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

There is lots that we can do. The hon. Member for Vauxhall talked about the problems of the legal service. It is worse—the Government are directing the courts as to what to do. There is a series of long-term actions, such as working through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other Commonwealth countries, but at the moment, the Government in Zimbabwe are simply not listening.

My hon. Friend John Howell describes the situation as terrible, but unfortunately, I have not got to some of the worst bits, which gives me no pleasure to say. There have been several reports about the use of sexual violence, in particular. On 23 January, ITV reported rape claims against soldiers during the unrest. It is my understanding that ITV has met 11 women, all of whom said they were sexually assaulted—that is to say, raped—and that their attackers were members of the Zimbabwean army. This appears to have been systemic and organised use of sexual violence, which should concern us even more than isolated cases of sexual violence.

The reports of death tolls have been varied and, I suspect, understated. Amnesty said that eight people were killed when police and military fired on crowds, while the Zimbabwean Government said only three people were killed, including a policeman who was stoned to death by an angry crowd. The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights has said that doctors had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and more than 100 other cases of

“assaults with sharp objects, baton sticks”,

and they had seen people left with marks on their bodies after being kicked or stamped on with boots.

Notwithstanding the statement by my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa on Zimbabwe on 17 January and the representations that were made by the Secretary of State on 22 January, we need to ramp up our representations to our Zimbabwean counterparts. We need to remind them of their international obligations on human rights and freedom of opinion and expression, and about the results of the use of excessive force, as evidenced by the injuries that were documented in medical records; those are not just vague accusations.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa cut short his foreign trip, which had been largely aimed at raising foreign exchange and returning investment. He returned to Zimbabwe to stabilise the situation. Well, I have not seen any stabilisation of the situation. I listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames and the hon. Member for Vauxhall, who felt that the situation had been pre-prepared: petrol prices were put up; then, the President removed himself from the country; and there was a purge. I suspect that they are probably right.

Earlier, I had wondered whether there might be something else going on, namely that the military were taking greater control, as they did when there was the earlier coup that led to Mugabe being ousted. I wondered who really is in control of the country; is it the President or is it his Vice-President, the former army general, Constantino Chiwenga? Chiwenga was the muscle behind the November 2017 push that forced Mugabe to resign and I just wonder what is going on behind the scenes. The President is clearly responsible, whether or not he directed or planned the violence; he is the President of the country.

I support the points made by a number of people about getting South Africa involved and I urge that we try to get South Africa involved at both a Government level and an African National Congress level; the ANC contacts with ZANU-PF are even more credible than the normal channels. More broadly, there is a role for the Southern African Development Community, although Botswana, Zimbabwe’s neighbour, is particularly influential.

I am not a great fan of sending great missives from the UN, which feels very distant from African countries when they have problems. However, if the UN can do something in co-ordination with the African Union, led by Zimbabwe’s near-neighbours, such as South Africa and Botswana, through SADC, that would probably complete the loop and it would give the authority and voice of the UN to Zimbabwe’s local peers when they criticise the country.

I fear that the perpetrators and masterminds behind the systematic violence will be emboldened, not by our indifference or by what we say, but by what we do. We are very limited in what we can do, but we must try to do more. I also fear that there will be an increased open militarisation of the country, with further disregard for civil law and further unrest. In all conscience, we cannot allow that to happen.

Before the elections, I had hoped to welcome Zimbabwe back to the Commonwealth; I had hoped that more investment would come in; and I welcomed the CDC investment in Zimbabwe. I still think that that is the right route for the country to take ultimately. However, it seems less and less credible for us to support investment in Zimbabwe while the atrocities take place, although I am mindful that if British money does not come in, then Israeli, Russian or Chinese money, which would be less conditional money, will come in. I do not worry about that happening from the perspective of investment returns or British national interest; I worry about it because doing business in countries such as Zimbabwe allows us to leverage our influence within them. So, there is a fine balance to be struck.

I hope that I am proved right in my long-term optimism and I hope that the hon. Member for Vauxhall is wrong in her sometimes pessimistic attitude. However, I fear that yet again she is right. She is being a friend of Zimbabwe, but also a realist, and I thank her again for making an enormous contribution and for securing this debate.