Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)




  40. Hence the response of the military.
  (Mr Keane) As somebody put to me, the Zimbabwean military voting for change is turkeys voting for Christmas. It is not going to happen.

Mr Chidgey

  41. May I draw you back to a very interesting series of remarks you made concerning the discussions you had had with close friends in South Africa who were black Africans. I should just like to get a comment from you, if I can. It is quite a difficult area to discuss. Where do the reactions you have received in a widespread way fall between the three descriptions of being biased, being bigoted or being racist?
  (Mr Keane) None of those three. There is a very understandable degree of anger on the part of many black South Africans. I know this takes us slightly outside the remit of what we are discussing today but it does feed into the generalised atmosphere about South Africa. There is a sense that there is a lack of humility on the part of whites particularly, that there is an unwillingness to share the bounty of the country and in terms of one's day-to-day discussions with white friends, they are aware of that, but not quite sure how it is going to be changed. There is a build up of anger. For the first time I came back from South Africa—and I go at least once a year, usually twice—this time feeling depressed and not quite sure why I felt depressed. It was because I had been dishonest with myself on the previous visits and suddenly had to face up to something, people were angry, people were disillusioned with the process of transition. The rainbow nation which we had all so enthusiastically and properly embraced at its birth in 1994 was not materialising.

  42. And this has a direct implication for the relationship with Zimbabwe.
  (Mr Keane) Indeed.


  43. You have mentioned some of the pressures impacting on President Mbeki. Would you like to say what are the levers available to him if he chose to exercise them in respect of Zimbabwe?
  (Mr Keane) ". . . if he chose to exercise them" . . . He can impose economic pressures, as Mr Vorster did against Ian Smith. He could bring Zimbabwe to its knees very quickly, but that would be a catastrophic decision for the people with whom we are all concerned and that is the average Zimbabwean. On those terms he cannot.

  44. The energy supply. If he were to do that the refugee flows from Zimbabwe would increase into South Africa and he would be harming himself.
  (Mr Keane) He would face the potential of hundreds of thousands of people at least coming across the border.

  45. What are the realistic levers?
  (Mr Dowden) It has been suggested to me that the best thing Mr Tsvangarai could do is to go and talk to his former trade union colleagues in South Africa. You do not need a blockade to remind Zimbabwe that it is totally dependent on South Africa. You just need to flick the switch for half an hour every evening or to slow down traffic on the South Africa to Zimbabwe road and things like that, which could be done unilaterally by the trade union movement and the government could not do much about it. Those sorts of things, a subtle pressure like that, and a general feeling that they are not welcome, if they are coming to a medical treatment in South Africa, that sort of thing. Those are the sorts of levers which would target the leadership and let them know that they are disapproved of because of what they have done.
  (Mr Keane) In all of this let us remember one fundamental: change in Zimbabwe, the change of government in Zimbabwe, will be brought about by Zimbabweans. When you accept that fact it is a question of how best does our bilateral aid, how best is our political leverage used to help not political parties but the thing which I am passionate about in Africa which is helping civil society, helping small human rights groups, independent newspapers. They are the things which make a difference, which help people to have confidence in going out to vote.

  46. Is there a network of civil society there?
  (Mr Keane) There is. Somebody will care if you vanish on the way to the polling station, someone will care if you are arrested.

  47. You know South Africa. One of the great joys of South Africa was the extensive civil society even during the worst days of apartheid. Is there such a network of civil society in Zimbabwe as a sign of hope?
  (Mr Dowden) No-one dies in Zimbabwe without a name. You find the list; the human rights group in Zimbabwe lists every single death, every single arrest. There is a network and it is pretty effective in terms of gathering the information.

  48. You mentioned the Americans were brutal over NEPAD, but surely NEPAD is itself a compact between the outside world offering assistance and the Africans offering good governance in reply. Would not the whole Zimbabwe experience undermine that very compact?
  (Mr Keane) Not everybody is as unreasonable as Robert Mugabe. Thabo Mbeki certainly is not. Mr Chissano in Mozambique is not as unreasonable. I do not think that the particular experience with Mugabe invalidates the concept which underpins NEPAD.

Sir John Stanley

  49. Going back to the need to inject a greater sense of urgency about Zimbabwe post the election, I suspect that there was no prospect of getting that sense of urgency unless the people worldwide are able to be informed about what is going on through the vehicle of the media. I should like to ask you both, following the ruthless targeting of the media in Zimbabwe by Mugabe and notwithstanding the, in my view, immense bravery of a large number of individuals in the media in Zimbabwe, do you both consider that there is a sufficient weight and technical ability of independent media in Zimbabwe to ensure that the people round the world are actually going to be fully informed as to what is going on in that country?
  (Mr Keane) No. Again and again with Africa—and this is a lesson of the continent—we act when the television cameras roll in, while the disaster is either unfolding or just after it. We are mesmerised by horror and only seem capable of urgency when confronted with horror. That is my fear about Zimbabwe, that the small horrors are going on at the moment and they accumulate and they accumulate into a state of tyranny and then there is a major catastrophe, the cameras are in and all of a sudden there is a statement from the Prime Minister. We should not, should not, should not have to get to that stage.

