THE United Kingdom Parliament has called on the regional bloc, in particular South Africa and Zambia, to act swiftly on Zimbabwe to arrest the deteriorating political and socio-economic crisis bedevilling the country.

Zimbabwe came up for discussion in the UK Parliament where human rights violations, the Patriotic Bill, suspended by-elections among others were on the agenda.

The UK parliamentarians said Zimbabwe should meet conditions, including holding free and fair elections to be able to return to the Commonwealth.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa wrote to the Commonwealth in May 2018 expressing Zimbabwe’s willingness to return to the 54-member grouping after nearly two decades.

The late former President Robert Mugabe withdrew Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth in 2003.

Baroness Hoey asked the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon what more could be done to nudge Zambia and South Africa on Zimbabwe’s crisis.

“In this regard, we have engaged directly at the highest level with the South Africa (SA) government and we continue to engage with other regional partners as well as regional associations, including the African Union (AU) on this priority,” Ahmad said.

“Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and other organisations — including, more broadly, the AU have a key role to play and must lead on these discussions, as people want to see an inclusive, progressive Zimbabwe.

“Within Zimbabwe, we must see rights restored, Constitution respected and human rights — which includes the rights of other political parties to participate fully in the democratic process guaranteed. Those will form part of our current and future discussions with key partners.”

Lord Oates, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Zimbabwe, asked the UK government about its position on the continued detention of opposition actors including the MDC Alliance’s Makomborero Haruziviishe.

“We regularly urge the Zimbabwean government to live up to their own Constitution by ensuring that the opposition, civil society and journalists are allowed to operate without harassment and that due legal process is respected,” Ahmad responded.

“The Minister for Africa reinforced these messages when she met President Mnangagwa on November 1, 2021.”

Lord Oates argued that despite the UK government’s efforts, the political and human rights situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate.

Ahmad also said Mnangagwa never met the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a one-on-one meeting at the COP26 event in Glasgow, Scotland, contrary to State media claims.

“On the COP26 engagement, it was the Minister for Africa, my honourable friend Vicky Ford, who met with the President of Zimbabwe,” he said.

The issue of the Patriotic Bill was raised by the Lord St John of Bletso who said: “My Lords, is the minister aware that last week the Zimbabwean Cabinet signed off the Patriot Bill, which would make it a criminal offence for anyone to criticise President Mnangagwa and for any member of the opposition to speak to any foreign government in a negative way about Zimbabwe?”

“At a time when Zimbabwe is considering rejoining the Commonwealth, can the minister make it clear that our government will support this only when the rule of law is restored and freedom of speech and political freedoms are protected?”

However, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi told Parliament yesterday that government was engaging the British on rejoining the Commonwealth.

“Coming to debate about the Commonwealth and the imposition of sanction, my understanding is that we are engaging the British so that we can explain to them the democratic process that we have done. We want to re-engage. I indicated that there is a desire between both parties for us to go back to the Commonwealth and there is an engagement that is going on,” Ziyambi said.

Zanu PF secretary for youth affairs Pupurai Togarepi proposed a Patriotic Act in 2018 to prosecute Zimbabweans that allegedly speak ill of the country and advocate for economic sanctions.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba could not immediately comment on the matter while Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said she was in a meeting and asked for questions in writing.