A British Member of Parliament said the United Kingdom should start talking to moderates within the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front in preparation for a post Robert Mugabe era because Zimbabwe was of strategic importance as it was the gateway to South Africa.
Speaking during the debate on Zimbabwe’s blood diamonds this week, Oliver Colvile said he understood that Mugabe was not well and was spending a lot of time in Singapore. Britain, therefore, needed to ensure that it had a solution for the future that enabled it to get close to the region.
“We need to encourage the moderates within ZANU-PF for the time when Mugabe has gone,” he said.
“We must build relationships with the more moderate elements of ZANU-PF and ensure that we work with them to develop a governance process that will lead to an independent judicial system and a police force that is not corrupt. That is incredibly important.”
He said Britain needed to work closely with South Africa to make sure it was involved in the registration exercise for voters and had observers on the ground before the elections.
“If we do not do that, once again—unfortunately—ZANU-PF and Mugabe will go and steal the election, which would be very difficult to accept,” he said.
Colvile did not talk about the role of the Movement for Democratic Change at all in his speech.
Below is his full speech:
Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) on securing this debate. Much of what he said was incredibly interesting and important, and I am grateful to him for the lesson that he gave.
My own involvement in southern Africa began in 1979 when I spent four months in Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa. I had two great uncles working for the Colonial Service in Nyasaland, which is now Malawi, and a cousin who ran a fruit farm in the east highlands. In 1994, I gave advice to one of the political parties involved in the general election campaign in Malawi. Such experience gave me a good understanding of the political and cultural differences between this country and the west and southern Africa.
I will not pretend for one moment that I have a better knowledge of southern Africa than the right hon. Gentleman. None the less, my understanding of the region’s culture, coupled with my experience as a Conservative party agent, means that I understand the need for organisation within places. Added to that, my first ever job was working for the Diamond Corporation, so I have a little understanding of how the diamond world operates and how important southern Africa is to the whole industry.
Let me explain where Zimbabwe is at the moment and how it has got there. In 1965, as the Federation was falling to pieces, Ian Smith declared independence. From that moment on, with perhaps a short period of respite, Zimbabwe has had a very chequered career. UDI lasted for about 15 years and only became unsustainable following a bloody and difficult civil war. Zimbabwe was always considered to be the bread basket of Africa, and was able to deliver food into a part of the world that desperately needed it.
Zimbabwe is a country of strategic importance, as it is the gateway to South Africa, which is the principal regional power in this part of the world. We need to be working very closely with the Southern African Development Community and other countries in the region to deliver the route map that has been agreed. We also need to ensure that the international community begins to prepare for life after Mugabe has gone. Indeed, my understanding is that Mugabe is not well. He is thought to have prostate cancer and is spending a lot of time in Singapore. Therefore, we need to ensure that we have a solution for the future that enables us to get close to the region. We need to encourage the moderates within ZANU-PF for the time when Mugabe has gone.
Although the west views Mugabe as a demon whose regime is most certainly responsible for a series of murderous and bloody attacks, he is still seen, in many parts of southern Africa, as one of the great heroes of the struggle for independence. When the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and I were in Zimbabwe last year, we heard the story of how President Zuma took Mugabe into a crowded football stadium, with some 50,000 people, and welcomed him as a war hero. That is one of the difficulties facing President Zuma; how does he keep on side the balance of those people in his country on whom he depends for election but, at the same time, help to deliver this route map as well?
I will not pretend for one moment that Mugabe’s presidency has been a success; it most certainly was at the very beginning. Unfortunately, as he has become more isolated, he has turned to more and more violent activities. I am concerned that the proceeds from the Marange diamonds have ended up being used in a corrupt way to fund the ZANU-PF coffers as it prepares for the general election when that happens—probably in the next year.
We must build relationships with the more moderate elements of ZANU-PF and ensure that we work with them to develop a governance process that will lead to an independent judicial system and a police force that is not corrupt. That is incredibly important. I have been talking with my hon. Friends in the Foreign Office about how we might develop a staff college to help those people from the emerging countries, especially places such as Zimbabwe, and show them how to set up a proper judicial system and a police force that is not corrupt. If we do not do that, people will not be willing to invest in Zimbabwe. They will say to themselves, “What is the point of us putting money and investment into Zimbabwe, if it is just going to end up being filtered and dealt with in a corrupt manner?”
When the hon. Member for Vauxhall and I were in Zimbabwe last year, we heard that some investments from South Africa were under a real threat of being confiscated. If that happens, frankly it will be very difficult to encourage anybody to invest in Zimbabwe.
One of the things that we need to do is to work very closely with South Africa to deliver a route map, and I hope that the Minister will take note of that point. We need to ensure that there is decent registration, and that we have observers in the country during the course of the registration process and before the election. If we do not do that, once again—unfortunately—ZANU-PF and Mugabe will go and steal the election, which would be very difficult to accept. We also need to have an approach that recognises that those people in what is probably the medium part of the military feel that if there is somebody else in power they are going to lose all of their assets. Adopting that approach is going to be another thing that is very difficult for us to go through.
I am also very keen to ensure that we recognise that southern Africa has a fundamental part in the whole of the world political strategy. Indeed, the Cape routes have always been incredibly important to us, because by using them we can ensure that we can export a lot of our goods. It would be most unfortunate if the submarines bases down in Simonstown were to fall into the wrong hands. That could be a threat as far as we are concerned.
As I say, having a judicial system that is free and independent is absolutely vital. I have recently heard stories of some Dutch farmers who have made quite a large investment in Zimbabwe. They have been in a court case and they are having real difficulty in trying to ensure that they can get the moneys that they are owed paid to them.
In conclusion, we need to ensure that there is support for the route map, and also that the more moderate people in ZANU-PF will have the opportunity to find a way out and do not feel that the west has totally and utterly turned its back on a lot of people. It would be helpful if the Minister could set out the Government’s attitude towards Zimbabwe.