PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has rejected overtures by former South African president Nelson Mandela and other international statesmen for him to retire ahead
of next year’s elections to avoid further deterioration of the economy.
Mugabe’s resistance to renewed domestic and international pressure for him to quit before the polls demonstrates his rigid determination to hang onto power at all costs. This seems to have become his main objective despite the worsening crisis and attendant suffering.
Impeccable sources said Mugabe has given the brush-off to Mandela and his “Global Elders” team which deals with trouble-spots, snuffing out any hopes of him leaving office before the elections now likely to take place in June.
It is understood Mugabe told off former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, who is part of the Elders group, after he made contact in September to arrange a meeting in Harare to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis, including his sensitive retirement issue.
Mugabe and Annan fell out publicly after UN envoy Anna Tibaijuka in 2005 compiled a damning report on government’s Operation Murambatsvina which said the crackdown had displaced at least 700 000 people directly and affected 2,4 million others. Mugabe blocked Annan from coming to Harare to discuss the issue on that occasion.
Two months ago Mugabe again blocked Annan from coming to Harare to discuss the Mandela initiative. Annan originally wanted to visit Harare to meet with Mugabe before the crucial Sadc summit in Lusaka. Mugabe stormed out of the meeting after clashing with host President Levy Mwanawasa.
Mandela’s Elders initiative is funded by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, the chairman of the Virgin Group, a vast business empire, and musician and activist Peter Gabriel.
Branson, who is worth about US$8 billion and was recently ranked by Time magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world, is part of the Elders team. The group includes Mandela, who is the patron, his wife Graça Machel, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the chair.
Other members of the group include Annan, Ela Bhatt, prominent Indian lawyer and international labour leader, ex-Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, former US president Jimmy Carter, ex-Chinese foreign minister and Peking University professor Li Zhaoxing, former Irish president Mary Robinson, and Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi professor of economics and banker.
Mandela, Tutu and Yunus are Nobel Peace Prize winners.
Sources in South Africa said Mandela communicated with Mugabe through his advisors in March, indicating to him that he had played his role in the liberation of his people, but it was now time for him to go. It is said Mandela stated he would not like to see Mugabe hounded out of office by his own people and treated like former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet once out of power. Sources said Mandela further noted Mugabe would be better advised to leave sooner rather than later with residual respect and a modicum of dignity.
Mandela communicated with Mugabe via their advisors on March 30 after the Zanu PF central committee met in Harare and claimed afterwards that Mugabe was endorsed as the party’s candidate in next year’s presidential election when in fact he had not been. Mugabe was only endorsed last week. It is understood that Mugabe appreciated Mandela’s message, which was supported by South African government officials and ruling ANC leaders, in particular party stalwart and business magnate Tokyo Sexwale, and promised to get back to him. He never did.
Realising that Mugabe was not willing to respond, Mandela unleashed the Global Elders to pursue the Mugabe issue and find ways of engaging him. Mandela and Mugabe are perennial rivals in the region and clashed over the DRC intervention in 1998.
The Elders met in Johannesburg during Mandela’s 89th birthday on July 18 to discuss hot spots around the world, including the Zimbabwe crisis. They resolved to send Annan to Harare to talk to Mugabe about his retirement plan and also dispatch a team to Darfur to assess the situation. The Elders went to Darfur recently.
At the Johnnesburg meeting, close sources said there were different suggestions on how to approach Mugabe on the issue given his notoriously prickly disposition. Carter and other Elders proposed that a team, which included former African presidents, should approach Mugabe and persuade him to go, but Annan said that would not work because Mugabe was bound to reject a ganging up approach. Besides, Annan said the group might end up working at cross-purposes. He then said it would be better to send one person to meet with Mugabe and his name was put forward. Annan agreed. He then tried to arrange a meeting with Mugabe but was snubbed although he did not give up.
After discussing the Mugabe issue with the Elders in July, Mandela said that his team must “speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind-the-scenes on whatever actions need to be taken”.
“Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair,” he said.
Former Botswana president Sir Ketumile Masire persuaded ex-Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda to reform in 1990 and helped to end the crisis there. Mugabe himself, Mandela and Masire were in the past involved in efforts to end problems in Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia.