In the aftermath of scathing criticism from Botswana’s President Ian Khama which frayed bilateral relations, President Robert Mugabe has snubbed an invitation to the neighbouring country’s 50th independence celebration in Gaborone today.
By Hazel Ndebele
Instead, Mugabe is attending the Zanu PF Women’s League conference in Harare.
Top government sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the decision not to attend was made easier by Harare’s diplomatic tiff with Botswana over Khama’s recent remarks calling on Mugabe to step down.
Notwithstanding the frosty relationship, Khama extended the invitation after Mugabe delivered a speech at the Heroes stadium in Lusaka at the inauguration of Zambian President Edgar Lungu a fortnight ago.
However, Harare this week faced a dilemma as to whether to attend the celebrations after Khama, in an interview with Reuters, said it was time for Mugabe to go and allow new leadership.
Asked if Mugabe, who came to power after independence from Britain in 1980, should accept the reality of his advancing age and retire, Khama said: “Without doubt. He should have done it years ago. They have got plenty of people there who have got good leadership qualities who could take over. It is obvious that at his age and the state Zimbabwe is in, he is not really able to provide the leadership that could get it out of its predicament.”
The official sources said Mugabe’s decision was also informed by the fact that he will be travelling next week to Tunisia and Dubai, where he frequents for unclear reasons.
“Khama invited the president while in Zambia, but we were shocked by his (Khama’s) undiplomatic remarks afterwards. This put us in a dilemma. We had to decide whether to attend the celebrations, which also clashed with the scheduled Women’s League conference.
“Our worry was that not going could be misconstrued to mean a snub over Khama’s remarks,” the source said.
However, Presidential spokesperson George Charamba yesterday said Mugabe’s refusal to attend the celebrations was not a snub.
“Yes, the president will not go to Botswana, but the reason of not attending is not what you think (Khama’s remarks). He will not attend because it has clashed with the party’s Women’s League conference,” he said. “We are not saying that Botswana’s celebrations are not important, but it has clashed with another important conference which is a build-up to the (Zanu PF) December’s annual people’s conference. We will obviously send a representative to Botswana.”
Charamba said Khama’s remarks have nothing to do with Mugabe not going to Botswana as his remarks have not dented Zimbabwe’s relations with Botswana.
“Our relations with a state are not determined by an individual or one person’s remarks, therefore we have no problem with Botswana. Remember, a state is made up of people and institutions,” he said.
Charamba said Zimbabwe’s relationship with Botswana dates way back to the liberation struggle and is broader and larger than what an individual thinks or says.
Botswana government spokesperson Jeff Ramsey could not be reached for comment yesterday as government landline phones were not being answered. He also had not responded to questions e-mailed to him.
Charamba would not reveal the purpose of Mugabe’s visit to Tunisia and Dubai, saying he does not discuss the president’s itinerary with the media.