South Africa defends Minister over "Mugabe crazy oldman" remarks

THE alleged “side comments” made by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane about Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe being a “crazy old man” should not be taken seriously, said her deputy Ebrahim Ebrahim on Wednesday.

“A lot of people say things about leaders all the time; some are maybe said seriously and some are said light heatedly. This is not something to worry about, there are more fundamental issues to worry about,” Ebrahim told journalists in Pretoria after bilateral talks with British Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham.

“Mandela even once said he doesn’t think George Bush (former US President) can think properly. I’m sure u know people had terrible things to say about Margaret Thatcher (former UK Prime Minister…I think we should take it in that spirit, I don’t think it’s a serious matter whether he says it’s a ‘crazy old man’ or a ‘wise old man’.”

Ebrahim further said the comments contained in documents leaked to whistleblower website Wikileaks would not affect the good relations that South Africa and Zimbabwe share and that it would not affect mediation talks.

Ebrahim, who flew in from the UK on Wednesday afternoon, has not yet discussed the matter with Nkoane-Mashabane. Wikileaks has leaked the first batch of 250 000 US diplomatic cables it has been given access to. The cables which include unflattering remarks about many world leaders also including embarrassing revelations of how South Africa and the US view Zimbabwe’s leaders.

During their meeting Ebrahim and Bellingham also touched on Zimbabwe, following President Jacob Zuma’s visit to Zimbabwe last Friday.

Bellingham said Britain was keen to see a credible election, one that was recognised by the international community.

“We are delighted that President Zuma went to Zimbabwe on Friday and met all three party leaders. Britain will listen to our key friends in South Africa about views on way the forward for Zimbabwe,” he said.

“We want to see credible elections and we will support those people working in that directions.”

Asked about what he thought of Mugabe wanting Bush and former UK President Tony Blair to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes instead of prosecuting Sudan’s leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Bellingham replied: “He does come up with comments from time to time doesn’t he and one has to probably take them with a bit of interest…What Robert Mugabe said are his own views, I don’t think I agree with them.”

Mugabe, speaking at a joint summit of the European Union and African states on Wednesday, reportedly said the ICC was applying a double standard by indicting al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and genocide.

“Why does this court not do the same with Tony Blair and George W Bush, both of whom occupied Iraq and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people?” Mugabe said in a speech to the summit in Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

Sudan’s government said it was boycotting the EU-Africa summit in protest at EU pressure for Bashir to stay away.

Meanwhile, Bellingham said there was “significant progress” in Sudan which had been marred by decades of north-south civil war – thanks to former South African President Thabo Mbeki, whom he referred to as “a pillar of strength”.

He commended the Summit in pushing for the Sudanese independence referendum vote taking place in January next year.

This referendum, part of the 2005 deal that also created a power-sharing government with south Sudan leader Salva Kiir as vice president to al-Bashir, may lead to the partition of the country. It is viewed as a gateway to freedom in the south.

“In the past it would been quite sceptical to discuss the possibility of a referendum ever taking place or the outcome. There is a great deal of determination, even within the international community, to have a free and fair referendum.”

Ebrahim said both leaders were committed to recognising the results, whatever they may be.

“They are committed to free, fair and transparent elections. Whatever the results, they are not going back to war and violence,” he said.

He indicated that even neighbouring countries fully supported the referendum as Sudan tended to destabilise the whole region when at war.

“Sudan’s future must be decided by its people.” –