We have Rhodes's corpse, SA has his statue - Mugabe

Pretoria - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe tapped into the controversy over Cecil John Rhodes as he joked that Zimbabwe had his corpse and South Africa had his statue.

“We in Zimbabwe did not know about Rhodes until South Africa said they had someone called Rhodes in Cape Town who was prime minister of the Cape, and who in that mischievous way wanted our country Zimbabwe under his control.

"But not just his control. So, well, you may have this statue, because that's where he began. 

"But he came to us and wanted to be buried and we have him down below in the Matopas because that is where he wanted to die.

"He was a strange man...," said the 91-year-old Mugabe, sounding thin and reedy at times, at others emphasising points strongly.

"So we are looking after the corpse and you have the statue. I don't know what you think we should do. Dig him up? Perhaps his spirit might rise again, what shall we do?" Mugabe said, surprising journalists with half an hour of comments on a wide range of topics after bilateral agreements between the two countries had been signed.

Zuma covered his mouth to hide his own laughing and at times his shoulders shook at Mugabe's offbeat comments.

“Well now, we have our people and we are President Zuma in South Africa and President Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

"That's what we fought for."

‘Apartheid is gone'

He said he hoped everybody was "freedom fighters".

"Apartheid is gone. I hope you have buried it down like we did Rhodes".

Students at the University of Cape Town have been demanding the removal of a statue of Rhodes from their campus, and this has in turn sparked protests and defacing of other statues such as that of Paul Kruger.

Mugabe thanked South Africa and took the opportunity to punt his country's products - tea, coffee, cotton, tobacco and sugar.

He warned people not to "over-smoke" but added that even though he had been advised that "over-smoking" was bad for the nation's health, and that the health minister discouraged it, they did not discourage the growing of tobacco.  

He defended his country's indigenisation policy, asking what use a "big crater" in the ground was to Zimbabweans after companies had mined the country's gold.

"Where it's our natural resources we must have at least 51% of our natural resources. Which is quite generous mind you, because it's 49%. You take 49% every year... It's a huge amount."

A view of the final resting place of Rhodes at the Rhodes Matopos National Park near Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.

A close up of the gravestone. (Photos: Matthew le Cordeur)

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