PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will this week travel to Lesotho for the volatile southern African country’s 50th independence celebrations, just a week after he snubbed a similar invite from his Botswana counterpart, Ian Khama as hostility between the two leaders intensifies.
Mugabe cancelled a scheduled trip to Botswana after Khama told an international news agency, Reuters, that it was time the 92-year-old Zimbabwean leader steps down due to old age.
Khama said Mugabe had overstayed in power and was now a liability to Zimbabwe and the Sadc region.
But a State media columnist, releaved to be Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, at the weekend intimated that Mugabe would use his Lesotho trip this week as a way to hit back at Khama.
“President Mugabe has been invited (to Lesotho’s celebrations) and from what I understand, he is likely to honour the invitation. Just by so doing, President Mugabe will finally vividly make his point, relish his day through a damning comparison,” columnist, Nathaniel Manheru wrote.
“He will be able to quietly chastise Khama, while showing the Batswana people how much of a huge cost their leader’s blunderous (sic) diplomacy is to the two peoples, who are also close neighbours historically and even consanguineously.
“But the whole contrast will once more bring to the fore how, under Khama, Botswana has pursued a foreign policy, which is non-Africa, non-Sadc and non-collegial.”
Manheru hinted that Botswana had offered Zimbabwe an explanation on Khama’s supposed statement.
“… because Botswana decided on a quiet explanation tendered to the Zimbabwe government, but without taking the trouble to make a public retraction of the story. To me that said a lot,” he wrote.
“In the first place, he (Khama), out of his own volition, invited the Zimbabwean leader for his country’s national day, with his solicitous lady chief of protocol pressing the Zimbabwean delegation (to Zambian leader, Edgar Lungu’s inauguration) to know if President Mugabe was coming.
“Khama did not have to invite President Mugabe, all the more so given his weird views on Mugabe’s tenure. Why slur the dignity of your nation’s commemorative event by inviting an unfit guest? It is this paradox, which seems to give credence to a reading that the invitation was done without any sincerity and in the hope that the invitee would turn it down. Which the delayed confirmation from Zimbabwe almost did.”
Information minister Christopher Mushowe yesterday confirmed that Mugabe would make the trip to Lesotho, but played down the alleged diplomatic tiff between Zimbabwe and Botswana.
“President Mugabe will be travelling to Lesotho, it’s true. His failure to travel to Botswana had nothing to do with the so-called statements attributed to President Khama. These are heads of States, with direct access to each other. If any of them has advice for the other they do not need to use the media. The media wants to create a situation that is non-existent,” he explained.
Mushowe said Mugabe failed to attend Botswana’s independence anniversary celebrations because the trip coincided with a Zanu PF event the veteran politician could not afford to miss.
“The Botswana event coincided with the Zanu PF women’s league meeting that was so important the President had to be there. Botswana and Zimbabwe are friends and have been since the struggle because our people sought refuge in that country,” he said.
“Some used it as a passage to Zambia to join the war and these ties are as strong as ever.”
Asked if there had been interaction between Mugabe’s office and Khama over the Botswana leader’s statements, Mushowe shot the suggestion down.
“Interaction for what? Because, to us, it is a media creation and there was no need for that. They have met several times and our two countries are members of Sadc. Our leaders have many forums where they can discuss issues if they have any.”