  50. Mr Dowden, what is your view as to the strength left of an independent media inside Zimbabwe?
  (Mr Dowden) I do not think that people die namelessly in Zimbabwe. We may get to that, but at the moment things are recorded, they are posted in the newspapers and it still retains some of that open society. My reading is that it is worse now than it was, not in the immediate run-up to the election, but as it has ever been. There is no sign of a let-up. The militias are still attacking people, still beating them up. The farms are being expropriated and you feel this can only go one way: it is going to hit the buffers pretty hard. It is just a matter of when. The more intervention in terms of publicity at this time and action, the less likely we are to have the catastrophe when the television cameras rush in. It is what is happening now which is building towards that.

  51. Are you effectively both saying to us that there is now no significant body of independent journalists and members of the media which are now left in Zimbabwe?
  (Mr Keane) Of the international media. There are very brave correspondents for BBC Radio who operate from Zimbabwe. The critical difficulty we face as international television correspondents is the very blatant threat from the Zimbabwean Government to lock us up if we come in. They do not want us and they will put us in jail. I was willing to take that risk in the run-up to the election and I believe others in future may see fit to take that risk, but it is a substantial risk.

  52. Independent radio is able to function.
  (Mr Keane) Yes.

  53. What about the written word? Is that able to get out adequately? Are journalists able to travel inside the country?
  (Mr Keane) Journalists are able to travel, but there is a problem about the agenda. The agenda moves on. We become transfixed by other things. We cannot in good conscience walk away from this story and wait for the catastrophe. It has happened too often in the history of Africa.
  (Mr Dowden) I would agree with that. It is not easy for outside journalists to get in there, but there are so many good Zimbabwean journalists who are covering this and will cover it for outside bodies. The news will get out, is what we are saying.

  54. Can the Zimbabwean journalists get their material away, can they?
  (Mr Keane) Yes. It is the prominence the news is given when it gets out. The difficulty is less about getting it out but where it fits in the agenda. In an agenda dominated increasingly and understandably by events in the Middle East and events in Afghanistan and elsewhere, it is very, very difficult not so much to argue the case but to be heard.

Mr Chidgey

  55. I should like to draw together some of the threads of the economic and humanitarian effects of the crisis. We have touched on it, but if I could just try to draw it together. One of the most worrying aspects is that the land resettlement programme has had a severe impact on the agricultural output of Zimbabwe and the World Food Programme is now talking about large-scale relief foor operation after concluding that half a million people in the rural areas are now faced with acute food shortages. Against that background may I ask how you believe the UK Government should react to the threat of famine in Zimbabwe? Would it for example give the impression that the provision of aid through official channels could be seen or portrayed in Zimbabwe as some kind of endorsement of President Mugabe's regime? What should we do?
  (Mr Dowden) Wherever food aid is given—and I think Britain is continuing to give humanitarian assistance of that nature—it should not be channelled through the government, which is more than likely to use it for political ends. One of the problems is the actual transport system in southern Africa. The South Africans cannot handle the quantities which are needed and some of it is coming through Mozambique at the moment. I do not know the detail on this, but I understand there are quite severe logistical problems.
  (Mr Keane) Might it not be imaginative to suggest that our partners in South Africa should be asked, with their marvellous military infrastructure, to distribute the aid. Could Mr Mugabe reasonably object to that?

  56. So you take a slight different view.
  (Mr Keane) I just think it is a possibility.

  57. It now is apparent that there are severe food shortages in Zimbabwe. Could you comment on what you believe the impact of food shortages and price rises for staple food products now will be on political stability? Is President Mugabe vulnerable to popular unrest on the issues of food shortages or is he sufficiently in control and strong enough to survive any protests or food riots or whatever? This is quite separate from the reaction to the election. I am now talking about the reaction to food shortages of staple foodstuffs.
  (Mr Keane) I have to say it was my impression and it does in some sense go back to what I talked about in terms of reaction to the election, of a population exhausted; absolutely exhausted.

  58. What about when they are starving?
  (Mr Keane) If you go back to the Ethiopian famine, that government was ripe for overthrowing at the time, you would have thought, because of the scale of starvation. It does not automatically follow that people will take to the streets. It very often happens. The first threat to Kaunda's regime in Zambia occurred because of food shortages. It does not automatically follow.
  (Mr Dowden) My experience has been that they occur when there is a reasonably comfortable urban population with rising expectations suddenly hit by a severe price rise. When the hunger sets in the population are so busy looking for the next meal that they do not have the time or the energy to organise and go out on the streets.

  59. We have touched on this already to a degree in terms of the effect on South Africa of some sort of dramatic collapse in Zimbabwe. Is there a danger here that if the situation in the region as a whole continues to deteriorate, famine and economic decline might affect the political stability of Zimbabwe's neighbours, even including South Africa? This is the food issue now.
  (Mr Dowden) On the food issue, it seems that a lot of it is to do with weather this year, not politics. It is presented as a particular Zimbabwe problem and political, but it is not. Zambia has huge food shortages and Malawi is even worse and Botswana is bad this year. I saw something today from the famine early warning system saying the same weather conditions seem to be building up again this year, so we might have another drought next year. That aspect has been neglected.

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