PRIME MINISTER – ZIMBABWE – 9 December 2003

Dr Julian Lewis: Given the dependence of Zimbabwe on South Africa, will the Prime Minister expand on the reasons, at which he hinted a few moments ago, for South Africa's reluctance to take action against the atrocious Mugabe regime? In that connection, what representations are the Government making to South Africa, and have they thought of trying to involve former President Mandela in the process?

[The Prime Minister: Obviously there has been a disagreement about how to deal with Zimbabwe and it is important to work primarily through the South African Government. There is a view – at least in parts of southern Africa – that if Zimbabwe were suspended from the Commonwealth we would somehow be unable to engage with Zimbabwe itself. That is just a disagreement, however, and we have to carry on trying to work through it in a reasonably diplomatic way, as we need to reach a consensus in the Commonwealth. It is fair to say that in the end, despite the reservations that South Africa had, it did not oppose the statement about continuing the suspension. The debate is continuing, but it is best continued on the basis that we are two strong allies who have a difference of view but that we will try to reach agreement.

I only hope that people understand that the state of things in Zimbabwe is so bad that in the end the impact will be felt in the entire region, and that the best way of dealing with things is to realise that until that regime is changed the situation will continue. If the regime is changed, it would be as well that the people who then come to office understand that the Commonwealth and other parts of the world actually stood by them.]