Nelson Mandela: The Zimbabwe Connection

Nelson Mandela Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe made huge sacrifices to help South Africa win its independence from White tyranny

Mandela and Zimbabwe enjoyed cordial relations. President Mugabe was a silent engine and close compatriot to Mandela at the most critical time in the build up to the all-race elections in 1994.

On July 18, 1991 President Mugabe congratulated Nelson Mandela on his election to the post of ANC president wishing him a successful tenure of office.

President Mugabe said it was with great satisfaction that Zanu-PF acknowledged the bonds of friendship, solidarity and co-operation between the two parties.

“These have been forged in the crucible of our common struggle in order to bring about the liberation and development of our continent and the promotion of freedom, justice and peace in our region,” he said.

Madiba and Mugabe were the first democratically elected leaders of their respective countries and are both on record as having stepped into office with messages of unity, forgiveness, reconciliation and democracy.

Mandela’s first State visit to Zimbabwe was May 19 to 21, 1997 at the invitation of President Mugabe. Talks centred on bilateral issues since Zimbabwe was South Africa’s biggest trading partner in Africa.

Strongest memories of the first State visit to Zimbabwe was the sense of excitement in the large crowds who lined up to meet him.

Photos of Mandela adorned trees and light-posts. Zimbabweans sat intently around TV hanging to every word of Mandela he made upon his arrival, when addressed the Parliament of Zimbabwe and when a street was re-named in honour of Mandela.

Mandela visited the Great Zimbabwe Monument and Kwekwe where he was bestowed with the Freedom of the City honour, originally accepted on his behalf by the late veteran ANC stalwart Oliver Tambo.

Mandela’s visits and interaction with the people here did not change the history of Zimbabwe, it enriched it.

Mandela had the unique opportunity — a man who was turned into statues in his own lifetime given the more than 695 awards and recognition he got world wide.

Many people elevated him to “superman” and Zimbabweans too, were all caught in the admiration of this man who endured perhaps more than his share of suffering and reversal.

For many Pan African heroes, the mystique around them accumulated posthumously and yet Mandela possessed it when he was still alive.

Mandela endless photo opportunities with various celebrities and squares, stadiums and theatres were named after him. But now that Mandela – affectionately known by his clan name, is gone, he has rarity value, bringing fond memories of his towering figure.

The anti-apartheid movement was much bigger than one man and there is no doubt that Mandela became its personification.

One renowned writer said: “A history of suffering and struggle has crystallised on his shoulders.”

Mandela was bold and broke the brotherhood – “see no evil, hear no evil nor smell any evil’ – interference in the internal affairs of another country when he went to Nigeria to discuss the fate of Moshood Abiola with Nigeria’s military ruler Sani Abacha. He broke the traditional

African practice of non-interference in each other’s affairs by pointing out governance problems in Africa.

Mandela won praise from supporters and most rivals alike for his statesmanship, although some complain that he has erred on the side of appeasing the minority Whites in order to protect a fragile economic recovery. Many of the African majority also voice frustration that the arrival of an African leader has not resulted in a rapid improvement in living standards.

The sheer scale of inequality, the massive poverty that continues to blight the poor in shacks and the unresolved land question which Mandela left hanging fearing the power of capital, will bruise the pride of his legacy and open dark episodes of his leadership.

President Mugabe criticised Mandela for being too soft on Whites, in a documentary produced by People of the South’s Dali Tambo which gave a rare and intimate insight into his family life.

“Mandela has gone a bit too far in doing good to the non-Black communities, really in some cases at the expense of (Blacks),” President Mugabe said of Mandela.

“Britain will praise you only if you are doing things that please them,” Presodent Mugabe added.

Despite political sparring and differences with Zimbabwe on some issues, Mandela will be deeply missed by those he met and those who were fortunate enough to experience his goodwill in Zimbabwe.

He will be noted for his crusade against hunger and poverty, the fight against Aids throughout his post-political life both at home and internationally.

A shy and private man, albeit one of considerable personal charm, Mandela has left a great impression of himself and of South Africa on the consciousness of Zimbabwe and the international community.

Mandela’s rich legacy and life’s work are proof that he was indeed one of the great statesmen of the 20th century, an extraordinary person who showed the world extraordinary deeds.

Mandela, will be remembered as a peerless giant full of humility and committed to peace and reconciliation.

“One doesn’t want present himself artificially,’ he once remarked in an interview on his biography. “I am an ordinary human being, with frailties, with weaknesses. Especially because of the way I have been treated by the mass media, being elevated to the position of a messiah, it was necessary for me to tell the public who I am, that I’m an ordinary person, I have made serious mistakes, I have serious weaknesses.”

Few right wing Whites would admit it, but a sense of shame undoubtedly exists that by locking him up for nearly three decades they took away the best years of his life. His behavior towards them since his release is humbling and little wonder then that Mandela’s exploits will be told from one generation to another with the deepest pride.


By: Sifelani Tsiko