PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe stormed out of the recent Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit after an explosive clash with Zambian President Le
vy Mwanawasa during a closed session, it has emerged.
Mugabe’s confrontation with Mwanawasa and his subsequent walk-out raised fears that the already divided regional bloc could be further weakened by growing infighting.
Sadc is riddled with geo-political and personal rivalries among leaders that have incapacitated it in dealing with internal conflicts.
Mugabe’s altercation with Mwanawasa was reminiscent of his row with former South African president Nelson Mandela during a Sadc meeting in Angola in 1997.
High-level diplomatic sources in Lusaka who attended the volatile summit revealed this week that Mugabe furiously stormed out of the meeting after a fiery row with Mwanawasa over Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis. The sources said Mugabe went off in a huff after the confrontation with Mwanawasa, who was chairing the meeting, causing the summit to end on a sour note. The row was caused by Mwanawasa’s attempt to arbitrarily table Zimbabwe for discussion, a move which angered Mugabe.
Mugabe arrived home early after hurriedly leaving the summit. Upon his arrival, he said the meeting went well, but made it clear his government would continue with its own programmes regardless of what the Sadc leaders decided.
Sadc said it was preparing an economic recovery package for Zimbabwe. However, Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba has said in his anonymous column in the Herald Zimbabwe does not need “any aid cent from Sadc countries”, reflecting Mugabe’s obdurate attitude after the summit.
This is contrary to South African President Thabo Mbeki’s claims that there were no divisions over Zimbabwe at the summit and that Sadc is committed to help Zimbabwe out of its crisis.
Mbeki has said Sadc leaders were not at odds over Zimbabwe issues, including its economic rescue package, but did not provide any evidence to back up his assertions.
Information gleaned from senior Sadc diplomats show that there were not only divisions, but a fierce clash between Mugabe and Mwanawasa that left the regional leaders shocked and the organisation reeling.
The sources said trouble started after Mbeki had delivered his report on talks on the Zimbabwe crisis between the ruling Zanu PF and the opposition MDC.
Mbeki had earlier given the report to Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete who was the chairman of the Sadc organ on politics, defence and security as per procedure. Mbeki briefed the summit on Zimbabwe in his capacity as a Sadc-appointed mediator on the situation. He was tasked in March by the Sadc extraordinary summit held in Dar es Salaam to facilitate dialogue to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis.
Mbeki said in his briefing there was progress in the talks, although parties needed to intensify negotiations to reach an agreement to end the current problems. The summit “encouraged the parties to expedite the process of negotiations and conclude the work as soon as possible so that the next elections are held in an atmosphere of peace’’, the Sadc communiqué said.
Zanu PF and MDC negotiators held further talks in Pretoria last weekend.
The parties are expected to finish the negotiations based on constitutional amendment Number 18 in mid October. The Zanu PF politburo discussed the talks and the amendment on Wednesday. The amendment Bill, which will be changed to include issues agreed on at the talks, will be debated in parliament next week.
“After Mbeki delivered his report to the summit, Mwanawasa, as the chair of the meeting, said there was need to discuss Zimbabwe because the situation there has become “unacceptable”. Kikwete said there was no need to discuss it because talks were in progress and Mbeki concurred,” a senior diplomat said.
“Kikwete then suggested Mugabe should be asked what he thought about Mwanawasa’s proposal. When Mugabe was given the platform to speak, he launched into an angry tirade, attacking Mwanawasa left, right and centre before walking out in protest.”
The diplomat said Mugabe angrily asked: “Who are you Mwanawasa? Who are you? Who do you think you are?” Mugabe is said to have gone on to say Mwanawasa should not think he could sell off Zimbabwe as he had done Zambian assets.
“Mugabe also said that he was aware of Mwanawasa’s recent meetings with Western intelligence agencies on Zimbabwe. He said he would not allow Mwanawasa to sell out Zimbabwe as he has done Zambia,” the diplomat said. “During the process Mwanawasa was shaken and he kept on saying ‘Mr President I didn’t mean to say that, you misunderstood me. No Mr President that was not my intention’, those sort of statements and such other pleas for mercy.”