A British Conservative MP has told the House of Commons that no matter what the British government thinks about President Robert Mugabe they had to accept the former guerilla leader was still highly respected and regarded as a hero in the country and beyond.
Speaking during a debate on Zimbabwe last week, Oliver Colvile said: “It is part of African culture always to be deferential to leaders, who are seen as heroes and warriors. Whatever else we might feel and think, I am afraid that President Mugabe is seen as one such warrior and as someone who successfully fought for Zimbabwe’s independence after years of colonial rule. During his visit to a South African football stadium last year, he gained a standing ovation from the general public.”
Local political analysts believe President Mugabe could spoil his legacy if he continues hanging on to power despite calls for him to rest.
Indications are that the 87-year-old leader wants to hang on.
Colvile said several people, especially in the military, were eager to have President Mugabe continue at the helm because they “have invested in his presidency”.
Colvile said Britain should provide President Mugabe and his supporters with a face-saving solution if it was serious about having free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, “Zanu PF sees him as its greatest asset in the forthcoming election.
Whatever happens, the role of the army and the high command will be important, because they will be keen to hold on to their investment, especially their farms and other assets.
They want to use Mugabe to secure their future,” he said. Colvile said there was a danger that Zimbabwe could become a Chinese-compliant nation and threaten British interests.
“Members might be aware; the Chinese are investing heavily in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe. They are financing the building of the Robert Mugabe national school of intelligence, a military academy just outside Harare, which is likely to contain communications equipment similar to that which one might find at GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters),” he said.
In response to Colvile’s concerns about the Chinese influence in Zimbabwe, Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest single grouping in the Northern Ireland Assembly, said: “The honourable gentleman raises a most interesting point about Chinese investment in Africa. Does he agree that our government should do all they can to ensure that any Chinese investment overseas is used for good, not for bad?
To which Colvile responded: “I thoroughly agree. There is a real danger that Zimbabwe, sitting on South African borders, could become a Chinese-compliant nation.
It should be noted that the Chinese are now South Africa’s largest trading partners. Unless we are careful, the Chinese could easily have access to the submarine base in Simon’s Town and therefore have an opportunity to control the all-important Cape routes, which we need to send our trade to the Far East.
That is why what happens in Zimbabwe matters, and why it is important that there are free and fair elections.”
Colvile called on the British government and the European Union to put pressure on South African President Jacob Zuma, who is also chief mediator for Zimbabwe, to make sure that independent observers were in the country before the elections.
“We need to encourage Sadc and President Zuma to place pressure on President Mugabe and Zanu PF to begin registration soon and to allow our observers in. Observers must be allowed into the country at the start of the process, not in the last few weeks of the campaign. If European and British observers are allowed in only at the end of the election campaign, the damage and intimidation will already have taken place,” he said.