‘Tea with Mugabe’

2010-12-22 00:00

ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe regards Thabo Mbeki as a “great man” and Jacob Zuma as a “man of the people who likes to make promises without necessarily knowing how to fulfil them”.

Details of a “surreal” three-hour meeting in which an “alert, articulate” and “defiant” Mugabe expressed his views to U.S. diplomats are contained in a classified U.S. embassy cable leaked to whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

The previously unreleased cable, obtained exclusively by Media24 Investigations, describes Mugabe as “possibly the healthiest 85-year-old in Zimbabwe”, “clearly stuck in the past” and “desperate to re-engage with the world and to be treated as an elder statesman”.

Dated June 2, 2009, and bearing the subject line: “Tea with Mugabe”, the confidential 16-page cable records a “marathon” meeting between Mugabe, Zimbabwean government officials, the former U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, and Democratic Party congressman Donald Payne.

Questioned by McGee about Jacob Zuma’s government, Mugabe “sighed that he didn’t think [the ANC] treated Thabo well, particularly as he was in the midst of helping Zimbabwe”. While describing Mbeki as “judgmental and calculating and cautious with policies”, he said, “to us [Mbeki] is a great man”.

According to the cable, Mugabe “noted that the South African people want to see their social needs attended to”.

“While Zuma has made promises, it remains to be seen if they will come true.” Mugabe opined that in order to fulfil his campaign promises, Zuma will have to take from the haves — the whites — and give to the have-nots. The question, Mugabe believed, is whether the whites are willing to share their businesses with blacks.

“He said it was ‘easier’ in Zimbabwe where there are ‘not that many whites,’ but ‘South Africa has four million whites … plus the Indians’.”

Mugabe remarked that South Africa “truly is a rainbow nation”.

The meeting, which was conducted at Mugabe’s official state house residence in Harare on May 30 last year, was the first between U.S. diplomats and Mugabe in over a year. Welcoming his guests he commented that “Zimbabwe hadn’t had many visitors lately”.

Then he launched into an “hour-long monologue” in which he painted himself “as the victim of international abuse and broken promises” and embarked on a “long-winded rehashing of Zimbabwe’s history”.

He talked “non-stop … without so much as a sip of water or a clearing of the throat”, declaring at one point that “we want to engage with the world”.

Growing “increasingly adamant and agitated”, Mugabe asked: “In the context of all the countries in the world — are we really the worst?”

Discussing the country’s mineral wealth and rich uranium deposits, Mugabe giggled and said: “Zimbabwe doesn’t intend to ‘go nuclear’ like some countries have done”.

Payne then “gently and masterfully praised Mugabe for his liberation credentials before confronting him about human rights abuses”.

Describing himself as having been a fan of Mugabe as a young man, Payne said he had followed the Zimbabwean president’s “distinguished” career since its beginnings “but noted that he is now concerned about the things he reads”.

Payne said there was a “stark ‘dichotomy’ between the compassionate statesman who fought for freedom … and the current government that now allows police to beat black women who dare protest”.

According to the cable, “Mugabe sank into the couch and appeared expressionless and somewhat stunned.

“At the mention of police beating women, he responded with a puzzled look. ‘Which women? Where did they get them from?’”

Mugabe “neither confirmed nor denied the abuses” but “responded well to Payne’s gentle confrontation”.

Then he piped up: “Well, I think we deserve some tea.” A “white-gloved butler emerged and began the very formal process of serving tea.

“After the butler poured water over the guest’s hands into a bowl and offered each guest a clean towel to dry their hands, the butler served tea, parmesan breadsticks, dinner rolls, sausage and a beef/onion dish.

“Mugabe took his tea with milk and a few breadsticks but did not eat anything else.”

Throughout the discussions, the Americans keenly studied Mugabe for signs of ill-health. But, while he “could not sit still” and “constantly pulled up his socks”, he “appeared to be a vigorous 85-year-old in superb health”.

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