I will say frankly to the House that we cannot tell how developments in Zimbabwe will play out in the days ahead. We do not know whether this marks the downfall of Mugabe or not, and we call for calm and restraint. The events of the last 24 hours are the latest escalation of months of brutal infighting within the ruling ZANU-PF party, including the sacking of a vice-president and the purging of his followers, and the apparent positioning of Grace Mugabe as a contender to replace her 93-year-old husband.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have taken a deep interest in Zimbabwe over many years, and I pay particular tribute to the courage and persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—I will call her my hon. Friend—who has tirelessly exposed the crimes of the Mugabe regime and visited the country herself during some of its worst moments. The United Kingdom, under Governments of all parties, has followed the same unwavering principles in its approach to Zimbabwe. First and foremost, we will never forget the strong ties of history and friendship with that beautiful country, which has been accurately described as the jewel of Africa.
All that Britain has ever wanted for Zimbabweans is for them to be able to decide their own future in free and fair elections. Mugabe’s consuming ambition has always been to deny them that choice. The House will remember the brutal litany of his 37 years in office: the elections that he rigged and stole; the murder and torture of his opponents; and the illegal seizure of land, which led to the worst hyperinflation in recorded history—measured in billions of percentage points—and forced the abolition of the Zimbabwean dollar. All the while, his followers were looting and plundering that richly endowed country, so that Zimbabweans today are, per capita, poorer than they were in 1980. This has left many dependent on the healthcare, education and food aid provided by the Department for International Development.
Britain has always wanted the Zimbabwean people to be masters of their fate, and for any political change to be peaceful, lawful and constitutional. Authoritarian rule, whether in Zimbabwe or anywhere else, should have no place in Africa. There is only one rightful way for Zimbabwe to achieve a legitimate Government, and that is through free and fair elections held in accordance with the country’s constitution. Elections are due to be held in the first half of next year, and we will do all that we can, with our international partners, to ensure that they provide a genuine opportunity for all Zimbabweans to decide their future. That is what we urge on all parties. I shall be speaking to the deputy President of South Africa later today.
Every Member will follow the scenes in Harare with good will and sympathy for Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people, and I undertake to keep the House updated as events unfold.
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