Zimbabwe — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 2:30 pm, 30th January 2019

Yes; the hon. Gentleman is right. The absence of violence specifically at the polling stations and so on was remarkable—there was not any—but that does not mean that the election was free and fair. Very often elections are rigged before election day, and then there is what happens afterwards. Of course, it was what happened after the election that night, literally, that made people feel that it was not free and fair.

Mnangagwa was declared the winner by the electoral commission, which was severely criticised for its way of dealing with the count and the delay, again, in making the announcement of the presidential result. We had in the country two Members of the House of Lords, Baroness Jay and Lord Hayward, who I am very pleased is here observing today’s debate. They went to the elections formally, to represent the Commonwealth —as part of the Commonwealth delegation—because of course Zimbabwe has applied to be a member of the Commonwealth again. It was very important that the Commonwealth was there. In fact, both Lord Hayward and Baroness Jay saw some of the trouble that happened immediately afterwards. Baroness Jay was in the hotel when the soldiers came in to stop an MDC press conference. Later, some totally innocent Zimbabweans were gunned down in the street by the army—some people were shot in the back. The international community, on the whole—I think that this applies to all the observers—made the point that the election was slightly freer and fairer, but there was not an overwhelming feeling that it was a wonderful Zimbabwean election and democracy was really back at its best.

Of course, since the election, the economy has got even worse. Mnangagwa made a great issue of the fact that Zimbabwe was open for business—the world could come and invest again; there was going to be this absolute change. That did not actually happen. There are huge shortages of food and other important goods. More recently, on 12 January this year, Mnangagwa announced a huge—200%—increase in the price of fuel. That was in a country in which very few people could afford the fuel price as it was, and it led to Zimbabwe, of all countries in the world, having the highest fuel prices. It was just not tenable, and people reacted. The trade unions, which have shown great courage throughout all of this, called for a countrywide “stay away” in protest, and there were demonstrations. There is no doubt that some of the younger people, unemployed people, were very angry, and probably some looting did go on in parts of Bulawayo and Harare, but what the army and the Government did was to respond immediately with huge, excessive force, which left 12 people dead and up to 100 with gunshot wounds, and hundreds of people were lifted in the middle of the night, imprisoned and denied bail.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen pretty horrific images showing what has been happening to people on the ground: not just MDC activists, although that is bad enough—it is shocking that many of them have been lifted in the middle of the night, taken away and still are not getting legal representation or any support—but “ordinary” Zimbabweans who were seen to be in areas where there was support for the opposition.

What was also done—it was a very clever move, because all of us know just how much social media has changed the nature of reporting in Africa—was that the internet was closed down, shut down, and was out of action for some three days. That made a huge difference because, as is shown in all the letters that have come out and the reports that we have seen, people felt absolutely isolated in their homes. They were in the dark; there was no electricity. Roads were closed, transport had stopped, schools were closed—everything was closed—and there was no social media, no way to contact people. That was, I believe, a deliberate strategy to cut down the information getting out of the country, and of course that leads to more worry, more concern, and a feeling that everybody has abandoned them. We saw the numbers involved.

Sky News had a very good film, which again showed the army acting, in uniform and with absolute impunity, against innocent passers-by.