The British could be wrong on Zimbabwe once again

In early 2017, a colleague, Everson Mushava, stumbled upon a story about British involvement in Zanu PF factionalism and that the United Kingdom had a dog in the fight.
At the centre of it all was the British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing.


We did our best to investigate the story, but the protestations from the British embassy were loud.

They raised valid points and picked holes in our story.

Try as we may to verify the story, we came across many brick walls and eventually we had to drop it.

This was a high profile story, getting it wrong would have dented our credibility; we licked our wounds and moved on, although Mushava protested that his sources were unimpeachable.

With the story forgotten, news agency Reuters brought it to life again in September last year, this time their sources were intelligence briefings, which detailed Laing’s involvement in a plot to create a post Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe.

“Amid all the jockeying for position, one influential figure is Catriona Laing, the British ambassador to Zimbabwe,” the story read.

“According to four people with direct knowledge of coalition-related discussions about post-Mugabe rebuilding, Laing favours (then Vice-President Emmerson) Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe.”

One intelligence report alleged Laing was now telling other embassies that Mnangagwa was the chosen one and described her in less than flattering terms.

Once again, the embassy denied this, but Reuters felt they had enough to publish, although they had one caveat they could not confirm what the intelligence reports said and there was no verifiable evidence.

Predictably, the British embassy denied this and conveniently Laing was unavailable for an interview.

Mushava was unsurprisingly livid, he had the story eight months or so before Reuters, but we had not published it.

I was reminded of this little episode in the past few days, as the British were once again accused of meddling in Zimbabwean political processes, overtly backing Mnangagwa.

One piece of evidence that many have relied upon was that Laing was pictured at Number 10 Downing Street, the home of the British Prime Minister, smiling from ear to ear wearing a scarf that has become synonymous with Mnangagwa.

While the scarf could be an innocuous branding strategy, Laing donning it makes her hardly a bystander in the Zimbabwean electoral process, but a central player considering her station in life.

For example, if someone had worn the Zimbabwean flag around 2016, they would have been associated with activists from #ThisFlag and this would have had its own connotations.

This even led to the absurdity, where some legislators were kicked out of Parliament for wearing clothes with the Zimbabwean flag.

So the scarf, just as the flag, has its own nuances and if Laing knew better or cared enough, she would have known that wearing it in that manner would definitely draw a response.

The scarf is now referred to as a “presidential scarf” and Laing would have known better that wearing it would raise questions, as it somehow reeks of partisanship.

The seed of suspicion had long been planted about her involvement in this country’s politics, but by wearing the scarf, she watered and fertilised that seed.

It does not help that there was growing suspicion about her role — with opposition leader, Tendai Biti long calling out Laing’s partisanship.

Foreign minister Sibusiso Moyo was recently in Britain, with Laing accompanying him to Brussels and many were left wondering whether this is the role ambassadors should be playing, as one was left with the feeling that she is handholding the government.

If it’s any consolation, the opposition can take heart in knowing that the British have got it wrong before on Zimbabwe and they might as well be wrong again this year.

As the war for Zimbabwe’s independence drew to a weary end, negotiations at Lancaster House were meant to come up with a constitution and an end to the fighting, with the main parties at the conference being the Patriotic Front (PF), Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Congress and Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front.

The British government, after the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 was toying with the idea of supporting one of the parties, but would not do so overtly and they settled on Muzorewa.

Muzorewa had the advantage of incumbency, as he was the prime minister of the largely unrecognised Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, but for the optics, he was the man in charge and the British placed their bets on him.

I will quote a bit from Stuart Doran on this, as he has written quite a lot on this subject, taking from declassified British documents.

Britain’s aim, he wrote, was to set up conditions for the granting of independence to a moderate, pro-Western government with as wide a degree of international acceptance as possible.

“In effect, this meant aiming covertly for the legitimisation and reinstallation of the Muzorewa administration without providing grounds for accusations that the process was unfair,” Doran writes.

In the first few chapters, Doran outlines the British attitude and how they sought to undercut PF leaders, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo in an effort to shore up Muzorewa.

They even told Muzorewa to be co-operative, as they were convinced this will make him look acceptable to western countries, which would then lead to a promise of lifting of sanctions if the bishop were to win elections.

The PF saw through this and fought back and discredited Muzorewa, forced him to resign his premiership and that weakened him as he no longer had the power of incumbency and could no longer bank on his auxiliaries nor the Rhodesian security forces.

In this case, the British calculations were wrong, as Mugabe romped to victory.

The colonialists tried their best to back Muzorewa financially and materially, with the bishop infamously deploying three helicopters to campaign for him.

Mugabe was later to joke that Muzorewa got a seat in parliament for each helicopter — that is how badly he was defeated.

Muzorewa had so many resources during that period that he organised a three-day rally known as “huruyadzo”, where no expense was spared and people were bused from all over the country, but all this came to nought.

How badly the British got it wrong.

Thirty-eight years later, there is a niggling feeling that the British are at it again and have a horse they are backing in the Zimbabwean elections — and again it is the incumbent.

Then, in 1980, the British were obsessed with the idea of building an economically strong country or as Anthony Duff, an envoy of the British told the South African government just ahead of the Lancaster House conference that their aim was to create “… an independent [country], accepted internationally, able to restore itself economically …”

Sound familiar?

The British are again pushing for a strong country economically and conveniently forgetting human rights abuses, which they were all too happy to talk about a few short years, talk about being fickle.

Before and in the lead up to the 1980 elections, they were desperate to get rid of the Rhodesia problem and again expediency seems to be the underlying theme of their engagement with Zimbabwe.

The British have never been neutral observers in the Zimbabwean electoral process, they have been badly wrong in the past and they could be wrong again this year.

