Asked by Lord Oates
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of (1) state sanctioned political violence, (2) voter roll irregularities, and (3) the intimidation of voters, ahead of the 26 March parliamentary and local by-elections in Zimbabwe.
Lord Oates (LD)
My Lords, I initiate this debate on the recent by-elections acutely aware that Britain’s history in Zimbabwe, from the first days of Cecil Rhodes’ chartered company to the last days of Ian Smith’s white supremacist regime, is a deeply troubled one. Throughout that time, political dissent was violently supressed, political leaders were imprisoned, tortured and murdered and elections of any sort, let alone free and fair elections, were denied to the majority of the people of Zimbabwe.
Given that history, for most of the years since I taught in a secondary school in rural Zimbabwe in 1988 I have been reticent about public criticism of the Zimbabwe Government. I saw in the early years of Zimbabwe’s independence how apartheid South Africa sought to destabilise and undermine it. I witnessed the heroic efforts by the people and Government of Zimbabwe to build a better future for the country, opening schools and clinics and seeking reconciliation with their previous oppressors, and I experienced amazing kindness and friendship from the rural community in which I lived and worked in eastern Zimbabwe which, just a few years previously, had had to bear the vicious onslaught of the Rhodesian security forces.
I come to this debate bearing all those things in mind and recognising fully that it is for Zimbabweans to decide how they wish to constitute their democracy and who they wish to govern them. That is not the business of anyone else, least of all the former colonial power. Nevertheless, we can and should support Zimbabweans in the choice they collectively made in March 2013 when, following an outreach programme across Zimbabwe, a new constitution was drafted by the then Government of National Unity and put to the people in a nationwide referendum. Over 94% of voters backed the constitution, providing absolute clarity about how the Zimbabwean people wish to be governed and how they expect elections to be conducted. Sadly, since its adoption, that constitution has mostly been honoured in the breach.
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