Zimbabwe's Ambassador Jacqueline Zwambila asks Australia for asylum

December 27, 2013 4:37 PM

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Zimbabwe's Ambassador Jacqueline Zwambila asks Australia for asylum

Zimbabwe's ambassador to Australia has lashed out at the regime of President Robert Mugabe and is seeking a protection visa that will allow her to stay in Australia.

Jacqueline Zwambila has asked the Australian government for asylum because she says she fears for her safety if she returns to Zimbabwe.

With four days remaining in the role, Ms Zwambila has moved out of her residence in the Canberra suburb of Red Hill. She has no intention of using the business-class plane ticket given to her by her government to return home on Tuesday.

Ms Zwambila will rely on a bridging visa after her diplomatic status is cancelled and a small number of family members who have been with her in Australia also hope to gain protection under her application.

Ms Zwambila, who is politically aligned to Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, was recalled from her post without being offered another job after Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party won the country's general election on July 31.

On Friday, Ms Zwambila said Mr Mugabe and Zanu-PF had stolen the election and increased the number of arrests of MDC supporters on trumped-up charges.

The ambassador said she feared indefinite custody if she returned to Zimbabwe. She plans to pursue her activism from abroad.

Her request for protection and her public statement that the election was stolen ends a sunny period for Australia-Zimbabwe relations. During Ms Zwambila's time as ambassador, Australia became a significant contributor of aid to Zimbabwe.

The ambassador's criticism of the Mugabe regime comes as the Abbott government reviews foreign expenditure and plans to cut $4.5 billion in the projected increase of aid and development spending between now and 2016-17.

Since the Coalition took government in September, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has not updated Australia's stance towards Zimbabwe.

The Coalition took a hard line under prime minister John Howard, who successfully lobbied for Zimbabwe to be excluded from the Commonwealth because of its human rights abuses, called off a cricket tour in 2007 and labelled Mr Mugabe a ''grubby dictator''.

Ms Bishop has front-line experience in Zimbabwe. In 2000 and 2002, as a federal MP, she visited Zimbabwe as part of a Commonwealth observer team and returned with stories of violence and intimidation by Mr Mugabe and his supporters.

Ms Zwambila's father was an entrepreneur who started as a bookkeeper and became a developer. She said this was during an era when the highest an African could rise was to sell groceries, or become a teacher.

Ms Zwambila attended an elite multinational school, one which included white children. She said African students were excluded from taking part in sports such as netball. It was a lonely time, she said. There was no protection from racist teachers. She became a political activist, built a public relations business and is now a grandmother.

Source: smh.com.au

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