Leaders in the West say Robert Mugabe is a demon, that he has destroyed Zimbabwe and he must be gotten rid of – but this demonising is made by people who may not understand what Robert Gabriel Mugabe and his fellow freedom fighters went through, says former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda.
In 1960, Harold Macmillan, then British prime minister, made a statement in Cape Town referring to what was taking place in southern
Africa as “the wind of change.” He had correctly read the feelings of the black masses.Eventually, the British government abolished the Federation of Rhodesia and
Nyasaland. In 1964, Northern Rhodesia became
Zambia and Nyasaland became
Malawi.But white people in
Rhodesia rejected that wind of change and, in November 1965, Ian Smith, by force, took over in a “Unilateral Declaration of Independence”. It was treason against the colonial ruler, the British monarchy. Soon Smith had arrested a number of African leaders, including Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo. By now Harold Wilson was the British premier, but he showed signs of hopelessness. He called meetings aboard the Tiger and Fearless navy ships. But neither meeting showed tiger claws, and both were fearful of the rebels in
Rhodesia. I spoke with
Wilson myself, but there was no progress. And, sadly, Smith’s rebel regime went on. White train Meanwhile, the
Zimbabwe freedom struggle was continuing, but handicapped because its key leaders were locked up. Even talks with another British prime minister, Edward Heath, did not help. I could see clearly that no matter who became prime minister of Britain, they would do nothing about the
Rhodesia situation. It was
South Africa that was in charge. I concluded that the settlers were interested in keeping
Southern Rhodesia under white rule so that they could have a buffer against advancing African independent states. In 1974, I decided to meet John Vorster,
South Africa’s then-prime minister. We met at the bridge between Zambia and then
Southern Rhodesia, in Vorster’s white train, for three nights. He had to leave on the third night because he was not feeling well. But as a follow-up to our discussions, he freed our colleagues in
Zimbabwe’s liberation movements. There was, of course, not a single dull moment in the struggle for independence in our region. In August 1979, Commonwealth countries from all over the world met in Lusaka to consider many issues – but the most serious one was the
Zimbabwe situation. In the end it was Britain’s new prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who agreed Britain would hold a conference on the future of Zimbabwe in
London. She asked me to be around at what became known as the Lancaster House talks, in case difficulties arose in the negotiations. Waiting At the talks, the people of
Zimbabwe were assured that they were going to be independent the following year, 1980. But that wonderful news was conditional. The new government of
Zimbabwe was not to deal with land issues but was to “leave that in the hands of the British government”. Nationalists from
Zimbabwe accepted this rather harsh and complicated condition. The Thatcher government had begun to deal with the land issue, as did her successor, John Major. But when Tony Blair took over in 1997, I understand that some young lady in charge of colonial issues within that government simply dropped doing anything about it. I ask you to consider the implications of the long struggle. The nationalists, who had the regaining of land as a key objective of their struggle, were now being told the British government, which promised to look after that issue themselves, was not going to go ahead with it. The Zimbabwean government waited patiently for more than 10 years, but the British government defaulted. We must remember the occupation by Cecil Rhodes.
Rhodes removed African people from fertile lands to hilly and unfertile lands in favour of settlers. And remember that, later, while neighbours became independent,
Southern Rhodesia was grabbed by white settlers, led by Smith. In the struggle, many people were killed. There have been allegations of corruption in relation to land allocation. Well, the corruption should have been dealt with by all. Stopping the land programme, and doing nothing, was not the solution. I do not believe it is right to demonise Robert Gabriel Mugabe. It is notable that he and his colleagues have not expelled from
Zimbabwe people who did terrible things to them. A star is born Of course, there are some things which President Mugabe and his colleagues have done which I totally disagree with – for example, the police beating of Morgan Tsvangirai.
Thatcher began to deal with the land issue in
It is not that I think Tsvangirai can make a good leader – I see him as the [former Zambian leader] Frederick Chiluba of
Zimbabwe – but beating him or even sending him to prison will not be the right thing.On the other hand, given their experience, I can understand the fury that goes through President Mugabe and his colleagues. Now, let me reveal that when Blair was elected British prime minister, I wrote a poem in his favour, called A Star Is Born To Us. Indeed, his feelings for
Africa have been very good.But then came the two Bs, Blair and George Bush, and their terrifying act of March 2003 – the invasion and occupation of
Iraq. I condemned the two Bs publicly, denouncing the criminal invasion. Now my prayer is that the
Zimbabwe issue will be treated differently by Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown. It is also my humble prayer that South African President Thabo Mbeki and his regional colleagues will meet Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who will be ready in his soul, mind, and body to respond to the advice they give him and the people of
How should Western leaders treat President Mugabe? Has he been demonised unfairly? A selection of your comments will appear below. Unfairly treated is an understatement and he and the Zimbabwean people are not isolated in this issue. If you’re not liked by Britain and the
US, then you and your people are in for a lot of suffering. This is the new form of bondage and colonialism that has always characterized the relationship between the west and the rest of the world. I firmly believe that just as minority voices gained momentum in centuries past to cry against slavery and other forms of bondage and just as we are appalled at the brutality of westerners of those years, so will future generations judge the Tony Blair and George Bushes of our time.
Saiku M Bah,
Freetown, Sierra Leone I myself live in the west. The redistribution of the land seemed only to be done to provide the regime’s backers with a payoff for loyalty. But the Land issue is irrelevant now, and people that continue to discuss it only show how out of touch they are. The issue now is the security. The government has passed law after law restricting personal freedom. Reports coming out of the country are of a security forces out of control. With rape and murder everyday events for those who even hint of straying out of line. This, the clearance of the slums and the stifling of the opposition are what needs to be discussed now!
Nich Hill, Portsmouth
UK President Mugabe surely has been unfairly by the west, led by the
UK over the land issue. Unfortunately the land has been given back to its rightful owners, the black majority. And for those who had a regime change agenda, Mr Blair has failed to affect it in
Zimbabwe. The same for Mr Bush. What a combined failure by these two in Zimbabwe and
Simeone Rumhiba, Zimbabwe The comments by Kaunda are ramblings. How on earth can anyone in their right mind excuse what Mugabe has done? Let’s face it, the land deal with the British has never been withdrawn, but Mugabe will not abide by the conditions of fair and sustainable land distribution. Instead it is parcelled out to mostly government supporters, ministers and military officials in order to stay in power. It really is that simple. Mugabe has got off very lightly, and I pray that one day he will face justice for the thousands of (mainly black) victims of his Gukurahundi massacres and subsequent “clamp downs”. Let’s not mention the more than four million of us of have had to leave the country as a result of the madness going on there.
Alex Nhando, Zimbabwean in
Budapest If Mugabe had more than his share of troubles when fighting for independence, he should have learnt from his experiences and become wiser and more humane and just. Instead he has become far worse than his former colonial masters in mistreating and misruling his people. What is deeply disturbing is the deafening silence on part of other African leaders when it comes to criticising their counterparts and their misdeeds. One has the impression that black African leaders, in general, have entered a conspiracy to slowly send
Africa to hell.
Kaiseraugst, Switzerland It is only people who have read the history of Zimbabwe in depth are able to understand the current situation in
Zimbabwe. From the time
Zimbabwe was occupied the issue of contention was land. The land was parcelled among the whites with impunity. The Africans were relocated to the wastelands. For your own information African cattle were not even allowed to mate with whites cattle or even allowed to graze in so called white lands. The only solution is to share the fertile lands equally.