At Large

Elderly and Abandoned

The Blair government washes its hands of Zimbabwe's remaining Britons.

By 4.4.07

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The following letter from a British lady in Zimbabwe appeared the other week in the London Daily Telegraph:

"Recently an official from the British Embassy in Zimbabwe visited a local retirement home to answer questions from the elderly residents. She was asked what plans had been made, given the current political violence and looming threat of civil war, to evacuate the remaining 12,000 British citizens, most of whom are elderly people.

"She said no plans had been made and that in the event of further violence and fears for the residents' safety, 'you would have to make your own arrangements to get out.'

"How exactly would we manage to do this? I am 71 (and still, by the way, working owing to the country's economic disaster) and my mother is 97.

"We could not afford the airfares even if we could get seats, and those of us who are still fortunate enough to own vehicles could not obtain the fuel to reach the border as it is both expensive and scarce.

"My father and his three brothers died fighting for Britain in the last world war. I wonder how they would feel about this causal attitude of the British Government where their descendants' lives are concerned?"

NO PLANS? GIVEN THE STATE of Zimbabwe this letter should, perhaps, have caused a degree of shock. However, it is part of a pattern that has been becoming more obvious for several years. The British community in Zimbabwe appears to have been treated with callous indifference by the British government in the last few years as Mugabe has destroyed the economy, violated civil rights wholesale and victimized whites, and as his regime has deteriorated towards chaos and civil war.

Previously, back when Zimbabwe still had something like an economy, it was possible for resourceful people there who could not export their assets otherwise to buy an aircraft, fly it out, and sell it. But the Britons trapped there today are a particularly helpless minority not only because Mugabe's annihilation of the Zimbabwean economy has made their assets completely worthless -- so that even the physical means of escape are denied them (a plight they share with black Zimbabweans) -- but also because those with the means to get out have largely gone, and those that are left are for the most part impoverished and more-or-less helpless old people without the support of families. The grotesque idea comes to mind of caravans of octogenarians trying to trek across Africa looking for help and safety.

Technically, a lot of them are not, or are no longer, British. And thereby hangs a tale: towards the end of 2001 Mugabe enforced a decree that British passport holders in Zimbabwe had to formally renounce their British citizenship, even if this had been simply inherited through parents, or lose Zimbabwean citizenship and voting rights (whatever they are worth). This gave rise to as poignant vignette: as these people lined up at the British High Commission, many of them elderly and in tears, a British official was reported as shouting at them: "You had six months to do this and you have all left it to the last minute. The staff have to have a break and a cup of tea!"

This apparent readiness by the British government to abandon its own people to their fate is bad enough. Remember how Israel, with less than a tenth of Britain's resources, beginning in 1977 airlifted out of danger, and gave refuge and Israeli citizenship to, a community of about 15,000 Ethiopian "Falashas," who it was decided were of Jewish origin? The contrast is glaring.

BUT THERE IS WORSE. Quite shocking reports emerged of active discrimination against Zimbabwean whites by the Blair government: people who had plainly resigned their British citizenship under duress were not allowed to resume it, and were made to pay 11 times the official rate for British passports. The Foreign Office, when questioned about this, said it was trying to "maximize income" from the Zimbabwean consulate! This was also forcing the whites concerned to use black-market pricing, and thereby break Zimbabwean law and give the deranged dictator a pretext to arrest them.

It seemed, as time went on, that British citizens could be persecuted, robbed and murdered apparently with impunity by the increasingly insane Mugabe regime, the persecution extending to the victimization of Zimbabwean policemen who displeased the dictator by providing elderly British farmers with extra blankets at night when they had been arrested on trumped up-charges and held in a cold cell. The white-owned farms which were previously the mainstay of Zimbabwe's economy have been expropriated, a major factor in the present economic collapse and increasing starvation. Of course, these elderly British are, in a ghastly sense, privileged and fortunate in modern Zimbabwe in having lived so long. Under Mugabe black life-expectancy has gone from 60 to 38 years.

Journalist David Blair pointed out some years ago that the age of the remaining white victims gave this persecution a particularly horrible aspect: "Their average age cannot be under 65. The young have gone, the grandparents remain."

OF THE 12,000 BRITISH PEOPLE remaining in Zimbabwe, it is estimated that about half are aged pensioners (except that Zimbabwean inflation and economic collapse has made their "pensions" worthless). Many are World War II veterans or the widows of veterans. Private charities, such as "Zimbabwe, A National Emergency" are trying to help them, but it appears the British government is doing nothing and has no interest in doing anything. (It is spending about $20 billion, so far, on the London Olympic Games, however.)

The first big wave of white persecutions by the Mugabe regime, beginning in 2001, was the first major foreign-policy crisis, with large numbers of British lives at stake, for the Blair Government. Mugabe had shown his colors (which he had never bothered to hide much anyway) as a terroristic tyrant by the genocidal massacres of many thousands of Ndabele people previously. Prime Minister Blair and the Foreign Secretary, both then on holiday, left the matter to a junior Foreign Office Minister, Baroness Amos, who said and, as far as one could tell, did nothing whatsoever. In January 2002, she told the Today program that "in different parts of the world we see different countries turn to bad leadership and bad politics, and we've seen that coming in Zimbabwe for some years and it's a tragedy." That was it.

A plea by Prince Charles, who reportedly wrote privately to the Prime Minister's office asking that the British people trapped in Zimbabwe be helped, was apparently ignored. With the situation now desperate and complete chaos and civil war in Zimbabwe looking nearer every day, the stage is being set for a particularly cruel and unnecessary criminal tragedy.

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About the Author
Hal G.P. Colebatch's "Immram," Counterstrike, is being published by Australian publisher Imaginites.