Remarks by the Patron of the TMF, Thabo Mbeki, at the memorial service for former of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe: Durban City Hall, September 17, 2019.

Thank you very much Comrade Sihle, Chairperson of the ANC in this Province.

Comrade Sihle has done all of the acknowledgements that I needed to make. In that case, he spoke on my behalf, I don’t need to repeat that. But I must also add my word of thanks and welcome for the presence of our Comrades from Zimbabwe.

I got a message; I think yesterday or the day before yesterday to say that they were coming to this meeting. I had decided to discourage them, to say there’s no need to come, then I forgot to send the message. Because, I didn’t want them to be around here to intimidate me as I speak. But let me say thanks a lot.

First of all, if I may disclose a secret Comrade Mdu and Comrade Sihle, the original invitation for me to come to the Province came from the youth league.  And given that I am still a member of the youth league, I immediately agreed. But then I think for very good reason, the Provincial leadership decided to join hands with the youth league, in terms of extending that invitation.

I was really very pleased that the ANC and the Province had taken this initiative because I was concerned that there was no similar event in the country and therefore the leadership that has been shown on this very important matter is very welcome.

Comrade Kasikuwere started saying some of the things that I am going to repeat because for us as the ANC, President Mugabe was very special. I think in the first instance, because he started his politics in the ANC youth league at Fort Hare -1949, 1950 to 51, that period.

When he was at Fort Hare, he was very much involved in the struggles that were waged at that time by the students. And some of the stories he would tell about that period are very funny.

He told us one story one time that the students decided to boycott classes. They were fighting about one issue or the other, and then some students decided not to join the boycott, so a few of them from the youth league met and said what are we going to do? And one of the decisions they took was that they are not going to discuss this matter with the leadership of the youth league at Fort Hare, because the decision they took was while these other students who did not join the strike were in class, they went to the dormitories and took off the blankets of the ones who were in class and poured water on the mattresses and then covered them with blankets again.

So, you can imagine what would happen when I then come and I want to try to sleep on that wet mattress. But he was relating to us that even then it was necessary to engage in in struggle in order to achieve what was wanted.

President Mugabe was a member of the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress. That ANC was formed in 1957. He was part of its leadership. It was burned and was succeeded by the National Democratic Party, He was a member of that leadership. It got burned and it was replaced by ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union)1962, He was a member of that leadership. So, I’m saying that this is someone who clearly demonstrated in practice where his heart and his mind lay in terms of doing everything possible to secure the liberation of the people of Zimbabwe.

Then ZANU was formed in 1963. President Mugabe and the others came out of ZAPU to form ZANU. Now part of the importance of that, in terms of the story I’m trying to tell, is that the ANC at the time, took a decision that it would continue to work with ZAPU, it had already been working with ZAPU as the Zimbabwean national movement, it would continue to work with ZAPU since it considered that ZANU was a splinter group.

So for many years you therefore had a situation where the ANC was working with ZAPU and not with in that sense you could say that we had lost contact as the ANC with this person as I was saying, who cut his first political teeth with the ANC youth league.

In 1978, by this time Comrade Mugabe had after serving 10 years in jail in Zimbabwe managed to leave after he was released and was in Mozambique and took over the Presidency of ZANU in 1977. 1978 we get a message while we’re in Lusaka that there is a delegation of ZANU that is coming from Mozambique to see the ANC. It was led by somebody who later became the Vice President if Zimbabwe, Simon Muzenda and we were scratching our heads as to why such a senior delegation from ZANU PF was coming to see us, because as I was saying, for years now, we had been working with ZAPU rather than ZANU.

The delegation came, led by as I was saying, Simon Muzenda, who was deputy to President Mugabe and made a very interesting and very important proposition. They said that already the ZANLA forces, that’s the armed wing, were fighting along Limpopo and they said their experience of the armed units was that the population in the then Northern Transvaal were the ones who were supplying their units with medicines. Any medicines that they needed they would get from our people in the Northern Transvaal.

Where they needed radios to listen for instance to the broadcasts from Mozambique, the population in the Northern Transvaal gave them those radios. So it was fascinating story to listen to, that they are interacting very regularly with the population in the Northern Transvaal. And they said then the reason we have come to Lusaka, is because that population supports the ANC. And what we are proposing is the cadres of MK should come and join the ZANLA units so that they operate along the Limpopo.

