(Last Updated on August 9, 2013 by Editor)
One of Robert Mugabe‘s closest political allies is living in luxury in London while being allowed to fly to and from Zimbabwe, despite her close links to the dictator’s feared Zanu-PF party.
The revelation, coming just days after the list of Mugabe supporters who are banned from entering Britain was expanded, has prompted politicians to express concern that the government is failing to restrict the activities of those who have helped the Zimbabwean President maintain his hold on power.
Florence Chitauro, one of Mugabe’s loudest cheerleaders, who during her time as a Zanu-PF minister was responsible for suppressing strikes against his regime, lives in a plush town house in west London with her husband, James, a former senior civil servant in Zimbabwe who played a key role in advising the Mugabe administration. Their son and daughter also live in the UK.
When confronted by The Observer, Chitauro said she was a ‘private citizen at the moment’ and declined to comment further. Asked whether she now denounced the Mugabe regime, she replied: ‘No, I’m not going to say that.’
She said that she was in Britain as ‘a way of right’, having ‘contributed to the UK for a long time’. She also confirmed: ‘I’m here, but sometimes I go back to Zimbabwe.’
Her ability to move back and forth between the UK and Zimbabwe has raised questions about the measures employed by the government against the Mugabe regime. All senior Zanu-PF officials are banned from entering EU countries and another 11 names were added to the list last Monday. But there are concerns that others are continuing to slip through the net.
‘The UK Border Agency is obsessed with trying to meet targets on asylum seekers and keeping out any Zimbabwean who they think might not return home,’ said Kate Hoey, chair of the parliamentary all-party group on Zimbabwe. ‘But they need to spend more time checking out some of the Zanu-PF apparatchiks who have been coming in and out for years and who are personally responsible for what is happening in Zimbabwe now.’
She added: ‘Some of the families and friends of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF elite and others of his hangers-on can practically use the UK as their base because they can show that they have jobs and assets in Zimbabwe and so are more likely to go back home. They have multiple entry visas that allow them to fly in and out at will to live it up in London on the money they make from the economic chaos back in Zimbabwe.’
Chitauro was Minister for Labour, Public Service and Social Welfare during the mid to late Nineties when she declared that a national strike against the Mugabe regime was ‘illegal’. She went on national television to warn those who took industrial action that they would lose their jobs. Troops were sent into curb the unrest, which eventually gave birth to the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition. Her husband, James Chitauro, is a former permanent secretary who worked at the departments of defence, engineering and water, and education.
She went on to become Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Australia and provoked a diplomatic furore after she criticised the country’s then Prime Minister, John Howard, for ‘taking it upon himself to be some kind of messiah for Zimbabwe’ after he spoke against its readmission to the Commonwealth. ‘John Howard has not helped this situation by more or less accusing people of being dictatorial,’ Chitauro said in 2003, in comments that earned her a rebuke from the Australian government. In 2005 Mugabe recalled Chitauro to stand as a Zanu-PF candidate in elections for the Zimbabwean parliament’s upper house. Mugabe later said he did not remember recalling her.
Meanwhile, there are concerns that a website that carries articles written by UK-based Zimbabweans is acting as a propaganda machine for the Mugabe regime. Talkzimbabwe.com started life as a critic of Mugabe but in recent months has positioned itself strongly behind him and against his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai. Sekai Holland, a veteran political activist who has been targeted by the Mugabe regime, said she was worried the site had been ‘infiltrated’ by Zanu-PF supporters. ‘It’s very dangerous,’ Holland said. ‘This website is being used to spread stories in support of Mugabe.’