via email by Jan Raath 7 December 2013
The adoration across the globe for Nelson Mandela is so overwhelming, it seems unthinkable that there could be an exception. One does stand out, however.
Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He has made it clear that he disliked and resented the iconic South African, for stealing his role as Africa’s senior statesman.
In February this year, he was asked in an interview for his opinion of Mr Mandela. He had “gone a bit too far in doing good to the non-black communities,” said Mr Mugabe, who refers insultingly to whites as “boers.”
They first met in 1990, when Mandela flew to Harare soon after his release from prison. A public reception was arranged at the Great Hall at the University of Zimbabwe. It was packed tight. The doors open and the two walked in to a sudden joyous roar. Mr Mandela grinned, waved, shook hands.
Mr Mugabe’s posture and his smile stiffened as they walked down the aisle. He looked like a village mayor accompanying a visiting pope, and he knew it.
Mr Mandela visited briefly after being elected president in 1994, and a press conference was held by the two of them at Harare airport. Mr Mugabe was asked a question and circumlocuted for five minutes. No-one took down a word.
Mandela took the next question and told the journalist there was not enough time reply. “So next time you see me, we can go to a bar, and you can buy me a rum, and then I will tell you.” The press conference collapsed in an uproar of mirth. Mr Mugabe remained unsmiling.
In 1996 he flew to Lesotho for the funeral of its late King Moshoeshoe II. The Zimbabwean aircraft was kept circling endlessly over Maseru airport, until the pilot radioed the control tower for an explanation. “We are waiting for President Mandela to land first,” was the reply. Mr Mugabe was apoplectic with rage, passengers said.
And two years later they were both in Malawi for a summit of the Southern African Development Community, the region’s political bloc, for the establishment of a special committee on security.
Mr Mugabe began by trying to bully the other leaders into making the chairmanship permanent, with him in the chair. In a series of angry exchanges between the two, Mr Mandela resolutely opposed him and blocked the motion.
Kelvin Maposa, a Harare security guard, was watching the mass grieving on television yesterday (Fri., Dec. 6). “Is that what is going to happen when Mugabe dies?” I asked. “Oh no,” he grinned. “We are all going to be happy, celebrating.”