Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Britain Zimbabwe Society

  1.  The Britain Zimbabwe Society was founded in 1981. For the past two decades it has acted as a friendly society, representing the interests of Zimbabweans and informing people in Britain about Zimbabwe. Its affiliate, the Scotland Zimbabwe Group, has also submitted evidence to the Committee.

  2.  The Society includes among its membership many people with long practical knowledge of Zimbabwe. It also contains almost all British academics with research experience in the country. (The Society has drawn up and made available to the Law Society a list of academics qualified to act as expert witnesses in Zimbabwean asylum cases). It provides regular information to its members by means of a daily e-mail provision of Zimbabwean news and by means of regular newsletters and bulletins. In these communications the Society has provided its members with detailed reports of the situation inside Zimbabwe. (The forthcoming May mailing includes impressions of the presidential election by the Society's President, Professor Terence Ranger. See also his "Zimbabwe. Cultural Revolution" in The World Today, 58,2, February 2002).

  3.  Drawing on its detailed knowledge, the Society would certainly endorse the representations which have been made to you by oral witnesses and in writing by other organisations. Violence inside Zimbabwe has not come to an end since the elections; the worst of this violence is directed against known and suspected opposition supporters in the rural areas; there are thousands of internal refugees; there is a catastrophic food shortage. We urge that Zimbabwean asylum seekers be not sent back; that Zimbabwean students in the United Kingdom be supported in every way possible; that every encouragement be given to the efforts that are being made by Zimbabwean humanitarian and human rights organisations, through initiatives such as the Zimbabwe Appeal Fund, to assist the victims of violence inside Zimbabwe, and to alleviate hardship and poverty.

  4.  In this submission, the Society wishes to emphasise a further point. Its long-formulated position is that it exists to further the interests of the people of Zimbabwe rather than the interests of any particular regime or party. The Society has never taken a partisan position and at this moment it does not support or represent either Zanu-PF or the MDC. It supports Zimbabwean civil society organisations and NGOs, trade unions, municipalities and local authorities, churches, cultural and environmentalist bodies and others whose day-to-day work is contributing to the search for creative and constructive ways out of the present crisis. It works with Zimbabwean musicians, artists, film-makers, writers and academics. We believe that at this moment, when the political parties are irreconcilably divided and Zimbabwe's international relations are so fractured, it is more important than ever to foster all individuals and organisations who are maintaining Zimbabwe's social, cultural, moral, artistic and intellectual life. It is crucial that the foundations of this life emerge from the present crisis without too much damage.

  5.  To this end the Society itself has taken many initiatives. It has organised conferences of British municipalities, schools, churches, youth groups etc which either are or wish to be twinned with Zimbabwean counterparts. Recently the Society has made representations to cities twinned with Harare, both in Britain and in Europe, seeking to re-animate their links with the new Harare Local Authorities. The Society has helped to organise Zimbabwean music festivals both in Britain and in Zimbabwe. Every year it holds a Research Day to which Zimbabwean academics are invited to present their latest research findings. (This year the Research Day is on 15 June, on the theme of "Zimbabwe Futures" and with presentations by young historians and geographers from the University of Zimbabwe). Every year it also organises a Dayschool which brings together a wide variety of people and organisations with links to Zimbabwe. (This year the Dayschool is on 14 September on the theme of "What Can We Learn From Zimbabwe?"). Through its officers and committee the Society has close connections with the University of Zimbabwe, with the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, with the Pamberi Trust, with the National Gallery in Bulawayo, with the National Constitutional Assembly, with Zimbabwean projects for the pre and primary school education of children with disabilities and Aids orphans, with community-based tourism, organic and permaculture farming projects and with many other Zimbabwean non-governmental projects and initiatives.

  6.  As a result of these initiatives and experiences, the Society has learned many lessons which it wishes to commend to the Committee. These are:

  7.  Despite everything, Zimbabwe possesses a vibrant civil society, capable of operating at the highest standard. Its literacy rates are the highest in Africa. Its university demands the highest entry standards in Africa. Institutions like the National Gallery in Bulawayo attract admiration from leading galleries all over the world. Its literature, music and art have a high international reputation. Its young scholars are the intellectual leaders of southern Africa. It possesses an unrivalled number and variety of indigenous NGOs, particularly in the fields of rural development, human rights, and gender empowerment. Zimbabweans have introduced innovations in many fields of practical knowledge and implementation. Collaboration with such institutions and people has enormous two-way benefits.

  8.  Civil society in Zimbabwe cannot be defined merely in terms of an opposition between Government and Society. Many of the major contributors to civil society are formally "government" institutions. This is true, for instance, of the University of Zimbabwe, the National University of Science and Technology, and the University of the Midlands. It is also true of the National Galleries and of National Museums. None of these bodies is carrying out government propaganda: all are contributing essentially to Zimbabwe's intellectual, moral and practical life. Yet even before the United States and the European Union adopted "smart" sanctions, some major donors had suspended support from all these bodies. The Britain Zimbabwe Society wishes to emphasise that it makes no sense for North American, European or British state and voluntary aid organisations to abandon the very people upon whom the survival of Zimbabwean civil society depends. New ways need to be found to support them in what is certainly a sensitive and complex situation. In fact, more support should be provided—scholarships for Zimbabweans to study in Britain, certainly, but also support for Zimbabwean institutions at a very difficult time, and, inter alia, for collaborative projects between them and British bodies.

  9.  British aid to Zimbabwean civil society should not only take the form of financial support. It is important that individual Britons continue to visit Zimbabwe and to work with their Zimbabwean colleagues. Officers and members of the Society regularly do this and can testify to the warmth of their welcome. We understand that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website accurately describes continuing "considerable political tension in both urban and rural areas of Zimbabwe" and "continued incidents of political violence", and that it advises "British Nationals ... to keep a low political profile and to avoid unnecessary travel". This is sensible advice for tourists who are unfamiliar with Zimbabwe. But those who are travelling at the invitation of civil society organisations and other partners in Zimbabwe—such as, for example, British publishers considering attending the Zimbabwe International Book Fair—are in a different position. The FCO should seek creative ways to keep such links open. Certainly where people have been working in collaborative schemes funded by British Government agencies these should continue. A blanket boycott of travel widens divisions and will result in the broad democratic movement feeling abandoned by the world.

  10.  Unfortunately there are many thousands of Zimbabweans living outside their country, many of them in Britain. Every effort should be made to assist them in maintaining contacts with events and processes in Zimbabwe and in preparing themselves to return and contribute to reconstruction and renewal. The Britain Zimbabwe Society is doing what it can to make detailed and dispassionate discussion of Zimbabwe's future possible. The British Government should play its part.

  11.  We urge that Zimbabwean asylum seekers not be sent back. Those granted leave to remain should be admitted to training courses of their choice. Zimbabwean students in the United Kingdom should be supported and increased resources made available for scholarship schemes.

  12.  These are the points which the Britain Zimbabwe Society wishes to draw particularly to your attention. The Society is very ready to offer further advice and comment or to submit its recent publications.

Britain Zimbabwe Society

9 May 2002

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