Op-Ed: Mugabe should criticise South Africa, not Mandela

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    Over the past few days, Zimbabwean president Robert
    Mugabe publicly lashed out at our former late president Nelson
    Mandela suggesting that Madiba betrayed black people when
    apartheid was defeated. “What was the most important thing for
    Mandela was his release from prison and nothing else. He
    cherished that freedom more than anything else and forgot why
    he was put in jail.”

    These are the words that prompted ANC
    Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe to lodge a complaint with his
    counterpart in the Zanu-PF urging him to rein in Mugabe and to
    warn him against tarnishing Mandela’s name. Mantashe was
    scathing; he reportedly said to Zanu-PF that while Mugabe is
    critical of Mandela, he has destroyed his own country’s
    economy.

    I have tracked mixed reactions to Mugabe’s remarks.
    Many are furious that he has the audacity to speak ill of
    Mandela while not saying a word about how his wife escaped
    justice after assaulting a South African woman last month. Some
    are amused and believe the 93-year-old suffers from dementia.
    Others agree with Mugabe and believe Mandela indeed “sold
    out”.

    As South Africans, we should not easily jump on the
    bandwagon of condemning Mandela or his handling of the
    transition period as we ushered in democracy. Ours was a
    negotiated democracy and this meant give and take on all sides.
    I am not suggesting Mandela’s legacy is beyond reproach but it
    would be amiss of us to ignore the complexity of the task he
    faced. Having said this, I believe Mugabe is on to something
    and he should indeed chastise South Africa.

    One rarely agrees with Mantashe but this time he is
    right: Mugabe of all people should stay clear of Mandela’s name
    and turn his focus on his own legacy. While he believes black
    South Africans should now blame Mandela for the difficult
    conditions they continue to live under, it would be fascinating
    to learn who he blames for the pitiful state of his own
    country.

    If Mandela is to blame for the economy remaining in
    white hands then who would Mugabe blame for the fact that 72.3%
    (a figure released by his own government) of Zimbabweans live
    in abject poverty? If Mandela “forgot why he was put in jail,”
    do Mugabe’s actions over the past 30 years as president reveal
    that he remembers why he fought for Zimbabwe’s
    freedom?

    I believe Mugabe’s anger is misdirected and he
    should instead bemoan South Africa for not standing up to him.
    In the same way that he believes Mandela failed to stand up to
    whites during the negotiations, Mugabe should recognise that we
    have failed to do that with him. During the Mbeki
    administration in particular, South Africa should have acted on
    Zimbabwe but we missed this opportunity.

    Today Mugabe feigns sadness about the fortunes of
    poor black South Africans. It would be nice if he would be as
    disgusted with the deplorable standard of living Zimbabweans
    have to contend with. On this front Mugabe has plenty of blame
    to fire our way.

    Instead of attacking Mandela, why is he not
    addressing the fact that Mbeki failed to negotiate fairly
    between Zanu-PF and the MDC in 2008 when he advanced for a
    coalition government? Mbeki chose stability over democracy as
    the MDC had won those elections and Mugabe should have not been
    allowed to hold a run-off election. Why is Mugabe not holding
    us accountable for this failure? Had we done what he now thinks
    Mandela should have done, perhaps Zimbabwe would be better for
    it.

    Mugabe should have also his time in the spotlight
    to discipline South Africa for being a seemingly lawless state.
    At a summit in 2002, Mugabe famously told then British prime
    minister Tony Blair to “keep your England and let me keep my
    Zimbabwe”. This was after Blair had criticised Zimbabwe’s land
    grab policy.

    In saying this, Mugabe was telling Blair to respect
    the sovereignty of his country and one would have expected him
    to give his wife the same lecture. Instead of fixating on what
    Mandela did or didn’t do, Mugabe should engage on the fact that
    South Africa has failed to implement its own laws (as he did
    with land grabs) by arresting Grace Mugabe. In this instance we
    did not “keep our own South Africa”. His silence on this is
    matter is conspicuous.

    If Mugabe’s conviction is that Mandela let black
    South Africans down in 1994, he must accept that South Africans
    have let the people of Zimbabwe down by failing to deal with
    him (Mugabe) decisively. DM

    Mondli Zondo (@MoZondo) is a columnist and a
    Mandela Washington Fellow.

    Photo: A 9-metre bronze statue of the late
    former South African President Nelson Mandela is unveiled as
    part of the Day of Reconciliation Celebrations at the Union
    Buildings in Pretoria December 16, 2013. Photo Thomas
    Mukoya/(Reuters)

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