By Thandiwe Garusa
UNITED KINGDOM Commonwealth Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon says Zimbabwe will only be readmitted into the Commonwealth if it stops political persecution, and respects the rule of law.
Answering questions in the House of Lords Tuesday, the minister said the UK remained concerned about the political situation in Zimbabwe, a former British colony.
He was responding to questions on the continued incarceration of MDC Alliance youth activist Makomborero Haruzivishe and increasing political persecution in Zimbabwe.
“My Lords, in the government’s view, which country has the clout to bring effective pressure on Zimbabwe on political oppression? We probably have less influence than China, which is most unlikely to bring any such pressure,” Lord Anderson of Swansea asked.
“Zimbabwe’s conduct clearly tarnishes the image of the whole region. Is this recognised by its neighbours, particularly South Africa, and are they playing a positive role in this regard?”
In response, the Commonwealth Minister said South Africa also wanted Zimbabwe to be progressive and inclusive.
“My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord’s final question is that we are engaged very much with South Africa and, yes, it wants to see a progressive, inclusive Zimbabwe as part of the region and the wider world.
“Zimbabwe holds ambitions to join the Commonwealth as well. I don’t think that one country alone can influence the progression and inclusiveness of democracy. It is therefore important that we, together with key partners, continue to play this role.”
The Minister added the UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe was engaged directly in raising various human rights issues and will continue to do so.
“What more can we do? We continue to work with key partners on ensuring that human rights are upheld according to the (Zimbabwe) Constitution.”
Lord St John of Blesto also questioned the signing of the proposed Patriot Bill last week by Zimbabwe’s Cabinet.
“Last week, the Zimbabwe Cabinet signed off on the Patriot Bill which would make it a criminal offence for anyone to criticise President (Emmerson) Mnangagwa and for any member of the opposition to speak to any foreign government in a negative way about Zimbabwe?
“At a time when Zimbabwe is considering rejoining the commonwealth, can the minister make it clear that our government will only support this when the rule of law is restored, and the freedoms of speech and political freedoms are protected?
Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick added: “Will the minister outline what discussions ministers have had with their Commonwealth counterparts about the continuing political repression in Zimbabwe in a point of need to build local economies and political democracy?
Baroness Hoey also said: “Zimbabwe will only become a democracy when the people have a genuinely free and fair election. We have seen that recently in Zambia.
“Can the minister go further and say what more could be done to get Zambia and other countries with SADC to put pressure on Zimbabwe? It must come from those countries. We can help but we must make sure that they do their best so we can get back to a situation where the people of Zimbabwe genuinely have a free and fair election in 2023.”
In response to the questions, the Commonwealth Minister said SADC and the African Union (AU) had key roles to play in making sure that human rights are restored in Zimbabwe.
“I agree it is quite right to say that the importance of SADC and other organisations and more broadly the Africa Union has a key role to play, and they must lead in these discussions as people want to see an inclusive, progressive Zimbabwe.
“Within Zimbabwe, we must see rights restored, constitutions respected and human rights which includes the rights of other political parties to participate fully in the democratic process guaranteed. Those will form part of our current and future discussions with key partners.”