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

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The South African Government need to realise—I cannot believe they do not—just how important they could be in this. They could be a real beacon, acting in the interests of the people of Zimbabwe, rather than standing back and saying virtually nothing.

I want to pay tribute to the opposition in Zimbabwe. I have known Nelson Chamisa for a long time. When I first went undercover, he was one of the people who helped to show us around in very difficult circumstances. He is incredibly brave and very charismatic. He did an enormously powerful job in getting people involved in huge rallies, including young people and people who had never been politically involved before. Despite some people, perhaps even in his own party, he has continued to talk clearly about a peaceful future and a peaceful role. Despite his being accused of all sorts of things by the Government, we should give him huge credit for his role.

I have a couple of questions to ask the Minister. Although it is clear that Zimbabwe’s application for readmission to the Commonwealth has been seriously set back, there are aspects of the Commonwealth process and engagement, particularly with the people of Zimbabwe, that deserve support. We need to remind people that it is not the United Kingdom that decides whether Zimbabwe will go back into the Commonwealth, but the Commonwealth. Perhaps we have a bit more influence, but we certainly do not make that decision on our own. Are Her Majesty’s Government ensuring that the excellent work of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum on strengthening democracy at a local level is well funded and supported by the UK and other Commonwealth countries? Local democracy is an important building block at the grassroots level.

Is the Minister still engaged in helping to support charities such as ZANE, which has done so much to help older people who have been left destitute? The pension issue has still not been sorted. One or two hon. Members have made that a big issue. I await the Minister’s view on that.

There has been a worrying trend recently, which may stop again now, of some of the Zimbabwean diaspora being sent back as part of the euphoria about the supposedly new regime. The Zimbabwe Vigil, which carries out a vigil on Saturday afternoons outside the Zimbabwean embassy and has maintained its solidarity and support for people in Zimbabwe, is worried that the Home Office is perhaps being too quick off the mark to send people back there where they could be taken into custody.

Will the Minister confirm that the Her Majesty’s Government, and particularly the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, have learnt a lesson from what I would call the ill-advised cosying-up to the Zimbabwean leadership, which owed its position, power and loyalty to the military and political machine that manoeuvred to install it and not to the people of Zimbabwe through a free and fair electoral process? I will not go into more detail; the Minister knows what I am talking about. There is no doubt that our embassy in Zimbabwe had become too identified, rightly or wrongly—I think wrongly—with ZANU-PF. A new ambassador, Melanie Robinson, has just started in Zimbabwe and there are good reports about how she is settling in. On behalf of all hon. Members present and the all-party group, I wish her the very best in that difficult job.

I want to make sure that the Minister realises that those of us who urged caution, particularly Zimbabweans who have long had to cope with the machinations of ZANU-PF brutality and the manipulation of international opinion, were rebuffed by some officials in our embassy who thought that they knew better. I hope that we have learnt that lesson. I pay tribute to all the people in Zimbabwe who have continued to work for democracy, and all the members of the all-party group and everyone in this House who will not let Zimbabwe be forgotten.