The MK comrades could cross the river and interact with this population in the Northern Transvaal which was ANC in terms of its orientation. Now this was a striking thing as since ZANU had broken away from ZAPU, 15 years later during which the ANC had not worked with ZANU, Robert Mugabe sent his deputy to see the ANC to say we are in a common struggle, we now have a possibility to assist you people in terms of engagement with the masses of the people in South Africa and therefore could you then get your comrades to come and join our units and we will make sure that they are able to interact with this population in what is now Limpopo. I think that was a very clear demonstration even then in 1978 of the firm loyalty that President Mugabe had to the ANC and to our struggle here at home.

That operation didn’t work and the reason was that MK already had some of its cadres with ZAPU combatants in ZIPRA and there was a fear among our military comrades that you could have backlash and so you would have these MK comrades shooting at each other, some from ZIPRA and others from ZANLA.

The political leadership was very much in favour of doing what was proposed in terms of our cadres joining ZANLA. Because of those considerations, we said alright let’s put the matter in abeyance, we’ll have to come back to it. We’ll come back to this particular matter because it never disappeared.

Then there was a conference of the common wealth in Lusaka in 1979. It’s that conference which decided on the Lancaster House talks which later led to the independence of Zimbabwe.  Because we were living in Lusaka, we were very regularly in contact with comrades from the Zimbabwe liberation movement, both ZANU and ZAPU as those discussions were taking place.

And I remember them, I think ZANU comrades, who then gave us a copy of the draft statement that was under discussion at the Common Wealth Summit, a statement they would make on Zimbabwe. And I remember one particular thing which we discussed with the ZANU comrades which was a sentence in that statement; which was that the Common Wealth accepts that there should be black majority rule in Zimbabwe.

Now this was a victory in the sense that the whole Common Wealth, that includes Ms Margaret Thatcher, finally agreed that Zimbabwe must be independent, under majority rule. I’m saying I remember this because then we had quite a discussion with these comrades to say let us remove the word “black”. Zimbabwe must be independent under majority rule without the “black”.

We were saying, once you say “black” majority rule, inevitably you will have to say “white” minority rights. So let’s not give a colour to this majority, let it just be thee majority, then we’ll avoid this matter. We agreed on that and as it happened, we were all a bit late and that statement went out as black majority rule.

It had various consequences, one of which was the position that was taken on the land question at Lancaster House. It had to do with white minority rights. But Comrades, I’m trying to tell you what was happening despite this very long period of separation between the ANC and ZANU PF, and therefore President Mugabe, in fact we had begun to work together since 1978.

And then came the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980. We were very keen to understand what would happen because there were two matters that were of significance for us in terms of the independence of Zimbabwe.

One them was that Zimbabwe has a relatively large white minority population. And therefore, we were very keen to see how the comrades are going to handle this particular matter. And you remember what happened; the leadership under President Mugabe, as Prime Minister then, took a very clear position which was that we fought against colonialism, minority domination and so on, not against white people and let’s handle ourselves in a manner that will result in that national reconciliation. And I think you can see what happened with us here in 1994, that we followed exactly on the footsteps that had been followed by leadership of Zimbabwe under President Mugabe.

So Zimbabwe had in 1980, General Walls to lead the Zimbabwe Defense Force, and some people were not sensitive to the extraordinary imagination and courage to take Zimbabwe through that transition. People didn’t understand why are they allowing a Smith General to lead the Zimbabwe Defense Force. But that’s what we did here, we were following the example of Zimbabwe and said in our case we must follow this example so their General Walls was our General Meiring. Chief of the CIO was Ken Flower, inherited from the Smith regime, Central Intelligence Organization. Here we had the Chief of police, who was Johan Van der Merwe.

I’m saying that period of transition which was entered by President Mugabe and the rest of the leadership of ZANU PF, there was a very important lesson for us in terms of how we might want to handle our own situation. Again, we must indeed pay tribute to the leadership of President Mugabe and the other comrades for what they did in order to assist us here, to resolve what is an important challenge in terms of ensuring that we had a smooth transition, as smooth as possible, a transition to a post-apartheid democratic rule.

