While Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe digs his heels in, and his country continues its devastating slide into poverty and violence, Crikey has learned that several children of leading figures in his corrupt regime are studying at higher educational institutions in Australia.

At present, Australia doesn’t have sanctions against this. According to DFAT, the current Zimbabwe-related restrictions are:  

  • financial sanctions on close associates and supporters of the Mugabe Government;
  • travel sanctions on close associates and supporters of the Mugabe Government;
  • restrictions on the sale of arms to Zimbabwe.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has a list of 159 Mugabe government associates  to whom the financial sanctions apply, noting that “all transactions involving the transfer of funds or payments to, by the order of, or on behalf of such persons are prohibited.”

Crikey understands that at least three of those blackballed  — Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri, Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Zanu-PF Politburo Secretary for Legal Affairs Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa — have children who are students in Australia.

We may not be alone as a source of sanctuary. ZimDaily also claims to have “established that Mugabe and his colleagues in ZANU PF have over 300 kids studying in either US, UK and Australian universities and [there] are fears that these kids are being funded by taxpayers in Zimbabwe”. 

The US extends its asset-blocking economic sanctions for Zimbabwe to “immediate family members, and any persons assisting them”. Does Australia need similarly family member-specific economic sanctions? (Although presumably any payments made to children in Australia could already qualify as “transactions” under existing financial sanctions.)

Providing shelter and education to children of Zimbabwe’s powerful while vehemently condemning the regime that they oversee is a diplomatic minefield.

The UK did some soul-searching on the issue recently after it was alleged, mistakenly as it turned out, that Mugabe’s daughter Bona was studying at the London School of Economics.

The current travel ban in the UK applies only to Mr Mugabe, his wife Grace, his sister Sabina and his nephew, reports The Guardian, but that is set to be extended. The UK Foreign Office confirmed that “a wider ban would be applied to key family members, including, where appropriate, debarring them from education in Britain.”

This morning we asked DFAT if Australia was considering such a move or further economic sanctions. The Department is yet to get back to us.