During the Heroes Day celebrations in Zimbabwe last month, the country’s president Robert Mugabe made some critical remarks about the legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela. Mugabe’s remarks have caused an outrage amongst supporters of Mandela both within the governing party the African National Congress (ANC) and the public.
President Mugabe was quoted by the news website New Zimbabwe saying “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.” Mugabe’s attack on Mandela, he claimed was also backed by ministers in President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet.
Mugabe who was speaking to a crowd in Shona explained, “I was in South Africa recently talking to a minister in President Jacob Zuma’s office and I did ask him how they have handled the land issue after attaining independence. I did ask him why they left the whites with everything (land and industries). He answered my question in English and said: ‘Ask your friend Mandela.”’
Mugabe’s attacks on Mandela are not the first critical remarks he’s made about Madiba. Mugabe has consistently blamed Mandela for leaving Africans poor by making compromises which disadvantages black people. South Africa still faces huge social and economic inequalities. The country’s land redistribution program has been ineffective, and the bulk of the land is still owned by the whites.
After the farm invasions in 2000 there was a mass exodus of white settlers out of Zimbabwe. Mugabe introduced the land reform program following the farm occupations by landless black Zimbabweans, where the land previously occupied by the white settlers was returned to Zimbabweans in a controversial reform programme.
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Manthashe responded to President Mugabe’s statements and called the Zanu PF “secretary general”, to protest against Mugabe’s “lies” on the legacy of late former president Nelson Mandela. “The reality of the matter is that you have destroyed the economy in your country, we continue to create black millionaires in this country including Zimbabwean millionaires. So refrain your presidents from making statements that are unresearched.”
In response to Manthashe’s comments, Mugabe said South Africa only fought to remove apartheid but they didn’t fight for freedom. Mugabe described Manthashe’s response as a stupid reaction.