Britain urged not to force exiled Zimbabweans back home


British peer and Methodist church minister Leslie John Griffiths says the British government should not pressurise exiled Zimbabweans living in that country to return home “prematurely” because the security situation in Zimbabwe has not improved greatly.

The peer also known as the Barron of Burry Port told the House of Lords last week that instead “we can put a little muscle behind the coaxing- if it can be done with muscle- of the UK Border Agency and other authorities towards that end”.

He said the agencies should prepare and train Zimbabweans to go home when things are settled so that they can take their rightful places in rebuilding their country.

Britain ended its moratorium on exiled Zimbabweans last year, after a four-year run, saying conditions had improved in Zimbabwe.

He lamented the fact that Zimbabwe had slipped down the news agenda. “It has gone on for so long that thresholds of patience, tolerance and interest have been exhausted but the situation there is important. The people there need our best attention and any efforts that this Parliament can put behind making things better for them,” he said.

The British peer said Britain should do everything in its power to stop Zimbabwe from holding elections until proper procedures and safeguards are in place.

He was a little disappointed that South African President Jacob Zuma came out clearly in favour of the removal of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak but has done very little in seeking the removal of President Robert Mugabe.

Below is his entire contribution:


Lord Griffiths of Burry Port: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for bringing this matter to our attention and giving us this opportunity today. For more years than I remember, and probably more years than he cares to remember, he has brought such matters to the attention of your Lordships’ House and making sure that we debate these things properly.

I come to this debate as a person concerned for the well-being of all Zimbabweans, those living in their own country and those scattered around the world and here in the UK because they have had to flee their own country in fear of what might happen to them and their families. I come to this debate also as a Methodist minister. Methodism has had a long relationship with Zimbabwe and with Rhodesia before that. The earliest missionaries from the British church followed the 1891 pioneer column and, by the end of that year, bases for outreach had already begun in Salisbury and in Epworth—named for the place where John Wesley was born, of course, and now a high-density suburb of Harare. Later Methodists from the American church came to the country and focused their efforts especially on its eastern fringe. The relationship between Methodists in Britain and Methodists in Zimbabwe has weathered many difficulties, the creation and subsequent break-up of the Central African Federation, UDI and the war for black majority rule. The Methodists in Zimbabwe now form an autonomous and vibrant church with which we still have close ties. Indeed, where I work, my colleague is herself British Methodism’s special envoy to the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, and we have contacts all over the land with whom we are in regular touch.

Zimbabwe is a country with great resources, wonderful landscapes, and above all a diligent, hard-working, resilient and extremely hospitable people. As with others we long for the day when the country can once again hold its head high in the community of nations. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, the current situation in Zimbabwe gives us very little cause for hope. The global political agreement signed in 2008 between ZANU-PF and the two parts of the MDC—one of which is itself terribly fragmented—which led to the formation of an “inclusive Government”, has for the most part not been implemented. Indeed, 24 articles have never been implemented, especially those that relate to security and the media. Technically, the lifespan of the GPA was over on 11th February 2011, so it ought to be behind us. Renegotiating it seems necessary, with seeking the implementation of all its articles as part of that negotiation.

According to our sources, the economic situation has seen some improvement with a reduction in inflation, largely the result of an abandonment of the Zimbabwe dollar in favour of the US dollar and other currencies. The relationship between the parties in the inclusive Government is largely characterised by mistrust, and ZANU-PF still controls the vital ministries dealing with security, the police and the media. Prime Minister Tsvangirai has still not been able to do something as basic as moving into the official prime ministerial residence.

At its last party conference at the end of last year, ZANU-PF chose Robert Mugabe—aged 87 years—once again as its presidential candidate, and is eager to have elections as soon as possible. I wonder why. June this year would be its favoured time. Its hope is to gain an outright election victory and dispense with the GPA altogether. We have already heard eloquent arguments as to why such elections or proposals for elections should be held off until all the things mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, are in place. Elections this year and in the current circumstances could certainly not achieve a free and fair election acceptable to the majority of Zimbabweans and it is my strong conviction that Her Majesty’s Government should do all in their power to support and encourage those groups in Zimbabwe, in the region and in international organisations working for a postponement of elections until proper procedures and safeguards can be put in place. I hope that the Minister can give us some assurance on that when he winds up.

South Africa and the countries of the southern African region are crucial in working on a road map towards elections, and it is in that area that we in Britain might best offer our support and, if requested, technical expertise. A new constitution, mentioned again by the noble Lord, was an essential pillar of the global political agreement, but has still not been achieved despite some half-hearted attempts at consultation. That needs to be in place before any election. More pressure needs to be exerted to bring about a full implementation of all the other articles of the GPA. A new electoral register needs to be produced, as was again mentioned by the noble Lord. I do not apologise for repeating matters mentioned in a previous speech, something that I normally find offensive, because the more we say this thing, the better. There needs to be an open media that will give coverage to all shades of political opinion. Contacts across Zimbabwe inform us that there is already a great deal of violence and intimidation around the country because people, by virtue of the last conference of ZANU-PF, are on election alert already. Therefore, the population is already, once again, in a state of fear. It is important that SADC and African Union missions be in place now and in the run-up to elections, and not leave their presence or activity too long.

It is perhaps an irony that President Zuma of South Africa should have come out so clearly in favour of removing President Mubarak from one country in Africa when his country has played relatively little role in seeking the removal of President Mugabe from Zimbabwe. Messages coming from Zimbabwe indicate that the MDC is being banned by the police from holding meetings in the run-up to its own party congress, let alone any election that might be in the offing. Church people—Anglican bishops and the general secretary of the Council of Churches—have had death threats issued against them, as no doubt have others from civic organisations who are working for cases of harassment and violence to be investigated and for the individuals responsible to be brought before the courts. We can highlight the plight of these people; perhaps we ought to. These are real things, happening right now. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned other instances of violence against people and the creation of a climate of fear. We should keep mentioning that to keep it before the public eye, then perhaps our Government can put pressure in the appropriate places to get assurances and action that will minimise these instances.

I shall finish here at home, with a word that may need to be said. We need to be conscious that the security situation in Zimbabwe has not improved greatly and that refugees and asylum seekers should therefore not be pressurised to return home prematurely. Perhaps we can put a little bit of muscle behind the coaxing—if it can be done with muscle—of the UK Border Agency and other authorities towards that end. Instead, the good work of agencies in this country in preparing and training Zimbabweans to go home when things are settled and to take their rightful places in rebuilding their country should be continued and expanded. Zimbabwe has slipped down the news agenda. It has gone on for so long that thresholds of patience, tolerance and interest have been exhausted but the situation there is important. The people there need our best attention and any efforts that this Parliament can put behind making things better for them.


Don't be shellfish... Please SHAREShare on google
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Like it? Share with your friends!

Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *