6 October 2017

Zimbabwe: President Reflects On Soames Visit

Photo: The Herald
President Robert Mugabe and Sir Nicholas Soames.

THERE is mutual readiness by Zimbabwe and Britain to leave behind years of conflict and open a new chapter of rapprochement, President Mugabe has said. The comments by President Mugabe follow the visit to Zimbabwe by Sir Nicholas Soames, a British Conservative party member of parliament.

Sir Nicholas, who is son to Britain's last colonial governor in Rhodesia, Lord Soames, met President Mugabe at State House on Wednesday. Lord Soames presided over Zimbabwe's transition to majority rule in 1980.

The latest visit by Sir Nicholas is driven by a private initiative of friends of Zimbabwe in the British establishment to normalise relations between the two countries. Relations went sour at the turn of millennium when Zimbabwe undertook the land reform programme.

In an exclusive briefing The Herald got from President Mugabe yesterday, Sir Nicholas carried messages of goodwill from establishment figures, Prince Charles and Lord Carrington, who presided over the Lancaster House conference in 1979.

Recalling the conversation, President Mugabe said Sir Nicholas told him that "there are some good people who still are your friends in Britain."

Said President Mugabe: "We can talk to Britain. All along we thought the British did not want dialogue. This latest visit shows they do and we have always been willing to engage. I was very happy with the meeting and in fact Sir Nicholas promised to come back on a follow-up meeting."

Sir Nicholas's visit also vindicates consistent pronouncements by President Mugabe and Government that the British Monarchy has not been part of the fight started by the Tony Blair administration.

President Mugabe said Sir Nicholas had told him the Conservative party still had three years in office during which further engagements could be explored. Sir Nicholas also thanked President Mugabe for attending his father's funeral in 1987.

President Mugabe said during their discussions with Sir Nicholas, he reminisced on the role Lord Soames played in overseeing the transition to Zimbabwe, adding that "he had handled a very difficult situation which was tension-ridden".

He also reminisced over his reaction when Lord Soames told him to form a Government after resoundingly winning elections in 1980. President Mugabe said Lord Soames told him that in constituting his Government, he should bear in mind there were "good white Rhodesians".

This meant the likes of David Smith (late), Chris Andersen (late), Dennis Norman and Dr Timothy Stamps.

"But I said I have not run a Government," President Mugabe said.

"So I said stay on for some time (as Governor) so you can usher me into this other sphere. When I made that request, Lord Soames exclaimed three times 'Really, Really, Really' whereupon he swivelled his chair and immediately rang Lord Carrington."

President Mugabe said Lord Carrington told him to "stay on but not for more than three months", a response which made him happy. On a lighter note, President Mugabe said he invited Sir Nicholas to test the seat that his father once occupied, ceding his own chair to him.

"He said, No! It's now your seat," President Mugabe said.

The President said he also talked about the Lancaster House Agreement, the commitment the British Government made in respect of the land question and how the American Jimmy Carter administration had chipped in with assistance.

President Mugabe told Sir Nicholas how the Labour Party led by Mr Blair came into power, adding that the British politician was coming from the "wilderness."

He said Mr Blair did not know the legal principle of succession. "Blair seemed to be blank, completely blank," the President said. "However, we noticed he wanted to reverse land reforms and this is why we resisted."

The President said he told Sir Nicholas about the campaign by war veterans over land and how Government intervened to ensure orderliness.

Mr Blair, President Mugabe said, felt his honour had been undermined and plotted sanctioning Zimbabwe with the aid of the European Union and Americans. Mr Blair's administration claimed the Zimbabwean Government was violating tenets of democracy, rule of law and human rights.

Unlike in the past where officials wanted to keep their visits under wraps, Sir Nicholas insisted on meeting President Mugabe in the full glare of publicity. He promised to publicise details of the meeting in the British media.

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