7 September 2007

Southern Africa: Mugabe Had Tantrum At SADC Meeting

Despite efforts by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki to gag SADC leaders and Zimbabwe's negotiating political parties, more information has been revealed about what really transpired at the SADC summit that took place in Lusaka last month. The heads of state were all smiles when they took a group photo on the last day, but Robert Mugabe had allegedly stormed out of a closed session earlier after a heated exchange with Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa.

The revelations are significant because they show that there are divisions within SADC, contrary to assertions by Mbeki and other heads of state. Mbeki's behaviour is also shown to be supportive of Mugabe, giving credence to reports that he is not suitable as a mediator on the Zimbabwe crisis.

Reports say Mwanawasa had suggested the Zimbabwe crisis be discussed as the situation was "unacceptable". Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete responded by saying there was no need to deal with the Zimbabwe issue while the SADC initiated talks were still in progress. Mbeki is reported to have agreed with this, effectively siding with Mugabe. Kikwete then made the mistake of suggesting that Mugabe be given an opportunity to comment on Mwanawasa's suggestion.

The story goes that Mugabe launched into an angry tirade at Mwanawasa, saying he was aware the Zambian leader had held recent meetings with 'western intelligence agencies' about Zimbabwe. He also accused Mwanawasa of selling out his country. He said he would not allow Mwanawasa to sell out Zimbabwe the way he had sold off Zambian assets. Mugabe was so angry that at one point he is quoted as saying: "Who are you Mwanawasa? Who are you? Who do you think you are?" before storming out and leaving.

Journalists who attended the SADC meeting say they heard that Mwanawasa had apologized and kept pleading with Mugabe to understand that he had not meant anything negative. He is quoted as saying: "Mr President I didn't mean to say that, you misunderstood me. Mr President that was not my intention."

Journalist Valentine Maponga was at the final press conference when the Zambian leader, who is the new SADC chairman, was asked why Mugabe had left early. Maponga said Mwanawasa joked that Mugabe needed to rest since he was older. But information about Mugabe's tirade was already making the rounds.

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