War of words over ‘silly' Zim envoy's bid for asylum

Farai Shoko

Zanu-PF's secretary for administration denies that the diplomat would face persecution if she returned.

President Robert Mugabe last month recalled Zimbabwe ambassador to Australia Jacqueline Zwambila with two other Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) envoys — Hebson Makuvise in Germany and Mabhedi Ngulane in Nigeria. (Reuters)

The Zimbabwe ambassador to Australia's application for political asylum in that country has sparked a war of words in Harare after Zanu-PF's secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, denied the diplomat would face persecution if she returned.

After the government recalled her to Harare, Jacqueline Zwambila applied to the Australian authorities for political asylum, saying she faced political persecution if she returned.

Mutasa said Zwambila was being "silly and instead of lying about her situation she should apologise for her mistakes".

The "mistakes" Mutasa referred to were allegations published in state media alleging that Zwambila had stripped naked in front of embassy staff in Canberra and that she concentrated on relations with former Rhodesians residents in Australia rather than Zimbabweans.

Zwambila was recalled by President Robert Mugabe last month together with two other Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) envoys – Hebson Makuvise in Germany and Mabhedi Ngulane in Nigeria.

Recent reports suggested that Makuvise had applied for asylum in Germany. But he told the London-based SW Radio on New Year's Day he would returning to Harare and was only waiting for a flight ticket.

Personal decision
Zwambila and Makuvise could not be reached for comment. Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC-T spokesman, told the Mail & Guardian this week that Zwambila's decision to seek political asylum after the expiry of her term "is personal after she looked at her ... circumstances and what she went through at the hands of the Zimbabwe government during her tenure".

Zwambila, a close ally of MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, was sent to Australia in 2009 but since then she has been heavily criticised by Zimbabwe state media.

At one stage she was accused of attempting to seduce a male employee at the Zimbabwe embassy, a charge she denied.     She recently won a defamation action against a Zimbabwe state media correspondent in Australia, Reason Wafawarowa.

The Zimbabwe government says Zwambila has no reason to fear for her safety on her return as she had visited the country several times in the recent past, including after Mugabe's recent re-election in July last year.

Mwonzora said: "The MDC's position is that the onus to protect citizens, including top government officials such as Zwambila, lies with the government ... and it is very worrying that the Zanu-PF government is failing to do so. It is the prerogative of the government ... to give assurances of security to Zwambila that her life is not in any form of danger if she is to return to Zimbabwe."

The Australian government is yet to decide on Zwambila's asylum application, but diplomats in Harare told the M&G she has a strong case and is likely to succeed.

Security threats unclear
Mugabe has not recalled the remaining two MDC-T ambassadors – Hilda Mafudze in Khartoum, Sudan, and Trudy Stevenson in Dakar, Senegal.

A senior analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think-tank, said it was difficult to tell exactly under what circumstances Zwambila was seeking asylum.

"It is not clear if there are any particular security threats that are specific to her and her circumstances," he said.

"The biggest danger [is] that her seeking asylum [will damage her party]. There are many in her party who may claim they have lived inside Zimbabwe and are more under political threat than she is, but have, however, braved the situation.

"These [people] will likely interpret [her] actions as using leadership privilege to seek political asylum, yet there could be even more deserving cases than hers. So her actions may merely be seen as seeking a justification to exit from the political struggle of the MDC."

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