FORMER South African President Nelson Mandela advised President Robert Mugabe last year not to contest the recent presidential election and retire as soon as possible to avoid an embarrassing exit from power.
Mandelaâ€™s advice â€” which was rejected â€” has now come back to haunt Mugabe after his dramatic defeat by main opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe has reportedly blocked the release of results and is demanding a recount in a bid to avoid embarrassment, the very thing Mandela warned him of a year ago.
As initially reported in the Zimbabwe Independent, Mandela early last year told Mugabe via his advisors that he should quit and allow a new leader to come in because he had â€œplayed his partâ€.
However, Mugabe rejected the advice and proceeded to amend the constitution to consolidate his position and seek re-election.
Details obtained from sources in Zimbabwe and South Africa showed Mandela had contacted Mugabe by telephone via his advisors on March 30 â€” on the very same day that Zanu PF spokesmen misleadingly claimed Mugabe was endorsed as the candidate for this yearâ€™s poll â€” to advise him to quit before the election.
Around the same time former Zanla general staff members linked to retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru also tried to tell Mugabe to quit but were rebuffed. The ex-combatants approached Zanu PF politburo bigwig Emmerson Mnangagwa over the issue but he refused to help.
The former guerillas wanted to ensure Mugabe secured a gracious departure from office because they feared he would end up being defeated at the polls or risked a humiliating exit as the countryâ€™s crisis deepened.
Most Zanu officials, sources say, now find it disgraceful that Mugabe might actually be forced out of office after being defeated by a man he has repeatedly said would â€œneverâ€ rule this country.
Mandela reportedly indicated that his advice was also the view of a number of influential African National Congress (ANC) leaders. ANC stalwart Tokyo Sexwale supported Mandelaâ€™s initiative. Sexwale, then an ANC presidential hopeful, has said on several occasions Mugabe has made his contribution to Zimbabwe and should leave office.
After Mugabe failed to respond to Mandelaâ€™s initiative as he had promised, Mandela unleashed his team of world leaders, the Global Elders, to deal with the problem. Three critical meetings were held last year by the Elders and their advisors on July 16, 17 and 18 to discuss the issue. The meetings on July 16 and 17 were held at Melrose Arch Hotel in Johannesburg.
The first meeting â€” on July 16 -â€”was attended by political and constitutional experts from the United States and the region who debated a range of issues, including constitutional mechanisms and immunity issues, to facilitate a possible Mugabe retirement. The meeting was stormy as experts clashed over what was possible and achievable and what was not. The second meeting â€” on July 17 â€” was attended by the Elders themselves who discussed the best way to approach Mugabe.
On July 18, during Mandelaâ€™s birthday party, the Elders further exchanged notes about the pressing matter on the sidelines of festivities after agreeing Kofi Annan would travel to Zimbabwe to meet Mugabe over their initiative. The initial plan was for Annan to travel to Harare before the Sadc meeting on August 17 last year in Lusaka to press Mugabe to leave.
This did not work because Mugabe refused to grant Annan an audience until the UN boss had to phone in September. The conversation between Mugabe and Annan, it was said, was stormy because Mugabe was offended by Annanâ€™s willingness to discuss such a sensitive issue over the phone.
It is said Mugabe recently rejected Annanâ€™s bid to intervene in the current stalemate over the presidential election results, as he did in Kenya.
By Dumisani Muleya