HARRIETT Baldwin, the UK’s Foreign Office deputy minister, held a meeting on Tuesday with a top African Union diplomat on Zimbabwe’s socio-political situation as tensions in the country came under the spotlight.
This comes as the EU and the USA also raised concerns over the Zimbabwean situation after soldiers were roped in to quell riots that destroyed state and personal property, and led to loss of lives, during a three-day stayaway called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions last week.
According to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, eight people died during the protests mainly due to police brutality.
Diplomatic sources said Baldwin, who became one of the top UK officials to visit Zimbabwe after the resignation of President Robert Mugabe in November 2017, had a meeting with the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, where security issues in Zimbabwe, DR Congo, and Somalia were on the top of the agenda.
“The UK is concerned over the situation in Zimbabwe,” the diplomat said. “Minister Baldwin had a meeting with the top AU official on the sidelines of the AU/EU ministerial meeting and it agreed that SADC and AU should play a role in ensuring stability,” the source added.
Relations between Harare and London, which reached rock bottom at the turn of the millennium, thawed after Mugabe departure.
The new British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Melanie Robinson, has also expressed concern over the use of excessive force by security forces against protesters.
“[It is] vital for the UK to get first-hand understanding of the humanitarian need in areas of Bulawayo affected by violence,” Robinson tweeted. “UK is deeply concerned by all violence, particularly [the] use of disproportionate force, as Foreign Secretary @jeremyhunt said last night.
“I’ve sent two @UKinZimbabwe teams to Bulawayo this week to talk to authorities, @zhrc365 and civil society about the tragic events of the last nine days. Our rights partners are doing a difficult job amid great need: the UK continues to help them wherever it can.”
Earlier on, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had tweeted himself, saying: “Please don’t turn back the clock @edmnangagwa. People should have the right to peaceful protest without fear of violence. Full access to internet must be restored, security forces must stop [the] use of disproportionate force, and all cases of alleged human rights abuses investigated.”
Upon returning from a 4-nation Eastern European trip, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his government was open to dialogue following the protests.
“I invite leaders of all political parties as well as religious and civil leaders to set aside our differences and come together,” the President said. “What unites us is stronger than what could divide us. Let’s begin a national dialogue. Let’s put the economy first, let’s put the people first.
“Likewise, violence or misconduct by our security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the new Zimbabwe. Chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated. Misconduct will be investigated. If required, heads will roll,” Mnangagwa promised.
Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the UK, Christian Katsande, was last week summoned by British Foreign Office officials over the situation back home.
Last week, Zimbabwe plunged into chaos when the country’s largest labour union organised protests over a 150% increase in fuel prices and the rising cost of living generally. The protests became violent resulting in deaths, injuries, and a shutdown of Internet services. Several shops were looted in Harare and Bulawayo.