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  1. Useless story from an MDC supporter. Very biased and unprofessional story. Zimbabwe will remain there and is bigger than ZANU PF and MDC.

    1. So the British were behind the Coup yes or not as it is comming out from Hardtalk to Liang it is pretty clear they had a hand in the removal of Mugabe after that $100 million pomds is on its way aya Politica dirty game though the wife was messing up to compound the situation laka lol good news

  2. This is true cant see any biase in this story.

  3. The article deliberately forgot to mention that the British were wrong in supporting MDC for 17 years hoping it will remove Mugabe. Britain has been a key player in Zimbabwean politics since colonialism. Unless if the writer only considers it normal when it supports opposition and Wrong if it’s the ruling part.

  4. Shamwari munyori, zvakare ndezvakare zvakaenda naMzorewa. Where were you when during it’s heydays mdc benefitted immensely from the same gvt. Now that u feel like a shift in allegiance is imminent you raise your eyebrows,no hatidi kudaro.Kana paine nyika dzirikunakirwa nekuzvirikuitwa necurrent gvt hapana chakaipa ,itori bho nekuti tave kuda real change kwete mahumbwe.

    1. So who will bring real change? Zanu PF? Why are they not doing it now when they are in power? To tell you the truth, they have no clue. As for the British, they will always act as they have always done throughout history to look after their own interests? The 100 MUSD is not for the benefit of Zimbabwe but for the British!!! If you do not understand this then the change you are hoping to see will come when you are gone?

  5. Hon. T. Mugwagwa

    Quite a precise articulation. Britain fails to see that ZANU PF has lost support and by backing it they may dent their relationship with the incoming government in the now very likely event that MDC Alliance wins

    1. simbarashe shoko

      A dream will remain a dream. MDC will be clobbered left right and center. Britain has realised that the MDC has been milking their money without success. they were given a task to remove Mugabe. did they removed Him?

      1. Simbarashe, the point is not to remove a person but to change the system, which has made Zimbabwe what it is today? The point is not change the bus driver but to change the bus, which is dilapidated?

  6. Been following your last few articles with interest. You are improving as an analyst. You can write well when you want to. Go for consistency. Good job

  7. Wazini wena Matshazi? Ungabosiwumanela ekuseni!!

  8. Good read. Excellent job

  9. Consciously and unconsciously, your bias against Ngwena appears in almost every article that you write. I wouldn’t blame the British if it’s true that they have put their money on ED. He is resilient, calm and mature. Above all, why shouldn’t the British back a man who played a major role in bringing an end to the Mugabe dictatorship?


    1. Was the “colony” not a better place to live and bring up our children. More schools per capita, more jobs ?? Food for thought ??

  11. Lizwi Alpha Ntuli

    I have said it and I will say it again: Britain has no permanent friends: just permanent interests. Their history is full of betrayal and deceit. They protect their interests and to hell with democracy!

    1. Thanks Lizwi, those with ears let them hear.

  12. I wonder where all these analysts where when UK&The west were backing MDC and the late Morgan?? Now that UK seems to have gone for ED suddenly its wrong…Panic from MDC…if MDC Alliance with Chamisa fail to win these elections its over they should all go kumusha

    1. I like your way of thinking. Very balanced

    2. This argument about who supports who financially is diversionary and misses the point completely for the bulk suffering and right thinking Zimbabweans. The issue is how can Zimbabwe prosper and develop economically and socially with the attendant quality of life improvement? Is that in the interest of the British?

  13. Pro Democracy

    Very good article. Unfortunately even the Newsday has put its bet on the wrong horse. Its so obvious that probably as a survival stratergy its trying so hard to please the incubent. For every five people i meet, four dont want any thing to do with Zanu PF.

  14. Anonymous, this is not a story but an opinion and you should leave it at that. Anyway, do you know the difference between an Opinion and a Story? It seems you do not so go and research further. This being an Opinion piece, everyone is entitled to his/her opinion since this is a democracy.

    Of interest is that the former colonists have no permanent friends for they will support any leader/party that serves their political and economic interests. Do not forget geo-political interests too so it is incumbent upon us Zimbabweans to decide and determine our future by wisely voting.

  15. I dont believe that they got it wrong then as they wanted to support someone whom they knew would take this country forward. The people of Zimbabwe actually got it wrong then as they voted for someone who later turned out to be a tyrant. I have no doubts that had Muzorewa won that election Zimbabwe would be far better off right now.

  16. Very biased article which is not even worth the paper its written on

  17. Rule Britannia: Has Zimbabwe been captured by the British?

    This is a very interesting article given the news of the US$100m from the CDC(Formerly the Colonial Development Corporation) + Standard Chartered…….?

  18. Biata Nyamupinga

    kkkkkk. Seka zvako chizukuru!

  19. This signals the end of mdc and opposition politics in Zim and the birth of one party politics under Zanu pf

  20. You are endorsing the changes in ZANU PF. Thats good. In onother article today Welchman Ncube endorsed the ZANU PF manifesto and the former colonisers have Endorsed ZANU PF. Why should I be the only one not to endorse ZANU PF under ED?

  21. Nothing good will come wont be a smooth road for him to bo come presdent.the abandonments,court issues,its all normal.vamwe vakarutsa ropa wani vasati vakutonga.Dabai paZimbabwe baba and nothing will stop us!!!!

  22. Comment…This is nonsense,succession is about bread and butter not parties and names. if ed can provide us this we don’t care he is still Zimbabwean. we are tired of these stories. Remember the storry of the penitent robber,I dont see ed following in bob’s footsteps although I am against the idea of keeping mpofu and chinamasa

  23. shamva ward 10

    Comment…ed chibaba towirirana nenyika dzose tosumuka badzi

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