Tony Blair, the former British prime minister denied on Wednesday that he put pressure South Africa while he was in office to remove Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe in a military operation.
Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s ex-president, said in an interview that Britain wanted to topple Mugabe during the political and economic crisis of the late 2000s.
A spokesperson for Blair’s denied the charge.
“Tony Blair has long believed that Zimbabwe would be much better off without Robert Mugabe and always argued for a tougher stance against him, but he never asked anyone to plan or take part in any such military intervention,” he told AFP in London. Blair stepped down in 2007.
This was not the account Mbeki gave to Al-Jazeera news channel, in the interview published on November 23
Mbeki said: “Tony Blair… was saying to the chief of the British armed forces: ’You must work out a military plan so that we can physically remove Robert Mugabe’. We knew that because we had come under the same pressure, that we need to cooperate in some scheme. It was a regime-change scheme even to the point of using military force.”
Mbeki’s spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga told AFP the ex-president stood by his words.
Mbeki, who led South Africa from 1999 to 2008, was the head mediator between Mugabe and his arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai after violent attacks followed disputed polls in 2008.
Mugabe and rival Morgan Tsvangirai formed a power-sharing government which ended with Mugabe’s election victory on July 31 this year.
Mbeki had always called for a negotiated solution, resisting neo-colonialism.
“Why does it become a British responsibility to decide who leads the people of Zimbabwe?” he told Al-Jazeera.
In November 2007 Zimbabwe put its military on high alert after retired UK army chief Lord Charles Guthrie said London had discussed invading its former colony during Tony Blair’s premiership.
Mugabe, 89, has governed since former Rhodesia won its independence in 1980.
Relations with Britain turned sour after land reform programmes seized farms from white farmers without compensation — the majority of them of British descent — to give to black farmers.
On the same day stories of an affair between Blair and Wendy Deng, the Chinese wife of press mogul Rupert Murdoch, also surfaced again. Sources close to Murdoch in London claim that Blair, 60, and Deng, 44, had ‘multiple encounters’ without 82-year-old Murdoch’s knowledge.
Blair denied an affair with Deng. A ‘terminal’ rift has severed relations between Murdoch and Blair however over reports of Blair’s friendship with the entrepreneur’s wife.
A friend of Murdoch said: “Rupert Murdoch will have nothing more to do with Tony Blair. Not ever.”