Visiting Zimbabwe undercover has been a perilous undertaking in recent years. This time, I’m still apprehensive, but very relieved to land. Earlier in my flight, with only one engine working, we had to go back to Johannesburg. After my last visit, Didymus Mutasa, then minister for state security, demanded that the secret police, the dreaded CIO, explain how I had “sneaked” across the border. He said if I came again he’d lock me up for 20 years! Today I declare on my entry form that I am a British member of parliament. The legal stamp comes quickly and with a smile. Our driver is waiting with a huge “Kate Hoey” sign in large letters – watched by lurking CIO operatives.
In the evening I enjoy the hospitality of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at his unpretentious home in Harare. Last time I was greeted by Susan, his wife of 31 years, who was tragically killed in a car crash in March. “Not everyone lives to reach Canaan,” he reflects, as we sit in the family sitting room with their son Edwin, daughter Vimba and a few of his close friends. The room is dominated by portraits of Susan, a constant presence by his side during the years of struggle against Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship. I reflect on how lonely he must feel.
Walking into the Speaker’s office I am greeted with a broad smile, a warm hug and a kiss on each cheek. This is very definitely not Speaker Michael Martin, who recently jabbed his finger at me in the House of Commons, stopping me mid-sentence to tell me he had heard my “pearls of wisdom” on midnight television. This is Lovemore Moyo, Speaker of Zimbabwe’s parliament. Elected last year, he is the first Speaker in 29 years of independence who is not a member of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.
Later I call on Elias Mudzuri, minister for energy. His office is in the same building as the CIO headquarters, which feels spooky – but the tension is broken when the door is jammed by a worker proudly bringing in a bunch of cabbages.
At the ninth MDC annual conference, Morgan stands to lead delegates in applause for me and I am humbled to remember the brutality he has suffered. It is good to see so many old friends – who previously I would have met secretly – now in the cabinet. My eyes mist over at the sight of so many who have been beaten and imprisoned. The mental and physical scars remain very real, yet courage and optimism comes through in the joyful chants of “Chinja!” (“Change!”) from people like Roy Bennett and Gandhi Mudzingwa, both recently released from prison.
Tendai Biti is secretary general of the MDC and also minister of finance in the new, inclusive government. Being Zimbabwe’s finance minister must be the least sought-after job in the world, but he has made tremendous steps: there are goods in the shops where only weeks ago the shelves were empty. He
is a fanatical Arsenal supporter, and asks me for a copy of Jason Cowley’s book The Last Game: Love, Death and Football. As well as being able to reel off Zimbabwean economics statistics, Tendai can name every Arsenal player in 1989, the year he became a fan.
I stay at the beautiful British Residence as a guest of Her Majesty’s Ambassador Andrew Pocock and his wife, Julie. They depart soon and will be greatly missed. Andrew has been an outstanding diplomat in a country where the government he represents has been vilified by the president and the state-controlled media. He has worked hard to keep the other EU ambassadors united, and has supported the many destitute elderly British residents still here.
Over the garden wall is the official residence of Gideon Gono, governor of the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank. The house is empty; he prefers an even glitzier mansion elsewhere, or his stolen farms. Gono was Mugabe’s personal banker and he has used the Reserve Bank as a piggy bank for patronage, corruption and political control under Zanu-PF. Mugabe refuses to rescind his illegal unilateral reappointment of Gono, in defiance of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that set up the transitional power-sharing government and is supposedly guaranteed by South Africa and the African Union.
I renew my acquaintance with Beatrice Mtetwa, the indefatigable human rights lawyer. It is depressing to hear of the continuing abuse of the legal process. Farm invasions are still led, in blatant disregard for the terms of the GPA, by senior Zanu-PF figures such as the senate president, Edna Madzongwe. Then, on the way to the airport, I rendezvous with the conservationists Lynn and Russell Taylor, who recount shocking statistics on rhino and elephant poaching.
I glance over my shoulder at the airport. I’m being followed by an army officer. My step quickens, and as he draws closer I can make out the insignia on his uniform . . . The Salvation Army! That’s the army Zimbabwe needs. Love and practical action are what is needed to heal the wounds and rebuild lives torn apart by an evil dictatorship.
Kate Hoey is MP for Vauxhall (Labour)