By BONKE TYHULU
The best way to deal with Zimbabwe President Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s recent criticism of Nelson Mandela is not to glorify his comments with a follow-up. However, it is also befitting that such comments are responded to.
A comparison of Madiba and Mugabe is quite unfair for starters as Madiba opted for a one-term presidency while Mugabe has become a permanent president of Zimbabwe.
When Madiba took presidency in 1994, the country was on the verge of financial collapse. With an option to ask for international financial support, he opted not to, avoiding a permanent debt. When Mugabe took over as president, his country was one of the shining examples of Africa’s development.
Madiba’s legacy continues to be interpreted and relived by the world, including in Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, many nationals cannot wait for the day that their president finally steps down and the president is always treated medically in South East Asia as opposed to Madiba who was treated at home by his people.
Both leaders tasted the sweet waters of the Tyhume River and strode through the valleys of Nkonkobe as they studied at the University of Fort Hare.
They both came across some of Africa’s best academics in professors DDT Jabavu and ZK Matthews.
Mugabe should be grateful that the white SA government even allowed him to study here. It is South Africa that made him. The president of Zimbabwe owes much to the people of South Africa who nurtured him through the University of Fort Hare.
Yet Mugabe is like an ungrateful child who continues to demand and demand.
It is also correct that more liberation fighters were arrested after he became president in Zimbabwe than before he took office.
When Zimbabwe’s first lady faced the possibility of arrest for assaulting a young South African woman, our authorities granted her immunity she did not deserve.
From Madiba, the world learnt the true meaning of reconciliation and nation building. He lived by the value of justice and fairness.
For that reason, when a rugby boss took him to court, he abided by the constitution of the country he led which stated all would be equal before the law.
Another of Madiba’s values was self-sacrifice so others could benefit.
And after only one term in a office, Madiba left, aware he could not be a permanent president, aware of the crop of young and able leaders in his organisation.
He had learnt from greats such as OR Tambo and Walter Sisulu and had rubbed shoulders with Pan-Africanists such as Robert Sobukwe and Kenneth Kaunda.
The presidency and legacy of Madiba cannot be confined into one of economic prosperity. It was during his term that many accessed healthcare at no cost to them. It was in his term that many students were admitted to university they would otherwise not have been had access to. It was during Madiba’s term that many people owned property for the first time. Through the Reconstruction and Development Programme, housing was provided while social grants were increased.
Madiba lived his life led by his values, many of which he learnt from his comrades and friends in the struggle. One such value was respect. Respecting his comrades and his potential opponents became a pillar of his presidency.
He completely respected the people of South Africa. Hence, when he straddled the world, he made sure the African continent was well represented. It was out of respect for his fellow South Africans that whenever the West wanted him to choose South Africa’s allies, he told the West their enemies were not South Africa’s.
However, Mugabe misrepresents the people of Zimbabwe in world events where he is increasingly caught slumbering.
Mugabe remains a funny character. Whenever he gets an opportunity, he attacks the US. Yet strangely Zimbabwe’s currency is no longer in use. Zimbabwe, where anything American is supposedly despised, has resolved to use the US dollar. The country of Madiba, however, still uses its own currency.
In the next few years, there will be many more Zimbabweans in South Africa. This is precisely due to South Africa’s economy inherited from Nelson Mandela.
Instead of distributing land to his friends and comrades, Madiba opted to spread the redistribution of resources, among other things, returning those parcels of land forcefully taken from their owners.
Indeed, there is no comparison between Madiba and Mugabe.
Madiba was a world statesman. Mugabe has become a permanent president, determined to lead his country until he dies. After he failed to lead Zimbabwe to prosperity, his people wanted to remove him through the ballot, but elections were rigged.
For Madiba, being president was never for personal enrichment. He did not treat South Africa as his personal fiefdom. The reason there is an international Mandela Day is because of Madiba’s international stature based on his principles of upholding the constitution. He protected the Freedom Charter which says, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”.
However, in terms of contract, Zimbabwe belongs to those who support the president.
Bonke Tyhulu is CEO of the Nelson Mandela Museum