Zimbabwe — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:53 pm on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Commons) , Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Commons) 2:53 pm, 30th January 2019

I draw hon. Members attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I praise Kate Hoey for securing the debate and for the tireless work she does through the all-party group, which is one of the most exceptional groups in the House, among many candidates. She spoke of how members of the Zimbabwean opposition have been fearless, but she has been pretty fearless over the years in going to Zimbabwe. As she noted, her most recent trip was funded by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which I chair. I encourage other hon. Members with specific interests in countries to come to us if they want funding for that type of trip.

In private, I have occasionally accused the hon. Member for Vauxhall of being a bit pessimistic. I was always more optimistic about Zimbabwe as Minister for Africa and, subsequently, through the Commonwealth. Sadly, again, she has been proven right and a realist about the situation—the reality held up. That is a lesson not just for our ambassadors but for many others who go into Zimbabwe but perhaps do not have the decades of experience that the hon. Member for Vauxhall has.

Although I do not have the same experience, I have a long-standing interest in Zimbabwe. When I worked for Barclays in Africa, when things were doing well, all the pan-African IT for Barclays was run out of Harare—as, in fact, were all the IT systems for the whole Caribbean. That seems somewhat ridiculous, given the current situation.

Like many, I want Zimbabwe to return to being a prosperous nation state with proper elections, and I want it back as part of the Commonwealth family. Prior to the elections, however, I was premature in calling for it to be brought back into the family in a less conditional environment. I am still a bit more optimistic than the hon. Member for Vauxhall about keeping up engagement—what was called incremental engagement—which revolved around trying to move forward a little when there were some changes on the other side.

The news coming out of Zim is not only disturbing but wholly unacceptable. In the wake of peaceful civilian protests, the security forces launched brutal crackdowns across Harare and the country. Excess force and brutality, arrests and detentions are being used by the police and soldiers—and they are arbitrary arrests, because there is no law enforcement. That needs to stop.

In Rochford and Southend East, there are 889 people of Zimbabwean heritage, which is about 1% of my constituents. I have heard directly from them horrific tales and allegations about the systemic use of violence and torture by the armed and uniformed members of the Zimbabwe National Army and the Zimbabwe Republic Police, particularly in high-density areas outside Harare and in the suburbs.

One story recounted to me relates to a young man who lives in Budiriro, a high-density suburb in the south-west of Harare. He was rounded up with his neighbours and brutally set upon by police. His only crime appeared to be that he lived in the wrong street. Groups of young men had been setting up roadblocks on neighbouring streets and stopping and throwing stones at a few of the cars that remained despite the high petrol prices. The police were sent in and, instead of investigating the complaints, went round to all the homes near the roadblocks and dragged out and beat all the young men who were there, regardless of whether they were involved or not—collective punishment of the community for what had been done by a few. Some of those men are being held without charges or representation, and with no food or water. We cannot condone or accept that behaviour.