Nelson Mandela on Wednesday night broke his silence on the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, saying the country was suffering due to ”a tragic failure of leadership”.
The former South African president and political icon made the remarks at a dinner in London attended by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former United States president Bill Clinton.
Mandela is reported to be deeply troubled by events in Zimbabwe, which have sent thousands of refugees into South Africa, but he has been careful not to create a rift with his successor as president, Thabo Mbeki, who has emerged as Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s most important protector on the African continent.
”We watch with sadness the continuing tragedy in Darfur. Nearer to home we had seen the outbreak of violence against fellow Africans in our own country and the tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe,” Mandela said.
His speech came at a time of rising pressure on Mugabe as he attempts to stage presidential elections on Friday despite the withdrawal of his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, because of state-backed violence that left more than 80 opposition supporters dead.
Three of Zimbabwe’s neighbours on Wednesday urged Mugabe to put off the vote. Tanzania, Angola and Swaziland, responsible for security issues in the regional group, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), issued a statement saying Mugabe’s re-election in such circumstances could lack legitimacy.
Behind the scenes negotiations are under way between SADC and the African Union to appoint a new mediator, possibly to work alongside Mbeki, who is not recognised as an impartial broker by the Zimbabwean opposition.
A few hours before Mandela spoke on Wednesday, the queen revoked Mugabe’s knighthood, using unusually strong language, saying it was ”a mark of revulsion” at the political intimidation and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
The decision was announced by the Foreign Office, which said it had been taken on advice from Foreign Secretary David Miliband. The official statement said that the Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Bath awarded to Mugabe in 1994 ”be cancelled and annulled and his name removed from the register of that order”.
”This action has been taken as a mark of revulsion at the abuse of human rights and abject disregard for the democratic process in Zimbabwe over which President Mugabe has presided.” —