FORMER Botswana president Quett Ketumile Masire has explained in his memoirs how the relationship between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died last Thursday after a protracted battle with a lung infection, bitterly soured as a result of tensions fuelled by how Sadc handled the conflicts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
By Herbert Moyo
In his memoirs, titled Very Brave or Very Foolish?: Memoirs of an African Democrat, Masire, who led Botswana from 1980 to 1998 turning it into one of the most thriving countries on the continent, makes disclosures about how the two clashed over Angola and DRC wars.
He gives a vivid account of how Mandela fought with Mugabe after the latter took it upon himself to hold and chair Sadc meetings of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security instead of deferring to Mandela who was then the chairperson of Sadc. The organ reports to the Sadc summit.
Mandela — whose memorial on Tuesday and funeral tomorrow are billed as among the biggest such events in history — and his allies in the region waged a serious political battle to stop and remove Mugabe from being a permanent chair of the organ to ensure current rotation.
According to Masire, problems between Mugabe and Mandela erupted after a Sadc summit in Angola in 1996.
“Sadc presidents were invited to Luanda (in 1996) to witness the signing of an agreement between President (Jose) Eduardo dos Santos and rebel leader Jonas Savimbi at a time it was thought that Unita and the Angolan government had reached a peace agreement,” Masire says.
“Savimbi (late) did not show up and Mugabe took advantage of the gathering to hold the organ’s meeting and to report on its activities. But instead of reporting to a meeting chaired by Mandela, the chairman of Sadc, Mugabe chaired it himself.
“Afterward Mandela’s people felt this was wrong; as chairman of Sadc, Mandela should have chaired any summit meeting to receive a report, and they felt Mugabe should be told this.”
After that, Masire, who also says Botswana was disappointed that after Mugabe took power in 1980 it became even more difficult to do business with Zimbabwe compared to Rhodesia, said Mandela travelled to Harare in 1997 to confront Mugabe.
“Mandela went to Zimbabwe to discuss the situation, and he came back by way of Botswana to tell me that Mugabe felt he had done nothing wrong, and that, in fact, he would do it again,” writes Masire. “Even though the chairmanship of the organ was supposed to rotate yearly, Mugabe stuck to it in the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.”
Masire further explains that despite efforts by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano and himself to mediate, “Mugabe remained adamant that he should chair meetings to discuss activities of the organ and after that his relationship with Mandela soured”.
Although Mandela came to Zimbabwe in 1997 on a state visit and addressed parliament where he described Mugabe as a “hero” and had roads — including the former Baker Avenue in Harare — named after him, a conflict between the two was simmering under the surface.
Subsequently, a bitter tug-of-war over the Sadc organ ensued until Mugabe was forced to relinquish it. However, Mugabe, Mandela and Masire continued to work together on some issues such as the problems in Lesotho and Swaziland.
The revelations by Masire come against the background of Mugabe’s claims on his arrival on Wednesday from Mandela’s memorial that there was never a feud between him and the late South African political giant.
Addressing the media upon landing in Harare, Mugabe described Mandela as a “great friend” before further claiming: “I don’t know about any feud. If anything, there was an alliance. We worked very well with him when he came out of prison. We gave him support.”
He added: “We established the principle of national reconciliation (at Independence in 1980), they took it over and used it as a basis to create what they have now as the Rainbow Nation. There was no feud, where was the feud, what feud?”
But evidence clearly shows there was a serious problem between the two.
The explosive Luanda Sadc summit appointed three leaders — Mugabe, Chissano and the late Zambian president Frederick Chiluba — to increase pressure on the MPLA and Unita to overcome the final hurdles to peace. However, both the MPLA and Unita made it privately known progress would be swifter if Mandela and Chissano rather than Mugabe were at the helm of the regional process to stem resurging conflict in Angola.
An Angolan embassy representative in Pretoria, Jorge Morais, said at the time Luanda would be happy with Mandela and Chissano taking the lead in the peace talks.
“We welcome that initiative,” Morais said. “In our region, we identify Mr Mandela as a respectable man who is in a good position to address the problems of Angola.
We believe that Mr Mandela and Mr Chissano have the experience.”
An adviser to Savimbi in South Africa said: “Savimbi is very keen on having Presidents Mandela and Chissano take the lead. They made miracles happen in their respective countries. If Mandela and Chissano fail, then we are doomed.”
On the DRC, the Mugabe-Mandela feud was stoked by the former’s decision to unilaterally sanction armed intervention on behalf of the late DRC leader Laurent Kabila who was facing an internal rebellion in 1997, claiming that the decision enjoyed the full backing of Sadc even if it did not. Mugabe and Mandela had a public row over that.
“Zimbabwe’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (the late Stan Mudenge), called a meeting of Sadc foreign ministers in Harare on one day’s notice,” says Masire, adding that, “in urgent situations presidents can get to meetings on short notice, since they can charter airplanes, but ministers cannot.”
Mugabe and his ministers Mudenge and then Defence minister the late Moven Mahachi are said to have taken full advantage of the fact that “most of us were represented by ambassadors and high commissioners” to railroad Sadc into intervening in DRC.
“Zimbabwe suggested that Sadc should intervene in the Congo on the side of Kabila,” Masire says. “The ministers and other representatives said: ‘We need to talk with our presidents’.”
However, at the end of the meeting that day, Mahachi announced that Sadc had taken a decision to intervene in the DRC. But Botswana and South Africa — which around that time intervened in Lesotho — swiftly rejected that and announced they were not party to the move.
Then Mugabe apparently claimed that those who argued a decision was not taken were “hypocrites” since they were party to it. Mandela retorted that those who wanted to go to join the fray in DRC could do so even though he warned they would be crippled by their limited resources and lack of capacity.
“And, the rest is history”, writes Masire. “Zimbabwe moved into the Congo under the pretext of a non-existent Sadc decision and Namibia and Angola came in as well.”