democracy in Zimbabwe; to DfID for the efforts and money that it put in in relation to funding work at the election last year; to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for its very quick action over the last few weeks, to which I paid credit in the Private Notice Question last week; and to the Commonwealth observers, with whom I shared the honour of being an election observer last year, and in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, who unfortunately cannot be here today. I believe that, although limited, our role in the election helped and, along with the other observers, it enables us to comment on what happened.

As far as I am concerned, the election in Zimbabwe last year fell into three categories. The first was the unfair period in the run-up to election day. Communication through the media, funding and assistance were dominated by ZANU-PF. There is absolutely no question but that nobody else got a look in. The chiefs played a major role. I lived in the country many decades ago and was struck by how unchanged that influence has been in an apparently modernising country. The development of the country in that period was most depressing. As I and my colleague Sabrina Grover from Canada headed out to Matabeleland North, we were driven by an individual who commented on the lack of development in Harare over the last few decades. The significance was that he was a qualified architect, but he had had no work for the whole of his adult career because there had been no development in the country. In that first period, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission failed to take any action on the dominance of the media and the bias that I have referred to.

The second period—election day itself—was remarkably fair and peaceful. Here, I pay credit to all the employees who carried out the election and to the thousands of observers across the country. Before election day, they all slept for several nights on the floors of unlit, unheated and, in many cases, seriously degraded schools to protect the ballot boxes. Overwhelmingly, the election day went smoothly.

The post-election day—the third category—was another matter. We saw the murders of demonstrators in the centre of Harare only eight blocks from where we were staying in our hotel. We saw the looting of the MDC offices and the arrest of a number of MDC candidates and employees. The significance of that looting was that the MDC lists of supporters are now in the hands of the Government. Therefore, although what we have seen in these last few weeks has been random in many cases, as has already been identified, there is the potential that those who worked so hard and so peacefully will be persecuted, arrested and attacked. Is it not ironic that the person leading those arrests and attacks himself only fled Zimbabwe under an illegally obtained evacuation order smuggled into his house last October? He had to burst his way through Forbes border post with the support of his family, blocking the guns of the Zimbabwean military—that is, President Mnangagwa. So twice in his life he has faced persecution, yet he seems willing to do the same to his own population now.

I could comment much more in relation to the election but I shall pick on one particular occasion. On the night of the actual election, Sabrina Grover, the Irish ambassador from Pretoria, a DfID representative from the British embassy and I were standing outside a polling station in a rural area in Matabeleland North. We were approached in the darkness by a man who wanted to protest about a random arrest that had happened at his polling station earlier in the day. That is the sort of thing that can and does happen and there were many other instances. But overwhelmingly, election day went well.

As has been identified, the key to this is South Africa, which has the power, influence and capacity to help, aid and intervene in Zimbabwe if it so wishes. One of the most striking things in relation to the election was that, before election day, we were given the figures for registration in Zimbabwe. The number of women massively outnumbered the number of registered male voters. Why? Large numbers of men have gone to South Africa because that is the only place they might get work. We do not know the numbers involved—perhaps 1 million or 2 million—but the situation was shown up by this imbalance.

The South African Government can intervene, and not only to the benefit of the Zimbabwean population; in doing so, they can ease the problems of unemployment and depression in South Africa as well. I wholeheartedly welcome this debate and I hope the Government, along with many other Governments in the world, can make progress with President Mnangagwa and his Government.