Oliver Tambo attended the ceremony to lower the British Flag and raise the Zimbabwe flag in 1980, in April. And the very same day, day one of the independence of Zimbabwe, he met with Prime Minister Mugabe and said to him, now Zimbabwe is independent, let’s go back to the question you raised in 1978 – the need for Zimbabwe to help in our struggle in South Africa.

So Prime Minister Mugabe said to him “Look if you ask for permission from me that the ANC must operate from Zimbabwe, I will say wait because we are carrying so many of Smith’s people, like the ones I’ve mentioned and many others, give us time. Those people will disappear and then it will become easier for you to operate from Zimbabwe”.

He said “If you ask me, that’s the response I will give you but rather than asking, why don’t you send some of your people to Zimbabwe, now, for the ANC to make an assessment for itself as to whether it can operate, so you don’t have to depend on Robert Mugabe”.

So OR came back to Lusaka and reported this and we said very good idea and indeed we went to Zimbabwe, I was in that delegation which went to Zimbabwe to assess the situation to see whether we can operate. That was in the very first month of the independence of Zimbabwe.

So, we stayed in Zimbabwe for two weeks or so, wandered around, talked to people, went back to Lusaka and said of course we can always operate in Zimbabwe. Some operations would have to be underground and some of them would have to be open above ground but of course we can. So OR had to then go back to talk to Prime Minister Mugabe about that. And I went with him.

Now Comrades, I’m talking about April/ May 1980. This is a new, young Zimbabwe, across the border, the Limpopo., you have an apartheid regime which is intensely hostile to this government that has taken over in Zimbabwe and obviously very intensely hostile similarly to the ANC. But we are saying despite that, what can be done? So we came back and met with Prime Minister Mugabe, as it happens he was accompanied by the current President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was at the time Minister of National Security.

So OR said to Prime Minster Mugabe, “We can operate” and Prime Minister said “Okay, if that’s your decision, fine. Now why don’t we arrange that Thabo here and Emmerson must sit together and work out how you are going to operate”. Now comrades I’m saying all of these things and I don’t think they have been said before. 

We worked out a system of cooperation which meant Zimbabwe Defense Force actually moved a battalion of the army to the banks of the Limpopo. The reason for that was so that we could then bring in weapons from Zambia into Zimbabwe which the Zimbabwean army would pick up at the border, take them through Zimbabwe and to that battalion so that our people would then come into Zimbabwe carrying no weapons, instead the Zimbabwe government would issue them with false identity cards. There were a lot of roadblocks at that time so as they go through, they go through as Zimbabweans and collect their weapons on the banks of Limpopo. I’m saying this is April/May 1980.

There were other decisions that were taken, like the Zimbabwean government would issue us with passports which identify some of us as Zimbabwean in order to facilitate movement in the context of any matter that would be sensitive. So instead of me travelling as Thabo Mbeki to some secret meeting somewhere in the world, I would travel as Patrick Zhuwao. All manner of detail like that which were agreed.

Sometime later, I meet a comrade who is late now. He used to be the Chief of the Zimbabwean Air force. And this is two three years after this in 1983. And he says to me “The people that you put here as a result of this agreement; I think you should move them out of Harare” – the comrades who were in charge of this whole underground thing. “Move them out of Harare.” So I say why? He says “Because I see them too often in places where they serve beer”. He says “Send them to the bush, because there, they will be bitten by mosquitoes and the more the mosquitoes bite them, the more they will want to get home”.

But I’m trying to give you an example, Comrade, of what the relationship was between President Mugabe, the leadership in the independence of Zimbabwe even from day one of the independence of Zimbabwe. And indeed in that particular meeting with President Mugabe, he said to OR that “If you hadn’t asked me about this thing, the population itself of Zimbabwe would have asked me, “what are you doing for the struggle of the liberation of South Africa?”

Many years later, in fact in 1989, ANC decides that it is inevitable that there would have to be negotiations in South Africa.  It is inevitable. Namibia was moving in that direction; Cuban troops were leaving Angola and it became quite clear to us that sooner or later the regime would have to agree to negotiations. And then we said well lets then prepare for that.

At the time, the veteran comrades here would then remember a resolution 435 – UN Security Council Resolution 435 which was about Namibia, which gave the responsibility to the UN to negotiate with the apartheid regime for the independence of Namibia. And so we were saying to ourselves in our case, we don’t want a resolution 435. We as South Africans must handle the negations ourselves.

