I thank you, Mr. Cook, for giving me the opportunity to introduce the debate. I also thank the Minister for kindly giving up the time to respond to it only two weeks after another debate on the subject.
In the United Kingdom, we are proud upholders of the principle of democracy. Not to elect our representatives to this place would be an alien concept to us. We elect those representatives and, ultimately, the Prime Minister and the Government in the most free, fair and open way possible. Nor would anyone in the UK see as even vaguely acceptable any attempt to control the press through coercion or to deal with Opposition parties by deadly force.
If the people of this country are unhappy with the Government, they can go to the ballot box, which is presented every five years by statutory guarantee. It can and will be used without the election's result being managed by the incumbents. However, as we constantly see on our televisions and in the newspapers, that is not the case in Zimbabwe. That is why I requested the debate. We simply cannot stand back and allow such a brutal regime to flout democracy so horrifically.
We all know about the racially motivated persecution of the white farmers, with measures in place to nationalise up to 90 per cent. of all white-owned land. There is also a massive food shortage as a result of the fact that many farmers have already been evicted from their businesses and land. Indeed, the very people whom we wish to help more than most—the black people of Zimbabwe—suffer most from that horrific way of attacking established farms and communities, which employ many local people.
It is worth considering how many people are affected by the policy. In April this year, it was reported that there had been a 20 per cent. reduction in agricultural production as a whole, with a 40 per cent. reduction in maize crops, which form the main part of the nation's diet. It is estimated that if the land grabs continue, 250,000 commercial farm workers will lose their jobs, displacing 1.2 million dependants.
Land grabs have continued, but the problems go much deeper, challenging every remnant of freedom left in the country. The international community simply cannot ignore those problems on the grounds of not wishing to interfere in another country's affairs or to shape the world in our image. It must act on the grounds of stopping a humanitarian crisis and preventing the creation of yet another unstable and dangerous rogue state.
In the summer of 2001, the International Crisis Group published a detailed report that found Zimbabwe to be in severe political and economic crisis. It characterised that through the state-directed violence aimed at crushing any political opposition and through the growing potential for internal conflict and regional instability. The group concluded that the international community needed to make a serious effort to persuade President Mugabe to conduct the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for April 2002, freely and fairly, on a level playing field, to mark the return of Zimbabwe to the rule of law.
Fears that the elections will be conducted less than fairly are constantly reported by the press and articulated by the opposition parties. For example, a recent report in the state-run Herald newspaper stated that the Zimbabwe Government—on the recommendation of the justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, who wishes to amend Zimbabwe's electoral Act to allow only civil servants to monitor the polls—planned to ban foreign and independent local monitors from observing the 2002 presidential elections. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change unsurprisingly condemned that move by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front, which it believes
"shows clearly that they want to cheat."
What other purpose could any Government taking such measures intend? Surely other hon. Members will agree that a regime too frightened to allow its actions to be observed by independent witnesses is up to no good.
Past experience strengthens that argument. Last year, non-governmental organisations trained 24,000 monitors to observe the parliamentary elections, but at least 34 people were killed before the polls were opened among widespread violence and intimidation. This time round, the presidential election will be dirtier and nastier than we could imagine.
The South African Mail & Guardian reported on
A recent MDC press release reports that the Government have already started intimidation tactics, including the setting up of a hit squad to assassinate David Coltart, the MDC Member of Parliament for Bulawayo, South. It mentions plans to plant arms in MDC member's homes to "discover" them, and the fear that ZANU-PF supporters and war veterans intend to visit Victoria Falls, ahead of the party congress, to
"beat up, abduct and harass"
Furthermore, the Zimbabwean Government have suspended the teaching of human rights and democracy in secondary schools. They have ordered—thankfully unsuccessfully—the country's only independent newspaper to close and they are contemplating the unthinkable action of assassinating the opposition leader. Recent opinion polls show the MDC leader nearly six points ahead of Mugabe. Unchecked, Mugabe is likely to do all that he can to secure another six years in power. On
"the brutal outcome of a much wider terrorist plot by internal, and external terrorist forces with plenty of funding from commercial farmers and organisations like the Westminster Foundation, which we have established without doubt gets its dirty money for dirty tricks, from the British Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and also of course from the Government of Tony Blair."
That is quite a claim. I dare say that he could not substantiate it. It serves only to highlight a desperate man's attempts to shape the minds of people through propaganda.
I have worked closely on projects funded by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and I can assure hon. Members that it does a great deal of wonderful work to spread the message and values of democracy—values that we all hold dear—to those states such as Zimbabwe that neglect the views of their own people.
I was angered by the attacks on the Movement for Democratic Change, which I welcomed last year into the International Young Democrat Union, of which I am chairman. I know that the MDC is a strident believer in democracy and the rule of law. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of meeting four farmers who represent communities in Zimbabwe and they later spoke at a dinner in the other place.
It is clear what the international community must do. As long as Mugabe maintains the pretence of supporting democracy, we must ensure that elections are free and fair. That will not be an easy task and no one must pretend otherwise. A careful line must be navigated. Mugabe, scared of election observers revealing the truth about his methods, will not even allow aid agencies into the country to relieve the starvation of the estimated 1 million Zimbabweans in desperate need of food, for fear of election observers being smuggled in with them. However, the right lead, and enough pressure through threats of sanctions and loss of international recognition, could force the issue and allow election observers, if they report the elections to be anything other than free and fair, to give the rest of the civilised world a mandate to take action against Mugabe.
I could go on listing more reported atrocities, unacceptable acts and examples of actions that those of us who live in freedom find so abhorrent. I will refer only to one example, which was handed to me yesterday by my hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman, who is the Opposition spokeswoman on overseas development. This is an e-mail that was received recently from a lady called Tertia Geldenhuys, from Two Treehill Farm, Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe. She wrote:
"On Tuesday, the 7th August, black men beat up dozens of white women and elderly white men in Chinhoyi. It was as if a racial war had started in Chinhoyi town. Each time they asked the same question: 'Are you a farmer's wife?' Without waiting for an answer, they tripped and beat up the women. White people were warned on the Community Radio Network not to come to or proceed through Chinhoyi"
About 10 war veterans shouted at the lady's husband to come out. She continues:
"He went out to the gate, which was locked, and I heard them shouting: 'We want you out. We want you out here! We want to see your blood flow! Come out! Come out here!' I started praying because I knew it was only God who could save us now."
This morning's debate has not been to rehearse the problems that we already know exist, but to prompt recognition of the task ahead. We must not allow an election to take place if the result is already decided and people will be murdered or put in jail to reach it. We must not allow the continued starvation of the people of Zimbabwe because its Government refuse to allow white farmers to own and work their land. They are the families of people whom we as a country encouraged to settle in Rhodesia at the end of the first world war, and whose industry raised the average standard of living for the people of Rhodesia way above the African average.
To retain anything of an ethical foreign policy, the Government must not ignore Zimbabwe. They should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the Zimbabwean presidential elections are impartially observed. They should make it clear that any move by Mugabe to control forcibly the result will be met with the alienation of the international community. If we fail, we will have let down millions of people—the starving, silenced and oppressed—and we will have ignored the potential creation of a threatening rogue state.