Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
FORMER South African President Thabo Mbeki said the late former President Robert Mugabe delayed embarking on the land reform programme to allow successful negotiations between the African National Congress (ANC) and the apartheid government for the independence of the neighbouring country.
Speaking at the Durban City Hall on Tuesday during an ANC memorial service for Cde Mugabe in KwaZulu-Natal, Cde Mbeki said the late former President was irrationally vilified by the Western countries over the land reform programme, which he undertook after the British government under Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to honour its commitments during negotiations preceding Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence, to help fund land reform.
“As we began the process of negotiations here in South Africa in 1990, the 10-year period of the constitution of Zimbabwe negotiated at the Lancaster House came to an end. Zimbabwe could now redo its constitution, including addressing this matter of the land question, particularly as it related to the principle of willing-buyer-willing seller. The then secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku from Nigeria then approached President Mugabe to plead with him not to change the Lancaster House provisions related to the land question. His (Chief Anyaoku) argument was that if Zimbabwe did something like that 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 ANC to negotiate with them,” he said.
Cde Mbeki said Cde Mugabe then acceded to Chief Anyaoku’s plea.
“That is why the land reform process was delayed in Zimbabwe for at least a decade. It was done in order to give us a space here in order to succeed in our negotiations with the apartheid regime,” he said.
Cde Mbeki said he went to the UK and spoke to Prime Minister Tony Blair and urged the British government to honour its Lancaster House agreement.
Cde Mbeki said Mr Blair gave a false impression that he was willing to address the issue.
“As South African government we told Prime Minister Blair that we think you must honour your promise on the land question….that particular year UK, Canada and Australia and New Zealand, the so called white Commonwealth, all of them for some reasons had budget surpluses and so we said to him (Prime Minister Blair) that if he committed himself to raising the money, we will talk to other Commonwealth countries to support him and he agreed. A donor conference was held in Zimbabwe in 1998 to address this matter and it was agreed, but dishonoured in the first instance by the UK,” he said.
“The matter came up again a bit later when the war veterans started occupying some of the farms and at that particular time there were 115 farms that were available for sale and they would have cost nine million pounds. Zimbabwe sent a delegation to the UK to ask that they be given the money to buy those farms to take the war veterans onto these farms that would have owned away from these commercial ones and the British government said they had no money.”
Cde Mbeki said they then talked to three countries around the world over the issue and they all agreed and he then reported to the then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan indicating to him that there was money to buy those 115 farms.
“He (Dr Annan) then said can you give that matter over to us at the UN to depoliticise it and that was the argument that was used and so we agreed. It didn’t work because the UN whereas we were saying there was an agreement in 1998 about how to handle the land question. Now that we have the donor use that agreement they said no, no, no that was not a UN agreement, the UN has its own rules and besides it will fail and we said it will fail and it failed,” he said.
Cde Mbeki said the late former President Mugabe will be remembered as an outstanding fighter for the liberation not only of the people of Zimbabwe, but also all other colonially and racially oppressed peoples, including shaping the negotiations that led to South Africa’s freedom from the apartheid regime in 1994.
“In 1989, we drafted a document for negotiations which we marketed among the frontline States, which included Zimbabwe, Botswana, Tanzania and Angola and when we finished it, we took it to the OAU (now AU) to make it policy of the continental body. We took a decision to suggest to OAU that there was an ad hoc committee of the OAU on Southern African to avoid calling a summit of member states. It was decided that the ad hoc committee meeting should be held in Harare. We gave President Mugabe a major task to intervene with regard to that document and market it to the whole continent. It was accepted and that is where the Harare Declaration was adopted, which was fundamental in shaping our negotiations,” he said.
Cde Mbeki said between April and May 1980, they worked out a system of cooperation between President Mugabe’s government and ANC, which meant that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces moved a battalion of the army to the banks of the Limpopo River so they could help bring weapons from Zambia into Zimbabwe to fight the apartheid regime.
“The ZDF would pick the weapons at the border, take them through Zimbabwe to that battalion so that our people come into Zimbabwe carrying no weapons. Instead, the Zimbabwean government would issue them with false identity cards since there were a lot of roadblocks at that time so that they go through as Zimbabweans and collect their weapons on the banks of the Limpopo,” he said.
Cde Mbeki said when they attained their freedom, they decided to adopt former President Mugabe’ reconciliatory approach.
“The leadership under President Mugabe as Prime Minister Mugabe then took a very clear position, which was that we fought against colonialism and white minority domination not against white people and let’s handle ourselves in a manner which will result in that national reconciliation. You can see what happened with us here in 1994, we followed exactly in the footsteps that had been followed by the leadership of Zimbabwe under President Mugabe,” he said.
Cde Mbeki said the late Cde Mugabe’s contribution to the liberation of the African people will never be forgotten.
He said they will always value the late Cde Mugabe as one of the combatants for the liberation of South Africa.
“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 faced with challenges we would turn our backs. It couldn’t be done. For instance, In 1998, the heat was getting up around the land question and we spoke to President Mugabe and said look at Lancaster House as you would recall, the British and the Americans had promised to give Zimbabwe money to buy land and they never kept the promise. I said to President Mugabe let’s go back to the British to remind them of their commitment and we agreed that for three months we must not say anything about land question,” he said. — @mashnets