So, we drafted a document which then we marketed among the frontline states – Tanzania, Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe, we didn’t go to Mozambique because we ran out of time. In the end, when that document was finished, we then had to take it to the OAU, to make it policy of the Organization of the African Unity.

And then we took a decision that we would then suggest to the OAU – there was an ad hoc committee of the OAU on Southern Africa, so that you didn’t have to call a whole summit of all the member states, you could call that ad hoc committee. We decided that, that meeting should be held in Harare, in Zimbabwe. It was in 1989. Fortunately, the OAU agreed.

The reason we were doing that was because President Mugabe, as host President would have to make a huge intervention in that document. If we handed the task to him, to say President – it is your responsibility to market this document so that the whole continent accepts! – we knew that if he did it, we would succeed. And fortunately, as I’m saying, the OAU agreed and met in Harare and that is where the Harare Declaration was adopted, which was very fundamental in shaping our negotiations here in south Africa. 

It is what kept resolution 435 away from us, so that we could determine our own destiny ourselves. And I’m saying, we decided that the best person to put this matter to the continent would be President Mugabe, and he did.

There are many things that I can say about this, the relationship between us and President Mugabe. Comrades might remember this or might not know it; as we began the negotiations in 1990, the 10-year period of the constitution of Zimbabwe negotiated at Lancaster House came to an end. So, now Zimbabwe could now redo the constitution including addressing the matter of the land question, particularly as it related to the principle of willing seller and willing buyer. So Zimbabwe now had, by agreement, the opportunity to change the Constitution in 1990.

The then Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka  Of Nigeria, then approached President Mugabe to plead with him not to change the Lancaster House provisions as it related to the Land Question. Chief Emeka Anyauku’s agreement was that, if Zimbabwe did something like that – moved to address the land issue, correctly as they needed to address it, it would frighten the White population in South Africa and make it difficult for the ANC to negotiate with them; could Zimbabwe please hold this matter back? And they agreed. That’s why the land reform process in Zimbabwe was delayed for at least a decade. It was done to give us space here, in order to succeed in our negotiations with the Apartheid regime.

So Comrades, as I say there are many things I could say about this. But the message is very clear and the message is that – one of the cadres and comrades that we should always value as one of the combatants for the liberation of South Africa, is President Mugabe!

As Comrades Kasukuwere has indicated, obviously, we, ourselves knew very well that this relationship is a relationship of solidarity, shared interest, comradeship and therefore there was absolutely no way in which if Zimbabwe was facing challenges, we could turn our backs. It couldn’t be done!

For instance, in 1998, the heat was getting up in Zimbabwe around the land question. So we spoke to President Mugabe to say – look, at Lancaster House as you would recall, the British and the Americans had promised to give Zimbabwe money to buy back land and never kept the promise. So we said to President Mugabe, let’s go back to the British to remind them of their commitment. He agreed. Actually we agreed that for three months, he must not say anything about the land question, we will try and deal with it in that way.

So indeed, I actually went to England to talk to Prime Minister Blair, and said; as the South African government, we think you should honour your promise on the land thing because you promised to give money so that, Zimbabweans, while respecting this principle of “willing buyer, willing seller”, would have the resources to buy. That particular year; UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – the so called White Commonwealth – all of them for some reason had budget surpluses. So we said to Prime Minister Blair if he committed to raising the money, we would talk to the other Commonwealth countries to support him. He said, I agreed with you with you we will do this thing, it’s Ok, but I will do the rounds.

As a result, there was a Land Conference held in Zimbabwe in 1998. A donor conference to address this matter of the money that had been promised at Lancaster House, that was agreed but dishonoured in the first instance by the UK, that agreement.

The matter came up again a bit later, when the war veterans started occupying some of the farms. At a particular time, there were a 115 farms that were available for sale and I remember they would have cost £9million. The Zimbabwean government sent a delegation to the UK, to ask the British government to give us the £9million, to buy these 115 to take the war veterans onto these farms that we would have owned, away from the commercial ones. And the British government said they have no money.

So we talked to three countries around the world, to say that we need this money urgently. Fortunately, they all agreed and then reported to then Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, to say there is money to buy those farms. He then said, can you please give the matter over to us at the UN, to de-politicise it. That was the argument used. And so we agreed. It didn’t work!

The reason it didn’t work is because the UN, whereas we were saying – there was an agreement in 1998 about the land question, how to handle it, and now that we have got these donors, go back to use that agreement; they said no, no, no that was not the UN agreement. The UN has got its own rules. We said it will fail, and it failed.

Now comrades, I’m saying there’s a relationship of this kind between ourselves and President Mugabe.

In 2000, there was a referendum in Zimbabwe where a constitution was rejected, in a referendum. Soon after, we were approached by the MDC who said to us; please speak to President Mugabe to do some amendments to the constitution like this and that and the other.

I remember meeting President Mugabe at what was then Jan Smuts airport, which is now OR Tambo. He was then on his way, I think, to Indonesia, to make that proposal to him. At the request of the MDC. And President Mugabe said, actually listening to what you are saying, all these amendments they want were in the constitution they rejected. But alright, let’s work on it. Now that is in the end, that interaction which was started by the MDC, ended up with the Global Political Agreement singed among the three parties in 2008.

Comrades I have run out of time. I would have indicated what is contained in that Global Political Agreement, about many, many things – about the future of Zimbabwe.

If you read that Global Political Agreement, it’s available on the internet, you would understand what kind of Zimbabwe President Mugabe wanted. All of the elements in that document, he went through all of those, as his negotiators were negotiating and agreed.

I’m saying that because some people, certainly in this country but not only, are very fond of present an image of President Mugabe which is driven by a particular ideological outlook. For instance, just now a few days ago, here in this country, there was an article written in one of the papers and it says, “Mbeki’s government steadfastly refused to help the majority of Zimbabweans to achieve what they wanted, which was to see Mugabe deposed.”  I never met one single Zimbabwean who said “I wanted to see Mugabe deposed”, not one.

The ones who spoke to us, the MDC, didn’t say depose Mugabe. They said, help us to find one another. But there’s a White journalist who says the people of Zimbabwe wanted to see Mugabe deposed.

The last thing may I should say, to indicate maybe the complexities of this issue: In 2002, there were Presidential Elections in Zimbabwe and two governments, the UK and US, were particularly interested that President Mugabe should not run, should no longer serve as president of Zimbabwe.

So they contacted us to make this proposal; a way must be found to make sure he doesn’t run. If not, if he runs, then he must only be in power for six months and then he must resign. We had lost of interactions with them. At that time, the Minister of Intelligence here was Lindi Sisulu. She was the one doing who was doing the running up and down, talking to these people. In the end, they even proposed, this is the British government under Tony Blair, that they were ready to use force to remove President Mugabe.

I have said that before and Tony Blair said I was not telling the truth. There’s a Lord Guthrie, British, who was at that time the Chief of Defence Staff of the United Kingdom armed forces. He did an interview for a British newspaper in 2007 and among other things, he said, “astonishingly, the subjects discussed with Tony Blair included invading Zimbabwe.” This is the Chief of the Defence Staff of the UK, “and since were always trying to get me to look at that”, says Guthrie, “my advice was, “hold hard, you’ll make it worse.” And Blair himself said elsewhere, the reason he could not get rid of Mugabe, which he would have loved to, was because it wasn’t practical, since the “surrounding African countries maintained a lingering support for him and would have opposed any action strenuously.” And indeed we opposed it strenuously, because we were saying, the Zimbabwe people have got the right to determine their own destiny. There is nobody who is going to come from London or decide for the Zimbabweans how they should govern themselves.

But in the end, the reason that you even had people from so far away, planning to overthrow an elected leader of Zimbabwe was because this was a tried and tested African patriot. Stood very firm for the liberation of the African continent. A Pan-Africanist. A great actor in the interest of the countries of the South.

At a certain time, the non-Aligned Movement, 150 plus members, chose a committee of 15 to lead the countries of the South. President Mugabe was in that committee.

I’m saying here is a great patriot, defender of Africa’s independence, defender of Africa’s interests, very principled, very brave – able to speak out in defence of those interests. That why many people in the world didn’t want him.

But we are proud, very, very glad that we have had this meeting to commemorate him because for us, for us, he was a fellow combatant and a leader who would never, ever, abandon the struggle for our liberation.

Thank You!

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