From Mabasa Sasa in JOHANNESBURG, South Africa
PRESIDENT Mugabe will today join over 90 current and former heads of state and government from around the world for the memorial service of former South African president Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela at the giant Soccer City Stadium here. Mr Mandela succumbed to a lung infection on December 5, aged 95.
He was incarcerated for 27 years by the apartheid regime before leading the ANC — Africa’s oldest liberation movement — to victory in elections in 1994 that ended half a century of apartheid and more than 300 years of racist colonial rule.
President Mugabe, who is accompanied by the First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe and their children Ms Bona and Chatunga, arrived here last night and was welcomed at Waterkloof Airbase by Ambassador to South Africa Cde Phelekezela Mphoko and embassy staff.
The President has described Mr Mandela as a champion of the oppressed.
Mr Mandela will be buried on December 15 at his ancestral village of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province.
From December 11 to 13, Mr Mandela’s remains will lie in state at Union Buildings in Tshwane as part of the week of national mourning.
President Zuma was quoted by Sapa saying, “We should all work together to organise the most fitting funeral for this outstanding son of our country and the father of our young nation.”
Yesterday, South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane told Xinhua, “The fact that international leaders are making their way to South Africa at such short notice reflects the special place president Nelson Mandela holds in the hearts of people around the globe.
“We are touched by the fact that many countries have declared periods of mourning, ordered that flags be flown at half-mast and draped or lit landmarks in the colours of the South African flag. We truly appreciate these gestures.”
Last week, President Mugabe wrote to President Zuma expressing Zimbabwe’s shared grief in the loss of a fighter for justice.
“Mr Nelson Mandela’s renowned and illustrious political life will forever remain a beacon of excellence. Not only was he a great champion of the emancipation of the oppressed, but he also was a humble and compassionate leader who showed selfless dedication to the service of his people.
“We join the rest of the nation in mourning his departure. The late Nelson Mandela will forever remain in our minds as an unflinching fighter for justice,” President Mugabe said, adding: “Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.”
Born on July 18, 1918 in Umtata in Transkei, Mr Mandela was to overcome his humble beginnings to challenge apartheid and was among the first to advocate armed resistance in 1960, after having already been instrumental in the formation of the influential ANC Youth League.
The apartheid regime detained Mr Mandela for 27 years but he emerged to become President of South Africa in landmark all-race elections in 1994 before retiring in 1999.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, an honour he shared with Frederick W de Klerk, the last white Afrikaner leader of South Africa.
As President, Mandela faced the weighty task of laying the foundations for a new nation haunted by deep racial injustices, and economic and social injustices, many of which persist up to today.
He was to be succeeded as President by Thabo Mbeki and made his last major public appearance in 2010 at the FIFA Soccer World Cup — the first time the show-piece was staged on African soil.
Zimbabwe and South Africa’s ties run long and deep, with liberation movements from the two countries collaborating to fight the oppressive Western-backed regimes in their two countries. Those racist regimes largely worked hand-in-glove to ensure indigenous peoples remained second class citizens.
Zimbabwe, after gaining independence in 1980, hosted South African liberation fighters and nationalists and provided support for their struggle against Apartheid.
So close were the two countries that, as revealed by former President Mbeki, Zimbabwe delayed its land reform revolution so as to give liberation fighters in South Africa time to first deal with apartheid before confronting colonially privileged white former farmers back home.
It was felt at the time that should Zimbabwe initiate widespread land reforms, the ensuing backlash from white farmers and governments in Europe and North America would work against efforts to end white supremacist rule in South Africa.
Bilateral relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe improved substantially as apartheid officially ended.
President Mugabe formally met Mr Mandela for the first time on January 27, 1994 along with Botswana’s then President, Sir Ketumile Masire to find a peaceful resolution to a military mutiny in Lesotho.
Mr Mandela visited Harare in early 1995 and the two countries discussed trade issues and means of dismantling apartheid-era tariffs.
In November 1995, a ceremony attended by President Mugabe and Mr Mandela marked the opening of a new bridge linking the two countries, across the Limpopo River.
Since then, trade between Zimbabwe and South Africa boomed, as have cultural exchanges. In the past decade, the trade – both formal and informal – has seen Zimbabwe’s cash economy pumping millions of US dollars into South Africa, and in the country in return accessing goods and services.
Mr Mandela’s successor, former president Mbeki, played a pivotal role in resolution of the political stand-off between Zimbabwe’s main political parties.
The fruit of Mr Mbeki’s efforts, the inclusive Government, paved the way for a key election on July 31, 2013 that saw President Mugabe romping to victory in a poll that South Africa joined many other observers in endorsing.