Britain’s House of Commons had a two-hour debate on Zimbabwe yesterday with Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Harriett Baldwin saying there were at least eight deaths and many injuries during the recent disturbances.
“There are credible reports that arrests may exceed 1 000. Certainly, 873 arrests or detentions were documented by 29 January. Many are still detained. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum reports at least 470 cases of assault, 80 of which have been gunshot-related,” she said.
Below is the entire debate:
[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab)
That this House has considered the situation in Zimbabwe.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. May I say how pleased I was to secure the debate at this particular time? I welcome the fact that the present Minister for Africa, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin); the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes); and a former Minister for Africa, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) are here.
Most people will remember the euphoria—we saw it—in Zimbabwe just over a year ago, in 2017, when the long-serving President Mugabe was ousted in what can only be called a form of military coup. There was such hope then that after the years of oppression, unemployment and fear, real change was coming. At the time, some of us did point out that Mnangagwa had been very much part of the Mugabe regime and, indeed, had played quite a sinister role in the horrendous slaughter of thousands of people in Matabeleland back in the period from 1983 to 1987. Of course, he was joined by Chiwenga as vice-president. He had been the head of the combined defence forces and also played a very important role in the terrible situation in Matabeleland. But all of us who love Zimbabwe and know the potential of that beautiful country still hoped that change was going to happen.
The elections held last summer were another crucial milestone. It is worth remembering that elections in Zimbabwe since 2002 had been both violent and rigged. In 2008, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission took more than five weeks to declare the result, and more than 270 activists, almost all belonging to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, were killed. The polls in 2013 were relatively peaceful, but regarded internationally as rigged. The electoral voting rolls were grossly manipulated in favour of voters in rural areas, where ZANU-PF had the greatest support.
Shortly before last year’s elections, the hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) and I visited Zimbabwe to get a feeling for what was happening there before the elections and to report back to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on the possibilities of a free and fair election and how, if there were free and fair elections, we in this Parliament might engage with Zimbabwe’s Parliament. We met a whole range of people, from Government, political parties, business and civil society.
We reported back on the very different atmosphere—certainly compared with what I had seen on my many visits during the worst of the troubles in Zimbabwe—the open presence of troops, police having disappeared from the streets, and the roadblocks where police used to demand money having disappeared. We did query a number of issues that were seen during the electoral process and particularly the fact that the new constitution that had been signed up to was not being adhered to. Access to the media was not being honoured. There were still problems with the electoral rolls. And we felt that the electoral commission was not showing a strong enough and openly transparent view that it was determined to have free elections. We warned in our report that although there would not be the violence around the election that there had been in the past, there was a real danger of its being another stolen election, and that the bar for a free and fair election was actually set very low.
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