Mugabe, Zuma relations frosty

Tension is simmering between Presidents Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma in the wake of recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

Presidents war of words: Robert Mugabe: “They need another liberation” and  Jacob Zuma: “Why are their citizens not in their countries?”
Presidents war of words: Robert Mugabe: “They need another liberation” and Jacob Zuma: “Why are their citizens not in their countries?”

Embassy and local foreign affairs sources told The Zimbabwean that Mugabe reacted angrily to Zuma’s statements on the xenophobia that broke out in Durban last month, resulting in the displacement of thousands of foreign nationals – many of them Zimbabwean .

Zuma, while condemning the attacks, blamed the governments of countries from which millions of economic refugees have come for bad governance, which he said has driven the immigrants into South Africa.

“As much as we have a problem that is alleged to be xenophobic, our sister countries contribute to this. Why are their citizens not in their countries and are in South Africa?” said Zuma. Mugabe, the sources said, felt the jibe was mainly targeted at him as Zimbabwe contributes a big number of economic and political refugees resident in South Africa.

Zuma peeved

Zuma, on the other hand, was reportedly peeved by suggestions by government officials in Zimbabwe that the South African government was deliberately ignoring the xenophobic attacks.

“President Zuma did not take lightly to official suggestions in Harare that the South African government was happy with the xenophobic attacks. That is why he was quick to point a finger at other African countries in his Freedom Day speech,” said a source at the South African embassy in Harare.

Mugabe’s recent comments in Botswana have fanned the flames. He took advantage of his recent visit to Botswana where he toured the SADC headquarters as chairman of the regional bloc to attack successive South African governments for failing to empower millions of blacks.

The embassy source said the Zuma establishment has viewed the statements as attempted interference with political affairs south of the Limpopo and a deliberate plot to cause unrest in South Africa.

Abusing his position

“Zuma feels that Mugabe is trying to whip up emotions in South Africa so that people can forcibly take land and businesses there, just like what happened in Zimbabwe. He thinks Mugabe is abusing his position as SADC chair,” said the embassy employee.

“He (Zuma) sought the advice of the ambassador (Vusi Mavimbela) in Harare who is watching developments in Zimbabwe. The president was not happy with the manner in which the Zimbabwean government seemed to be so keen to blame the South African government,” he added.

A ministry of foreign affairs official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mugabe sought an audience with Simbarashe Mumbengegwi over Zuma’s statements.

Shifty statesman

“There was an agreement that Zuma was hitting at Mugabe. The president thinks Zuma is a shifty statesman. Even though the two were warming up to each other, the statement by the South African president regarding xenophobia angered President Mugabe,” he said.

“The pressures with people of South Africa are so much that we cannot avoid incidents of that nature (xenophobia). People are unemployed, lots of young men and women are in the streets so when they see people from neighbouring countries running small shops they conclude that it’s these people that have robbed them of their chances, which is not the case.

“It’s not the other African, but it’s a factor of the whites that have kept opportunities to themselves. The political dispensation did not address the disparities between white and black with most of the land in the hands of whites and most of the employment opportunities enjoyed by them (whites). So we must help them. They need another liberation,” Mugabe told journalists in Gaborone.

Publicly critical

The source said it had not been decided yet whether Zuma would directly confront Mugabe regarding the Botswana statements.

Before taking over as president in 2009, Zuma was publicly critical of Mugabe’s government, but he subsequently toned down his stance. Last year, he was a guest at the wedding of Mugabe’s daughter, Bona. But, after the Freedom Day speech, the two statesmen have reportedly not communicated with each other due to rising tension.

Independent estimates indicate that about 1.5 million Zimbabwean immigrants have flocked to South Africa since the early 2000s when the economy went into free fall and human rights abuses mounted after the formation of the MDC in 1999.

South African minister of international relations and cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, had not responded to emailed questions by the time of going to print. Her secretary, Olita Lebelo, had promised that the department would duly respond to questions from The Zimbabwean.

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *