Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Leaders in the West say Robert Mugabe is a demon, that he has destroyed Zimbabwe and he must be gotten rid of - but this demonising is made by people who may not understand what Robert Gabriel Mugabe and his fellow freedom fighters went through, says former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda. In 1960, Harold Macmillan, then British prime minister, made a statement in Cape Town referring to what was taking place in southern Africa as "the wind of change." He had correctly read the feelings of the black masses.
Eventually, the British government abolished the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In 1964, Northern Rhodesia became Zambia and Nyasaland became Malawi. But white people in Rhodesia rejected that wind of change and, in November 1965, Ian Smith, by force, took over in a "Unilateral Declaration of Independence". It was treason against the colonial ruler, the British monarchy. Soon Smith had arrested a number of African leaders, including Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.
By now Harold Wilson was the British premier, but he showed signs of hopelessness. He called meetings aboard the Tiger and Fearless navy ships. But neither meeting showed tiger claws, and both were fearful of the rebels in Rhodesia.
I spoke with Wilson myself, but there was no progress. And, sadly, Smith's rebel regime went on.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe freedom struggle was continuing, but handicapped because its key leaders were locked up. Even talks with another British prime minister, Edward Heath, did not help. I could see clearly that no matter who became prime minister of Britain, they would do nothing about the Rhodesia situation.
Mugabe: The survivor
It was South Africa that was in charge. I concluded that the settlers were interested in keeping Southern Rhodesia under white rule so that they could have a buffer against advancing African independent states.
In 1974, I decided to meet John Vorster, South Africa's then-prime minister. We met at the bridge between Zambia and then Southern Rhodesia, in Vorster's white train, for three nights.
He had to leave on the third night because he was not feeling well. But as a follow-up to our discussions, he freed our colleagues in Zimbabwe's liberation movements.
There was, of course, not a single dull moment in the struggle for independence in our region. In August 1979, Commonwealth countries from all over the world met in Lusaka to consider many issues - but the most serious one was the Zimbabwe situation.
In the end it was Britain's new prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who agreed Britain would hold a conference on the future of Zimbabwe in London. She asked me to be around at what became known as the Lancaster House talks, in case difficulties arose in the negotiations.
At the talks, the people of Zimbabwe were assured that they were going to be independent the following year, 1980. But that wonderful news was conditional.
The new government of Zimbabwe was not to deal with land issues but was to "leave that in the hands of the British government". Nationalists from Zimbabwe accepted this rather harsh and complicated condition. The Thatcher government had begun to deal with the land issue, as did her successor, John Major.
But when Tony Blair took over in 1997, I understand that some young lady in charge of colonial issues within that government [Claire Short - MrK] simply dropped doing anything about it.
I ask you to consider the implications of the long struggle. The nationalists, who had the regaining of land as a key objective of their struggle, were now being told the British government, which promised to look after that issue themselves, was not going to go ahead with it.
The Zimbabwean government waited patiently for more than 10 years, but the British government defaulted.
We must remember the occupation by Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes removed African people from fertile lands to hilly and unfertile lands in favour of settlers. And remember that, later, while neighbours became independent, Southern Rhodesia was grabbed by white settlers, led by Smith. In the struggle, many people were killed.
There have been allegations of corruption in relation to land allocation. Well, the corruption should have been dealt with by all. Stopping the land programme, and doing nothing, was not the solution.
I do not believe it is right to demonise Robert Gabriel Mugabe. It is notable that he and his colleagues have not expelled from Zimbabwe people who did terrible things to them.
A star is born
Of course, there are some things which President Mugabe and his colleagues have done which I totally disagree with - for example, the police beating of Morgan Tsvangirai.
It is not that I think Tsvangirai can make a good leader - I see him as the [former Zambian leader] Frederick Chiluba of Zimbabwe - but beating him or even sending him to prison will not be the right thing.
On the other hand, given their experience, I can understand the fury that goes through President Mugabe and his colleagues.
Now, let me reveal that when Blair was elected British prime minister, I wrote a poem in his favour, called A Star Is Born To Us. Indeed, his feelings for Africa have been very good.
But then came the two Bs, Blair and George Bush, and their terrifying act of March 2003 - the invasion and occupation of Iraq. I condemned the two Bs publicly, denouncing the criminal invasion.
Now my prayer is that the Zimbabwe issue will be treated differently by Blair's successor, Gordon Brown.
It is also my humble prayer that South African President Thabo Mbeki and his regional colleagues will meet Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who will be ready in his soul, mind, and body to respond to the advice they give him and the people of Zimbabwe.
How should Western leaders treat President Mugabe? Has he been demonised unfairly?