Sifelani Tsiko Senior Writer
Tributes to veteran nationalist, journalist and politician Nathan Shamuyarira who died on June 4 at the age of 85 underlined his diplomatic and political achievements at local, regional and international levels.
As tributes poured in, Shamuyarira was described as a remarkable and admirable politician who contributed immensely to the shaping and development of Zimbabwe’s media and foreign policy.
His simple personality and admirable charachater was quite telling given the glowing tributes he got from his compatriots and the nation as a whole.
People simply ran out of superlatives to describe Shamuyarira who many say served the country he loved with honour and distinction.
He was described by President Mugabe as an admirable man who did not shrink from the toughest moral choices.
“There was no equivocation on his part. He knew what he stood for. He had very strong views, but very simple, you couldn’t suspect him of any corruption, none at all,” he said paying tribute to Shamuyarira, a man who served Zimbabwe with distinction and integrity.
“If ever a nationalist died a poor man, this was Nathan Shamuyarira, but rich of course in his views, rich of course in the history he has bequeathed to us.
Apart from all the information, industry and diplomatic portfolios he held, a key place in history must be accorded to his pioneering role in Pan African diplomacy.
Shamuyarira was a towering figure of diplomacy and a true giant of Zimbabwean foreign policy and pan African diplomacy.
Burrowing through archival material, one is particularly taken by Shamuyarira’s diplomatic prowess.
He was one of the greatest warriors for peace, a tireless negotiator, a relentless advocate for pan African and developing world interests.
Shamuyarira, put simply, was one of the most talented diplomat Zimbabwe and Africa had ever had in a generation.
The reasons are all enveloped in history and in his legacy.
In April, 1999, Nelson Mandela refused to take full credit for the Lockerbie breakthrough which resulted in Libya handing over two suspects of the Panam bombing over Lockerbie in 1988 in which 270 people were killed.
Speaking to businessmen in Midrand, the anti-apartheid struggle leader said there were other people who played an important role in the negotiations, singling out former Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs Minister Nathan Shamuyarira.
“He is the person who came to me and said let’s talk and settle this issue,” Mandela was quoted as saying, adding that he then spoke to former American President George Bush and Saudi Arabia’s King Fahed.
“Without these two (Shamuyarira and Kinf Fahed) I don’t think there would have been a breakthrough,” he said.
Mandela was not puffed up by the huge praise he got internationally for his role in the Lockerbie diplomatic effort.
He repeatedly shrugged off the praise.
Shamuyarira too, shrugged off the praise, only demonstrating his distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination to have the Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing tried in a neutral country.
In an interview in April 1999, Shamuyarira said there were a number of inconsistencies in the case that pointed to a political victimisation of Libya and if brought to court, such evidence would exonerate Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Al – Amin Khalifa Fahima.
“I have evidence that convinced me and Presidents Mugabe and Nelson Mandela and other world leaders that the Libyans were not involved.
“It was on the basis of these inconsistencies that I asked the two presidents to seek a fair trial for the two men,” Shamuyarira was quoted saying then.
According to a news agency report, one of the factors Shamuyarira felt would work for the Libyans when their trial starts in the Netherlands was that some people scheduled to fly on the Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to New York on December 20 1988 were apparently warned that the flight was doomed and should change.
The plane blew up over Lockerbie in Scotland and killed 259 passengers and crew and 11 people on the ground.
“One of these people is then South African foreign affairs minister Pik Botha who was scheduled to take that flight to New York. He and others were tipped off and changed flights.
“Whoever tipped them had prior knowledge of the bomb and if it were the Libyans, surely, the last person they would tip was Botha given the animosity between Libya and South Africa the,” said Shamuyarira who served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1985 and 1995.
This earned Shamuyarira who initiated talks that the Libyan suspects be tried in a neutral country, wide acclaim and made him to become a true giant of Zimbabwean and African foreign policy.
His tireless diplomacy, love of Zimbabwe and Africa and pursuit of peace made Africa stronger and more respected.
Late veteran politician Dr Stan Mudenge who was Foreign Affairs Minister in 1999 described the breakthough as an African Union triumph over western bullying.
“When you look back at the whole issue, one can rightly say Africa as a whole won a major battle over western bullying. Each one of us as Africans did their bit and we won,” Dr Mudenge said back then.
With the Lockerbie case, Shamuyarira showed that he was a formidable force of Pan African diplomacy – an indefatigable champion in the cause of peace, who worked tirelessly for a better world through peaceful conflict resolution mechanism.
His energies devoted to finding a peaceful way forward for the Libyan case led to the suspension of the embargoes that had been put in place to force Tripoli to surrender the two men charged with blowing up Pan Am Flight 103.
Shamuyarira, who has been credited as the first person to initiate talks on the possibility of having the Libyans tried in a neutral country.
To some great measure, Shamuyarira’s pre-eminent role in the Lockerbie affair, forced Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, who died on 20 October 2011, to ‘demote’ Pan Arabism as a plank of Libya’s foreign policy.
Gaddafi’s decision to ‘demote’ Pan Arabism was because fellow Arabs had abandoned him to swing against the winds of the United Nations sanctions sponsored by the US and Britain.
The sanctions which hurt the living standards of ordinary Libyans had been imposed because the US and Britain regarded Libya as the culprit behind the bombing of the Pan Am airline over Lockerbie.
It was African states and the Organisation of African Unity, now AU, which came to the rescue of Libya.
Powered by Shamuyarira’s diplomatic masterstroke, Libya’s Pan Africanism shot up while Libya’s Pan Arabism drastically declined.
Even though Libya could not be saved from 2010 – 2011 turmoil, Shamuyarira will always be remembered for his pre-eminent role in ending the Lockerbie dispute where his force of personality and his negotiating skill combined to drive through the Lockerbie agreement and put a halt to the debilitating sanctions on Libya.
Shamuyarira was a truly unique figure who will be remembered as one of the best and the brightest of his generation who served Zimbabwe and Africa with distinction and integrity.
A close compatriot, who shared some useful insight into Nathan Shamuyarira’s life, says his love for reading was unparalleled and his massive book shelf is a testimony to this.
“For much of his life, with his knowledge of history and the experiences he gained through working and struggling alongside the people, Nathan delivered lectures at universities and conferences around the world, gave talks and wrote papers and books which identified and addressed the forms of exploitation and oppression which stifled the development of people in the Third World,” he said.
“He believed that academics, especially in developing countries, must take up responsibility to share their knowledge and experience with the people to move the Pan African spirit forward.”
Shamuyarira, he also said, firmly believed that black intellectuals, the black academic must attach themselves to the activity of the black masses in their fight for emancipation from all forms of exploitation.
With all this, can we not say Shamuyarira was a towering figure of Pan African diplomacy and scholarship?