‘Too much of a saint’

Mugabe’s not impressed

State media in Zimbabwe largely ignored Mandela’s death. On Zimbabwe’s only television channel – the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation – Mandela’s death was not given any prominence.

The station focused on the late Brigadier General Misheck Tanyanyiwa, who has been declared a national hero.

President Robert Mugabe sent his condolences however, in which he hailed “the great icon of African liberation, freedom fighter, a beacon of excellence and a humble and compassionate leader”, despite many Zimbabweans declaring that Mandela was not a hero.

Mugabe was clearly referring to Mandela’s legacy of terror and violence, but Zimbabweans in general were less forgiving.

“The problems South Africa is facing today are originating from the time when he was the president. He is a famous prisoner who sacrificed the dream of his people on the alter of expedience,” one said scathingly.

Mandela’s death stirred debate in Zimbabwe as the former terrorist is often compared to Mugabe.

Mandela was 95 and Mugabe is 90, and both spent long periods in jail in their quest for independence – Mugabe spent more than 10 years held by the Ian Smith regime against Mandela’s 27.

They clashed publicly in 1998 when Mandela over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following a rebel offensive in that country.

Mandela as chairperson of the Southern African Development Community opposed bailing out Laurent Kabila when Mugabe wanted military intervention. Zimbabwe sent its forces to back Kabila.

Mandela’s most scathing attack on the Zimbabwean leader came in June 2008 when he spoke at a dinner in London against Mugabe. Mugabe had just lost the first round of elections against Morgan Tsvangirai from the opposition MDC.

Mandela then spoke of “the tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe”.

Mugabe also lambasted Mandela for going out of his way to please white South Africans.

“They [whites] will praise you only if you are doing things that please them. Mandela has gone a bit too far in doing good to the non-black communities, really in some cases at the expense of [blacks],” Mugabe said. “That is being too saintly, too good, too much of a saint.”