HomeLocalMugabe's 'bridge-building' project collapses

Mugabe’s ‘bridge-building’ project collapses

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s proposal to “build bridges” with Britain and other Western countries to normalise relations damaged by a stand-off over human rights abuses and repression all but collapsed this week after fierce clashes between ministers and diplomats.

<
/STRONG>This came after United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan confirmed last Friday — as reported in the Zimbabwe Independent on the same day — that he would meet Mugabe on July 1 on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Banjul, the Gambia.

Annan said it was important to tackle the Zimbabwean crisis to avoid a “total collapse” of the country. Mugabe is also expected to meet South African President Thabo Mbeki on the sidelines of the summit over the deteriorating local situation.

The meetings could escalate already rising pressure on Mugabe to resolve the situation or quit.

Sources said Western ambassadors left a meeting held on Wednesday  “hugely disappointed” after clashes with top government officials.

The special briefing was attended by Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, his ministry’s permanent secretary Joey Bimha, State Security and Land Reform minister Didymus Mutasa, Agriculture minister Joseph Made and Western ambassadors and UN representatives.

Sources who attended the briefing said the dramatic highlight of the meeting — which burnt bridges instead of building them — was an encounter between Mumbengegwi and Australian ambassador Jon Sheppard.

Sources said Sheppard and other diplomats were subjected to a stinging 20-minute “rant and rave” outburst by Mumbengegwi which left diplomats aghast.

“Sheppard asked Mutasa who was conducting the briefing at the time if he could guarantee that all those affected by the land reform programme would have equal rights under the law,” a source said.

“Mutasa gave a brief answer, but Mumbengegwi then picked up from where his colleague had left off to launch a tirade against the Australians.”

Sources said Mumbengegwi — who apparently lived in Australia at some point — angrily asked how Sheppard could dare ask such a question when he hailed from “one of the most racist countries in the world”. Mugabe has also described Australia as a racist country.

“The minister was very angry and he attacked the Australians at length,” another source said. “Diplomats were astonished by the reaction.”

Sheppard said yesterday Mumbengegwi’s comments were “unexpected”.

“The minister’s comments were unexpected because we were under the impression that the meeting was designed to promote dialogue,” he said.

“In contrast to the situation here Australia’s political and legal framework guarantees all Australians, including indigenous Australians, equal rights and the free exercise of their human rights.”

After the meeting, diplomats who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent said they had been left “shell-shocked” by Mumbengegwi’s comments.
 
“The meeting only achieved one thing: it ensured Mugabe’s building-of-bridges project collapsed, at least for now,” a source said. — Staff Writer.

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