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

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his years of support and work. I know how much he cares for Zimbabwe. He is absolutely right. There was this idea that Mnangagwa left the country as soon as the fuel price rose, to go to Russia and begin a tour of different countries—not countries that we would necessarily see as our best friends—to try to bring in some investment. I think that was absolutely deliberate, because he could then say that he had nothing to do with what was happening. Chiwenga, who is seen as the person who wants to eventually take over, was very much in charge.

The systematic abuse and actual torture of individuals continues as we speak. The women who have been raped by soldiers have nowhere to report these crimes, because the rule of law in Zimbabwe has broken down. The Law Society of Zimbabwe has issued a statement raising its concerns about how all the legal cases of the people who were arrested have been conducted. It is a shocking indictment of what used to be a really good legal system. Zimbabwe was way ahead of most of the rest of Africa, in terms of rights and its attitude to the law.

People have said how they felt in the middle of this. People were too afraid to move around, because of the burning of vehicles. They knew that many of the soldiers were doing this, but not in uniform. The Zimbabwean Government had the audacity to think that people would believe their story that these people had gone to army barracks or police stations, stolen the uniforms and then taken part in this activity. Of course, that was complete nonsense. I could go on for a long time about all the terrible things that have happened, but there is no doubt that Mnangagwa knew what was going on. Whatever he has said about what he will do, nothing has happened—none of the responsible people have been prosecuted.

For me, one of the most dangerous things is how the constitution is being completely ignored and the level to which the rule of law has been trampled on by the Executive, the army, the police, the National Prosecuting Authority and some elements of the judiciary. One eminent politician, Innocent Gonese, who is the secretary for justice and legal affairs in the opposition party, said in a letter:

“I never thought I would ever live long enough to witness levels of such depravity, cruelty, callousness and downright disdain and contempt of the right of the citizens as enshrined in our Constitution and our statutes. While our country has had a history of serious violations of human rights starting from the years of colonial rule and repression and the epochs of gukurahundi, murambatsvina and the dark days of June 2008, the people thought that we had turned a corner in November 2017 with the demise of the former strongman Robert Mugabe.

Sadly it has turned out to be a false dawn. The actors may have changed with the removal of Robert Mugabe and some of his henchmen, but the script has remained the same if not worse.”

I find that pretty horrific, because we saw such dreadful things and now it seems that it is all happening again.

What can we do? First, we cannot ignore what is happening. I am pleased that the Minister called in the Zimbabwean ambassador. I am sure she will tell us more about that. We have to use our position where we can to influence and work with the South African Government and the Botswana Government. I know there is an Africa conference coming up in the next week or two; I do not know whether the Minister is going. We have to be clear that we are calling for the end of the deployment of the military. They have to go back into their barracks. We have to get the United Nations to say that and to make a strong statement on the rule of law.

We need a complete, absolute condemnation of the way that citizens’ internet access was closed down. We need to call for an independent investigation of the human rights violations, to be led by the African Union or the United Nations. We have to find out who gave the orders. It was the same with the people who were killed just after the election—we never really go to the bottom of who had given the orders. The investigation ended up being a whitewash. We need to investigate that, because the commission of inquiry in the post-2018 elections did not get to the bottom of it.

We have to be very clear—the United Kingdom Government have to be very clear—that the international community should completely suspend any initiatives related to re-engaging with the Zimbabwean Government. It is unacceptable, in my view, even to be talking about debt restructuring and private sector investment while so many Zimbabwean civilians are being assaulted and killed.

Ultimately, the sanctions we have now are very low. I am not suggesting that we go back to sanctions, because after the feeling that there was some hope for change, sanctions gave the Zimbabwean Government the opportunity to say, “The world doesn’t like us. It is only these sanctions that are causing all the difficulties.” Of course, there are no sanctions now, so they cannot say that. However, we may have to look at reviewing sanctions, particularly regarding travel. Mnangagwa got—I am not into aircraft—one of the top planes that can be hired, to go off on his trip. It cost thousands and thousands of dollars, while there are no medicines in the hospitals. Mnangagwa did not actually go to Davos. He left, because I think he knew that if he had gone to Davos, he would have received huge criticism, even there.

We are seeing crimes against humanity. Senator David Coltart, who many hon. Members will know, has made it very clear that crimes against humanity are still being committed. We have to engage very strongly with South Africa and Botswana, as I said. We have to ask the South African Government to really engage. We have not seen the criticism that could have come from South Africa.