What’s really behind Zim-SA ‘war of words’?

Sep 18, 2017

Lovemore Ranga Mataire

Harare – Zimbabwe and South Africa last week managed to douse a potential diplomatic tiff following remarks by President Mugabe that the latter was still to attain economic emancipation.

Although Zimbabwe Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Joey Bimha could not comment on the possible rift between two countries, well-placed diplomatic sources said the matter was privately dealt with.

In remarks made at the burial of Maud Muzenda and George Rutanhire (declared national heroine and hero respectively) President Mugabe expressed concern that South African whites still hold so much power.

“I asked one ANC minister how come the whites have been left with so much power, and he said it was because of your friend Mandela. That was an ANC minister saying that,” said President Mugabe.

The remarks were immediately met with a terse response from the ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe who told South African media that he had phoned the Zanu-PF secretary for administration Dr Ignatius Chombo expressing his displeasure.

“We continue to create black millionaires in this country – including Zimbabwean millionaires. So restrain your president from making statements that are unresearched,” Mantashe claimed to have told his Zimbabwean counterpart.

In response, President Mugabe told captains of industry last Thursday that it was true that South Africa was not as free as other SADC countries.

“There is greater freedom for the whites than there is for the blacks. The whites have the industries, they can pride themselves on ‘this is my company; that is my company, this is my company, and this is my farm’. How far can the Africans go in doing the same in South Africa,” President Mugabe rhetorically asked.

President Mugabe said he had a legitimate right to air his views on South Africa as the ANC and Zanu-PF were former liberation movements that had fought the war side by side.

Giving a historical background to his remarks, Mugabe said the liberation struggle was not just for the attainment of freedom.

He recounted a conversation he had with the late national hero George Silundika and the late ANC struggle icon Oliver Tambo who intimated that the ANC was fighting to remove apartheid and not independence.

“And they said, ‘well, freedom, independence was given to us by Britain in 1910 on May 31. (Tambo said) ‘It’s a legal thing; we cannot change it’ What? You can’t change it?”

While most white controlled media in South Africa had hoped that the war of words would escalate to a full diplomatic row, this did not happen as the two countries dealt with the matter privately.

Mugabe has in the past reiterated his view that founding South African President Nelson Mandela bequeathed freedom to South African but not complete independence.

However, the ANC has maintained that the political dynamics in Zimbabwe and South Africa were different at the attainment of political independence.

It has often raised concern over the perceived blemishing of Mandela’s legacy.

Independent analysts have said Mugabe’s remarks could be an indication of his frustration over the obduracy of his neighbours on a number of critical international matters.

Not long ago, the President attacked South Africa and Nigeria for siding with the West over the United Nation’s “no fly zone” resolution on Libya, which eventually led to the capture and killing of that country’s then leader Muammar Gadaffi.

He described the actions of the two countries as shameful and disgraceful.

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