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Zimbabwe

Volume 776: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2016

Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Government of South Africa about the economic and political situation in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Oates, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the UK and South Africa have a shared interest in a democratic, prosperous and stable future for Zimbabwe. We have a regular dialogue on foreign policy priorities, including the economic and political situation in Zimbabwe.

In light of the violence and intimidation in the recent Norton by-election in Zimbabwe, is the Minister aware of the concern that the UK did not allow temporary visas to the human rights activists Pastor Evan Mawarire and Patson Dzamara, who were due to inform this Parliament about the egregious human rights and constitutional abuses by the ZANU-PF Administration? As President Zuma is meeting President Mugabe at this moment in Harare, is it not incumbent on the UK, and our Parliament, to offer a much more open invitation to those who wish to inform us of the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe?

If I may take the latter point first, the United Kingdom Government have a very impressive track record of engaging not just with Zimbabwe but with South Africa on the situation in Zimbabwe. There is a record of frequent ministerial exchanges. On visa applications specifically, the noble Lord will understand that I am unable to comment on individual applications. These matters are considered by UK Visas and Immigration, which is required to apply a consistent approach. All visa applications are considered on their merits against immigration rules for visitors.

Does the Minister agree that the policies of that aged, sick and corrupt ruler in Zimbabwe have impoverished what was once the bread basket of the region? Is it not clear that, unlike President Mbeki, President Zuma has so many of his own problems at home that he is reluctant to intervene, in spite of the fact that region is being tarnished by the policies of President Mugabe?

South Africa and the United Kingdom have enjoyed regular exchanges and have co-operated on a range of issues. That includes within the South African development community as well as outside, such as with Burundi and Sudan. Increasingly, we have exchanged assessments of Zimbabwe. It is important that the United Kingdom endeavours to maintain diplomatic dialogue, not just with the other African countries but with Zimbabwe itself. As the noble Lord will no doubt be aware, the United Kingdom Government have been instrumental in making important resource available to Zimbabwe by making payments not to the Zimbabwean Government but through the medium of non-governmental organisations and our implementing partners.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the recent disastrous decision to print bond notes in Zimbabwe will re-stoke fears of hyperinflation in the country and lead to another escalation of migration into South Africa? On a day when President Mugabe is meeting Jacob Zuma and at a time when South Africa is not being paid for the electricity supplied by it, what measures can be taken to avert the disastrous impact of an inevitable meltdown in Zimbabwe?

The noble Lord is correct to refer to a grave economic situation in Zimbabwe. That is part of the United Kingdom’s general arena of concern, which is regularly relayed in diplomatic engagement. When the decision was made by Zimbabwe to issue the dollar bond notes, it raised memories of the hyperinflation of 2008 which caused a loss of confidence in the banking sector. However, ultimately it is not for the United Kingdom to interfere in either the microeconomic policy of Zimbabwe or its fiscal and financial policy. All the United Kingdom can do is urge Zimbabwe to engage in a much-needed and overdue programme of political, economic, social and governance reform.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Zimbabwe is the world’s sixth-largest producer of diamonds by volume, yet three-quarters of its population are living in poverty. Apparently some $15 billion-worth of government-owned diamond processing has gone off-budget. In response, the US Government have introduced sanctions and frozen the assets of companies involved for, as they put it, undermining democracy and facilitating corruption. What measures have the United Kingdom Government taken to support these actions, and what has been the outcome?

The noble Lord will be aware that there is a sanctions embargo against Zimbabwe, and active sanctions against President Mugabe, his wife, Grace, and the company Zimbabwe Defence Industries. The UK is party to that EU embargo. As I said in my earlier response to the noble Lord on the Cross Benches, the United Kingdom Government cannot interfere with the internal fiscal or economic policy of Zimbabwe; all we can do is urge and make the case for overdue reform.

My Lords, the last time we addressed this subject, the noble Baroness described the human rights situation in Zimbabwe as “stable but fragile”. Does she not think that the current situation, with the prospect of hyperinflation, will affect that analysis? Does she have a view on what we can do to strengthen sanctions to protect the human rights and dignity of people in Zimbabwe?

There is concern, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is right to articulate it. The United Kingdom Government can only offer to support the entitlement of the citizens of Zimbabwe to have their human rights respected, as we do regularly and with insistence. I said earlier that this Government continue to invest in civil society programmes to improve transparency, advocacy and human rights. The UK regularly calls, both bilaterally and in partnership with others, for an end to abuses and the restoration of internationally accepted standards.