Voice of America (Washington, DC)

9 December 2013

Zimbabwe: S. African, Zimbabwe Leaders Take Different Path

Photo: New Zimbabwe
Former South African president Nelson Mandela and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Harare — Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is one of the world leaders expected to attend the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela. The two men were both once hailed as liberation heroes, but their paths diverged.

The late South African president served one term and retired, while his Zimbabwean counterpart has remained in office for more than 33 years.

Last week, Mugabe took almost 48 hours to comment on the death of Mandela, who succumbed to a recurring lung infection. Since then it has been business as usual for Mugabe.

On Sunday, he addressed the funeral of a senior army official for about an hour and never mentioned Mandela's death. Nor did he observe a moment of silence in honor of the late great leader in a ceremony that was broadcast live on all state-owned radio and TV stations.

Mandela once famously said of his Zimbabwean counterpart, "He was the star, and then the sun came out."

He summed up feelings about Mugabe in a meeting with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. He said, "Before I was released from prison, he was the most popular African leader in this area, but when I was released, the media said this is the end of Mugabe from the point of view of popularity. In fact, he himself did not want me to come out of jail," said Mandela.

Independent political analyst Ibbo Mandaza explained why it appears Mugabe and Mandela did not like each other.

"People like Mugabe regard South Africa as a later comer in the process toward independence. Whereas South Africa has implicitly seen itself as the big brother in the region. So that tension has always been there. Not only in respect of Mandela, but also in respect of Mbeki and Zuma," said Mandaza.

Thabo Mbeki took over as South Africa's president, before passing the baton to current president Jacob Zuma. As the curtain comes down on the legacy of South Africa's first black president, former SADC secretary general Simba Makoni said there can be no comparison with Zimbabwe's first black president.

Makoni is a former minister in Mugabe's government. He was an independent candidate for Zimbabwe president in 2008 and is now in opposition politics in Zimbabwe.

"The comparison is inappropriate. I do not know that President Mugabe has emancipated Zimbabwean people," said Makoni. "We know that Zimbabweans are now poorer than they were in 1980. There are so many things that President Mugabe has done. I think we will be doing a disservice to President Mandela to try and do a comparison. It is the wrong comparison. President Mandela demonstrated to us and to the whole world that you do not have to be in high public office to serve your people. "

That was a direct reference to Mugabe's statement it was "the Mandela way" of serving one term and quit. The 89-year-old Zimbabwean leader has not yet announced when he will step down.

The late Nobel prize-winner visited Zimbabwe once during his term in office, and the main street to Zimbabwe's parliament is named Nelson Mandela Avenue. That is one of the way Zimbabweans will remember him, and another is by South African currency that features Mandela's face and is legal tender in Zimbabwe.

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