Mabasa Sasa recently in Johannesburg, South Africa
President Mugabe has said Cde Nelson Mandela was a “great friend” and there was no feud between them as has been insinuated by some media houses. Since Cde Mandela’s death in Johannesburg on December 5 after a lung infection, some media outlets have tried to create the impression that President Mugabe and South Africa’s first black leader did not get along.
This went to the extent that some started querying why President Mugabe had taken “long” to issue a condolence message.
On returning from Cde Mandela’s memorial service, which was held on Tuesday, and yesterday’s body viewing, President Mugabe expressed surprise that some people thought the two did not get along.
Speaking to the media after landing in Harare, President Mugabe said, “I don’t know about any feud. If anything, there was an alliance. We worked very well with him when he came out of prison. We gave him support.
“We established the principle of national reconciliation (at independence in 1980), they took it over and used it as a basis to create what they have now as the Rainbow Nation. There was no feud, where was the feud, what feud?”
The Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces said he hoped South Africa and Africa at large would uphold the principles that Mr Mandela embodied and fought for.
“We went to send off Cde Mandela and the two events were the memorial service yesterday (Tuesday) and today (Wednesday) this morning the viewing of the body.
“Those have taken place and we are very happy that he got this send off, this very huge send off for a man who actually deserved it.
“But we do hope that what he stood for, the principles that he stood for, will be pursued in South Africa. And some of them are universal, of course, and Africa also will pursue them.
“We do hope that the situation in South Africa will continue with the peace and calm that Mandela created in 1994 when he came out of prison.
“But from our point of view, we have lost a great friend, a revolutionary and a man of real principle. That’s why we went to give him a send off so that we would be satisfied that the love we had for him, the historical alliance that we created in the fight against imperialism and colonialism will not have been historically lost by our being absent, and by not really being present to see this great man being given his eternal rest.
“So we say let him rest in peace; he has done his best for the people of South Africa.”
In an earlier interview, President Mugabe’s spokesperson, Mr George Charamba, said the so-called feud was fanned by media houses that wanted to create a rift between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“What is this fascination with a feud that does not exist? It is a contrivance by media that do now want to see an alliance between Zimbabwe and South Africa,” Mr Charamba said.
The Herald spoke to government officials from South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania who not only disputed the existence of a feud, but also provided insights into how the media contrivance of a fall-out came about.
A diplomat from Botswana said, “For your information, Zimbabwe was one of a group of Southern African countries working hard to get Nelson Mandela released from prison.
“I remember for instance one particular meeting between our President (Sir Ketumile Masire), President Mugabe, President (Joaquim) Chissano (Mozambique) and President (Ali Hassan) Mwinyi.
“This was in the late 1980s and they felt that the struggle in South Africa was stagnating and needed to be fired up. They felt that a key ingredient would be Mandela’s release from prison.
“There was a lot of pressure on Mozambique, in particular, at the time from the apartheid regime and they wanted the situation in that country resolved.
“Zimbabwe was also feeling the effects of South Africa’s support for Renamo (the Mozambique rebel group) and there was a real fear that Zimbabwe could be attacked by the apartheid regime.
“The whole region could not be comfortable with apartheid intact and they went about pressuring the wider international community to act on apartheid.
“So I don’t see why anyone would think that there would be a feud between the two. I suppose it is a media agenda for another purpose to make such claims.”
A senior South African media official told this paper that Mr Mandela and President Mugabe both understood the need for unity and that economic independence would best be achieved if the two countries worked together.
However, he noted, an alliance between the two countries caused consternation in the West and within business circles.
“There were some who felt that (President) Mugabe had a radical leaning and if his ideology got the economic backing of South Africa then they would change the face and landscape of business in the region.
“It was something that many people in commerce didn’t want and maybe that is where the idea of causing a rift between them (President Mugabe and Mr Mandela) started.”
A Tanzanian official said President Mwinyi in 1991 asked President Mugabe to delay large scale land reforms as they felt this would stiffen the backs of whites in South Africa and thus impede an end to apartheid.
This is something Former President Thabo Mbeki – who succeeded Mr Mandela as President – also said a few years ago.
Zimbabwe was largely expected to embark on land reforms in 1990 after the expiry of a moratorium on such a policy in the 1979 Lancaster House independence talks “but it was too sensitive a time to do it”, said the Tanzanian official.
Soon after his release from prison in 1990, Zimbabwe was one of the first countries that Mr Mandela visited and President Mugabe hosted a public reception for him at the University of Zimbabwe. He had been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Zimbabwe in 1986.
Soon after that, Cde Mandela was honoured with Freedom of the City of Harare and then of the Municipality of Kwekwe.
On being elected South Africa’s first black President in 1994, Cde Mandela met President Mugabe and President Masire to find ways of handling the military mutiny in Lesotho.
Presidents Mugabe and Mandela were a couple of years later to play key roles in the establishment of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.
Cde Mandela was again in Harare in 1995 to discuss trade issues and ways of dismantling apartheid era tariffs, and later that year, the two leaders opened a new bridge across the Limpopo River.