Morgan Tsvangirai, whose Movement for Democratic Change shares power with President Mugabe, said that he was “committed to seeing Zimbabwe being welcomed back into the family of nations, and I trust that this move by the Commonwealth will be matched by similar moves within Zimbabwe to ensure the restoration of the rule of law and freedoms for the people”.

Ephraim Masawi, spokesman for Mr Mugabe’s ZANU(PF) party, said was not averse to returning to the organisation. “It’s a club,” Mr Masawi said. “If they think we can rejoin them, it’s entirely up to them.”

However, reaction was muted elsewhere in the capital, where the institution now seems a distant memory.

Lawrence Makoka, 17, a senior pupil at Prince Edward School, Harare’s top state boys’ school, knew about the Commonwealth but, he said: “Growing up here, the image we have been given is biased — that it is something Western and exploitative” — a perception instilled by Mr Mugabe’s relentless progaganda.

Fellow pupil Mafudzi Chihambakwe knew of the Queen but he said, “She doesn’t mean much to us.”

Moses Kumberanwa, 23, a painter, was blank when I asked how he felt about Zimbabwe’s possible return to the Commonwealth. The word had a familiar ring for Stanford Mukwezhe, 31, a gardener, but nothing more.

Most Zimbabweans have forgotten that it was the Commonwealth summit with Margaret Thatcher in Zambia in 1979 that set up negotiations that led to the end of a seven-year war and to independence under President Mugabe five months later. Or Zimbabwe’s own hosting of the Commonwealth summit in 1991 that produced the ringing Harare Declaration, establishing the organisation’s foundations as “democracy, democratic processes and institutions, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary”.

In 2002 Mr Mugabe trampled over the same commitments in that year’s savage elections, prompting Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Commonwealth. An attempt by South Africa’s then president, Thabo Mbeki, to have the suspension lifted at the summit in Abuja, Nigeria the following year was crushed by African, Caribbean and Asian votes. In a fit of pique, Mr Mugabe declared Zimbabwe’s withdrawal, declaring that the Commonwealth was “an English tea party”.

Few reminders of the Commonwealth remain in Zimbabwe. The Cenotaph in Harare Gardens dedicated to the “Europeans and Africans of Rhodesia” who fell in the First World War has had the bronze plaque bearing their names prised off. However, in cemeteries in the cities of Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Gweru, the graves of servicemen tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are islands of brilliant colour and order in a sea of ruin and filth.