Zimbabwe — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:30 pm on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:30 pm, 30th January 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is right to bring up the issue of Zimbabwe’s readmission to the Commonwealth; I think every Member who spoke in the debate has raised that issue, and I will be referring to it later. I am sure that the Minister will be able to speak with some authority on that topic.

The Zimbabwean people are tired of the systemic issues that have plagued their nation for so many decades. It has been said that people in Harare complain that the new Administration is akin to a new driver in an old taxi. It was recently my privilege to visit South Africa, where I met many members of the Zimbabwean diaspora who expressed to us the same views regarding the lack of any change. The figurehead may have changed, but they were pessimistic that the country itself would change. As many Members said, the current violence erupted following the Government’s hiking of the price of fuel, making it the most expensive anywhere in the world. The Government’s response has been to blame the fuel shortages that caused that violence on those who hoard fuel and trade it on the black market, and while there may be some truth in that argument, those fuel shortages have been compounded by the Government’s mismanagement of the currency crisis.

The Government must also take responsibility for their subsequent actions. The violence that followed a general strike on 14 January was utterly deplorable: in the cities of Harare and Bulawayo, protesters faced a vicious clampdown, in which soldiers as well as police were deployed to shut down peaceful protests. The figures are not totally reliable, but there seem to have been around 12 confirmed deaths; at least 78 gunshot injuries; between 700 and 1,500 detentions; and 844 human rights violations. The Government’s shutdown of internet services during the violent outbreak, severely disrupting the flow of information and hiding and obscuring the behaviour of the army and the police, is also troubling.

Here we are again, with Zimbabweans suffering as a result of Government violence. Last year’s elections represented a real opportunity for the country to change following the end of Robert Mugabe’s regime. However, despite the improvements in the election process that were noted by various election observers, those elections were not free and not fair, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall outlined in her opening speech. The subsequent violence was nothing new in Zimbabwe, but it was particularly disappointing that the opportunity for change was not taken. That opportunity for change is still there, but the new leader is falling back into old habits. If President Mnangagwa is to avoid gaining the same reputation as his predecessor, he must act swiftly to restore the hope that existed last summer and put an end to attacks on civilians. We do not want history to repeat itself, nor do the Zimbabwean people. The future could be so positive for Zimbabwe, but its people will need help in getting there.