HARARE – British ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing has come under spotlight after two legislators who visited the country before last week’s national harmonised elections accused of her of ridiculing opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and backing the Zanu PF government.
This comes as the MPs — Kate Hoey and Conor Burns — who both visited Zimbabwe on a fact finding mission at the end of May — have released a report in which they asked their government not to endorse a “flawed electoral processes” election.
Laing has been consistently accused of siding with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, claims she said were not true.
In a damning report released last week, Hoey and Burns urged Prime Minister Theresa May’s government not to accept “second best or flawed electoral processes”.
“Being prepared to accept second best or flawed processes is patronising and sends the signal that our care and concern for Zimbabwe are not genuine.
“We were disappointed at how every element of civic society and politicians outside Zanu PF had the belief that the UK Embassy — and in particular the Ambassador is biased in favour of the incumbent regime.
“Huge offence was taken that our Ambassador wore a Mnangagwa scarf outside 10 Downing Street earlier this year on her visit to the UK. This offence and fear of bias was compounded when the first person to re-tweet it from his official account was Mnangagwa himself.
“The Embassy organised a dinner for us to meet some Zimbabweans and we found that most were supporters of Zanu PF. Indeed prior to the dinner the Ambassador was openly ridiculing the leader of the MDC Alliance,” the two MPs said in their critical report.
Opposition and rights groups have repeatedly accused the UK of showing soft signs towards Mnangagwa and his government with most of their criticism directed at Laing.
On more than one occasion, Laing has had to scramble for her own defence.
The top British diplomat has taken to micro-blogging site, Twitter to dismiss the latest allegations from the two prominent UK politicians.
“This story is untrue. At the dinner I held for Kate Hoey on June 1, Zimbabwean guests were: an independent candidate, a pastor, and two business people. To my
knowledge only one supports Zanu PF and only since Nov. I also invited a human rights activist, but she couldn’t make it.
“I certainly did not ridicule Nelson Chamisa, who I recognise as a major political figure in Zimbabwe. I believe he and I have a good relationship and we meet regularly. We had a good meeting just before the election, discussing his plans if he won, and we spoke soon after,” Laing said.
On July 30, millions of Zimbabweans cast their vote in historic elections to choose both a new Parliament and president following the fall of former leader Robert Mugabe who resigned from office last November.
The elections were the first since 1980 to be held in the country without Mugabe’s participation, whose 37-year, iron-fisted rule was dramatically ended by a military operation late last year which triggered events that ended with his resignation.
The elections also marked the first time that the main opposition MDC was not represented by its founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who lost his brave battle with cancer of the colon on Valentine’s Day this year.
Zanu PF retained its two third parliamentary majority in Monday’s elections with Mnangagwa winning a tightly contested race by 50,8 percent.
But the peaceful campaigns and a camaraderie spirit that had characterised the run-up to the July 30 elections were sullied last Wednesday by deadly clashes between opposition supporters and security agents.
At least six people subsequently died when the army which had been called in to assist in managing the situation used live ammunition to break the ugly protests.
Chamisa has insisted that he won the hotly-disputed July 30 presidential poll — whose results he claimed had been fiddled with by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).
Mnangagwa has since moved to calm the waters by reaching out to the youthful MDC Alliance leader to join hands with him to move the country forward.
“We cannot allow the violent actions of the few to detract from the democratic expression of the many.
“To Nelson Chamisa, I want to say you have a crucial role to play in Zimbabwe’s present and in its future. Let us both call for peace and unity in our land, call for both louder than ever.
“That is the role of leaders. That is our joint responsibility even though discharged and fulfilled differently,” he said. last Friday