Admitting he was spewing “poison”, President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday blamed unemployment in South Africa for the vicious xenophobic attacks against foreigners there, including Zimbabweans.
Clearly revelling in his role as Africa’s political grandee and elder statesman, Mugabe claimed that Africa’s second biggest economy needed help from its poorer neighbours.
“We must help them; they need another liberation,” said the veteran leader who, at 91, is old enough to be the father of most SADC leaders.
He was addressing a press conference in Botswana after visiting the headquarters of the regional SADC grouping which he currently chairs.
Zimbabwe has struggled with a serious economic crisis for about 15 years. The crunch shows no sign of easing and has forced an estimated one million locals across the border into South Africa in search of a better life.
President Jacob Zuma, frustrated by criticism over his government’s response to recent xenophobic attacks, challenged regional leaders to consider why their people were running off to South Africa.
Despite conceding that countries such as Zimbabwe needed to do more to stop the stream of migrants to South Africa at a SADC summit in Harare last month, Mugabe changed tack in Gaborone on Wednesday.
The problem, he claimed, was that South Africa is failing to create jobs for its people.
Independent economic commentators say unemployment in Zimbabwe is close to 90 percent but the Harare administration claims its just 11 percent since most of those without formal jobs work as vendors.
His government’s optimistic view of Zimbabwe’s jobless stats probably encouraged Mugabe to lecture South Africa.
“The pressures with people of South Africa are so much that we cannot avoid incidents of that nature (xenophobia),” said the Zanu PF leader.
“People are unemployed, lots of young men and women are in the streets so when they see people from neighbouring countries running small shops they conclude that it’s these people that have robbed them of their chances, which is not the case.
“It’s not the other African, but it’s a factor of the whites that have kept opportunities to themselves.
“The political dispensation did not address the disparities between white and black with most of the land in the hands of whites and most of the employment opportunities enjoyed by them (whites).”
Mandela got it wrong
He would not resist another dig at Nelson Mandela – the globally revered anti-apartheid revolutionary who Mugabe sees as a rival in the pantheon of Africa’s greatest liberation leaders.
Mandela, Mugabe said, forgot that political freedom meant little without the transfer of wealth from white former oppressors to the freed black majority.
“This is what Nelson Mandela forgot to do,” said the Zimbabwean leader.
“He (Mandela) thought freedom was number one, which was correct but when they negotiated they got freedom but with European rights preserved.
“This was controlled freedom. So that is the problem. There has not been as much access (to resources) by Africans as we have here and in our countries.”
After helping end white racist rule in 1980, Mugabe has overseen the transfer of prime farmland from a few thousands whites to black Zimbabweans and is now targeting foreign-owned mines and industries.
Critics however, say his much-vaunted black empowerment policies have impoverished Zimbabweans with the country – a former net food exporter – now relying on food aid and imports with no formal economy to talk about as industries have collapsed.
Still, Mugabe said the ANC-led administration in Pretoria must, as he did, target the country’s wealthy white population.
“It’s a xenophobia of whites, not of blacks. You cannot live in palaces while others are living in shanties. Anyway, the ANC should take care of that,” he said.Having helped South Africa attain freedom in 1994, Zimbabwe and other neighbouring countries needed to do it all over again.
“So we must help them. They need another liberation,” said Mugabe.
Aware that his remarks would likely cause disquiet across the border the Zanu PF leader remarked: “They will say this Mugabe talks poison.
“I give poison not for you to swallow but to give to someone else.”