Stop tarnishing Zuma, Mugabe tells media

Pretoria – President Jacob Zuma was defended from an unexpected quarter on Wednesday, when visiting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe urged the South African media to “stop tarnishing him”.

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Copy of PN MUGTWO

President Robert Mugabe has urged the South African media to stop tarnishing President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Phill Magakoe

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“You can tarnish me – I don’t care,” he said at a media conference after he had met Zuma for official talks on his first state visit to South Africa since 1994.

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“We are Africans. We don’t tarnish our leaders,” he said, adding that while political opponents could have disagreements, they should support national unity.

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Though Mugabe sniped at his old enemies such as former British prime minister Tony Blair and Western governments more generally, he also showed flashes of surprising humility.

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He and his ministers had exchanged some very harsh words when Zuma was trying to mediate an agreement between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) a few years ago. But on Wednesday he was full of praise for Zuma, congratulating him for his government’s efforts to resolve the recent political dispute in Lesotho and for its peacekeeping work in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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He also thanked Pretoria for its tolerance of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants, “as our people have really offended… by jumping the border and disturbing your social systems.”

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He said this problem had been discussed in the talks on Wednesday, “and we said we must find ways of controlling the movement of people which have not been sanctioned”.

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And he referred to South Africa as Zimbabwe’s “elder brother” economically, appealing to it to help Zimbabwe add value to its extensive natural resources.

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South Africa rolled out the red carpet for Mugabe, receiving him with full honours on only his second state visit, and raising diplomatic relations to the highest level.

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The two governments signed an agreement to establish a bi-national commission which would be co-chaired by the two heads of state.

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Few other such commissions with other countries are chaired at that level.

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Mugabe had not paid a state visit to South Africa since August 1994, when Nelson Mandela had just been inaugurated as the first president of the new democracy.

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Mugabe and Zimbabwe have largely been on the regional problem list as first former president Thabo Mbeki and then Zuma tried to broker agreements to resolve a sometimes violent political crisis between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and the MDC.

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But since Mugabe and Zanu-PF decisively won presidential and legislative elections in 2013, ending a troubled “unity” government with the MDC, South Africa along with the Southern African Development Community and the AU, have accepted Zimbabwe back as a member in good standing.

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Mugabe has since then been appointed as chairman of both the SADC and the AU.

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The two governments also signed agreements on Wednesday for regular diplomatic consultations, including on greater co-operation on African security issues and on managing water resources, customs, trade and industry.

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Zuma said the agreement on customs was aimed at eventually establishing a “one-stop border post”, presumably at Beit Bridge.

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In his long and rambling speech at the media conference, Mugabe also ironically thanked South African journalists for giving him so much publicity “as a real dictator”.

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But he insisted that he wasn’t such a dictator after all, citing the way he had let his old enemy, the late Ian Smith, who was the prime minister of the former Rhodesia, keep not only his own farm, but also his father’s farm. – iol