Nduduzo Tshuma Political Editor—
FORMER South African President Thabo Mbeki yesterday reiterated that the United Kingdom and its ally the United States of America wanted to invade Zimbabwe to remove President Robert Mugabe from power through military action. The two countries have since 1999 devised a number of strategies to effect regime change as a reaction to the government’s land reform programme which sought to address colonial injustices by distributing land to the black majority.
Mbeki, in a letter which is part of the recently-launched weekly Mbeki letters, said his Minister of Intelligence at the time, Lindiwe Sisulu, “had to make a number of trips to London and Washington to engage the UK and US governments on their plans for Zimbabwe, with strict instructions from our government to resist all plans to impose anything on the people of Zimbabwe, including by military means.”
The former South African President, who served from 1998 to 2008, said the invasion of Zimbabwe, by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s admission, proved impracticable as the country’s neighbours stood firm in solidarity with President Mugabe and the nation.
Mbeki said the UK was against his quiet diplomacy policy as he brokered the 2009 Global Political Agreement (GPA) which ushered in the Government of National Unity (GNU) between 2009 and 2013.
“There were others in the world, led particularly by the UK, who opposed our approach of encouraging the Zimbabweans to decide their future. These preferred regime change – the forcible removal of President Mugabe and his replacement by people approved by the UK and its allies,” said Mbeki in yesterday’s letter.
“This is what explained the sustained campaign to condemn us for conducting the so-called ‘quiet diplomacy’. What was wrong with quiet diplomacy was that it defended the right of the people of Zimbabwe to determine their future, as opposed to the desire by some in the West to carry out regime change in Zimbabwe and impose their will on the country.
“In the period preceding the 2002 Zimbabwe elections, the UK and the US in particular were very keen to effect this regime change and failing which to impose various conditions to shorten the period of Mugabe’s Presidency.”
Mbeki said the UK and US were clearly intent on toppling the government of Zimbabwe. “Accordingly it was not from hearsay or third parties that we acquired the knowledge about Western plans to overthrow President Mugabe, but directly from what they communicated to a representative of our government.”
Mbeki backed his claims by citing a UK newspaper, The Independent on Sunday, which quoted former UK armed forces chief of defence staff, Lord Guthrie, confirming discussing the invasion of Zimbabwe with former Prime Minister Blair.
He further quoted a book by John Kampfner titled Blair’s Wars, claiming that the former UK Prime Minister once told Secretary of State for International Development Claire Short that, “if it were down to me, I’d do Zimbabwe as well – that is send troops.”
In his memoir A Journey, Blair explained that the reason he could not “get rid of Mugabe” which he “would have loved to” was because “it wasn’t practical (since…the surrounding African nations maintained a lingering support for him and would have opposed any action strenuously).”?
Mbeki said revolutionary parties PF Zapu and Zanu – later called Zanu-PF after the Unity Accord in 1987 – contributed to the African National Congress’ victory against the apartheid regime, paving way for a democratic South Africa which attained majority rule in 1994.
“The ANC took the same position with regard to the struggles of the people of Zimbabwe to defeat colonialism and reconstruct the new Zimbabwe, and acted accordingly. Throughout these years we defended the right of the people of Zimbabwe to determine their destiny, including deciding on who should govern the country,” said Mbeki.
“This included resisting all efforts to impose other people’s solutions on Zimbabwe, which, if this had succeeded, would have served as a precursor for a similar intervention in our country! Consciously we took the position that democratic South Africa should at all costs avoid acting as a new home-grown African imperial power which would have given itself the right unilaterally to determine the destiny of the peoples of Africa!”
Commenting on the land reform programme, Mbeki said Short repudiated the commitment made at the Lancaster House Conference by Conservative Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
“Later, Prime Minister Blair told me that the British governments he led never formally took this decision to repudiate the Lancaster House Agreement and regretted that in the end, his government had to accept it because Claire Short had succeeded to convince the UK public that it was indeed government policy,” he said.
“Further to help resolve the conflict on the land question, at some point we also got commitments from three other governments to finance land acquisition by the Zimbabwe government which would then distribute the land to those who had started to occupy some farms. The Zimbabwe government welcomed this initiative.”
Mbeki also revealed that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) assumed the responsibility to work with the Zimbabwean government to implement the acquisition and redistribution of land at the suggestion of the then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. However, he said, the UNDP, “acted in a manner which led to the failure of this initiative.”