Mnangagwa lashes out over UK's stance on Commonwealth re-entry

11 February 2019 - 16:22
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Image: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has for the first time reacted angrily to the UK government’s position that Zimbabwe be barred from rejoining the Commonwealth.

The 76-year-old Mnangagwa said the view of a single member state, the UK, was not the view of the entire bloc of former British colonies.

The former colonial master also wants the European Union’s foreign ministers at their meeting next week in Brussels, Belgium, to extend the sanctions against Zimbabwe and include more top officials from Mnangagwa’s government.

Harriet Baldwin, the UK’s Africa minister, last week told the House of Commons international development committee that the UK would not support Zimbabwe's bid to be readmitted to the Commonwealth.

"As of today, the UK would not be able to support this application because we don’t believe that the kinds of human rights violations that we are seeing from security forces in Zimbabwe are the kind of behaviour that you would expect to see from a Commonwealth country," said Baldwin.

The frosty relations with the UK mark a significant low point for Mnangagwa, who took over power in a military coup in November 2017 from former ruler Robert Mugabe.

For his first 15 months at the healm, Mnangagwa enjoyed a rare thaw in relations between Harare and London — widely seen as crucial in convincing a largely sceptical international community to accept Zimbabwe back on to the global stage. 

Zimbabwe was last a member of the 53-member Commonwealth in 2003, before Mugabe pulled the country out over a row with the West over farm seizures.

Speaking in an interview with French TV news channel France 24 on the sidelines of the AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe’s application was  submitted to the Commonwealth secretariat and not to the UK, which he said, was also "just a member" of the bloc.

"The Commonwealth has never told us that they are not considering our application. The view of one member is not the view of the Commonwealth," he said.

Asked whether he feared that there would be more EU sanctions imposed later this month, Mnangagwa said EU sanctions were already in place.

"They have not been removed. So what other new sanctions are you talking about? We are already suffering under these sanctions, ZIDERA (US sanctions) and the EU sanctions," he said.

Three of his top officials are on the "inactive" list of the EU sanctions. They are his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, the agriculture minister Perrance Shiri, and army commander Valerio Sibanda.

Zimbabwe remains deeply mired in an economic crisis which shows no sign of an end. At $3.31 (R44.95) a litre, fuel in Zimbabwe is the world’s most expensive, with queues which had disappeared after the price hike was announced last month by Mnangagwa now making a return in the capital, Harare.

Basic commodities such as bread are also in short supply — with bread makers recently increasing the price by 70%. Inflation in December officially rose to 42%, although US based economist Steve Hanke estimates inflation at 240% in real terms.

The rise in the price of goods and services has also been a strain on daily life, with several sections of the government's workforce embarking on industrial action to press for salary adjustments. Teachers on Monday begrudgingly returned to work, citing intimidation by security forces threatening them for taking part in a short-lived strike which began last week on Tuesday.

Teachers' unions advised the government to take advantage of "the détente to introspect and come up with well-thought-out, long-lasting solutions on the salaries grievances or risk similar labour actions in accordance with the laws of the land".

Meanwhile, Mnangagwa’s deputy, Chiwenga, is reportedly in India seeking medical treatment for a "minor abdominal ailment", a deputy government minister said. 

Energy Mutodi, the deputy information minister, said on Twitter that Chiwenga "is recovering well from some minor abdominal ailment in Delhi, India".

Chiwenga was seen in public last week attending a cabinet meeting which was chaired by Mnangagwa.

Before then, there had been speculation that he was in a Cape Town hospital, where he had undergone "emergency medical treatment" according to online news reports.