A CHINESE peace award to President Robert Mugabe has drawn scorn from the opposition, which described the honour as a mockery to Zimbabweans, who, they say, have been subjected to gross human rights abuses by the veteran leader.
Mugabe was awarded the Confucious Peace Prize, which is dubbed China’s Nobel Peace Prize, after reportedly beating off competition from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, much to the irritation of the opposition.
“It makes a mockery of the word ‘award’,” main opposition MDC-T spokesman Obert Gutu said.
“Robert Mugabe has done everything a winner of a peace award shouldn’t do. He has run down Zimbabwe, from being a breadbasket of southern Africa to a basket case in a short period of 35 years.
“He has pauperised more than 90% of the population of his country because at least 90% of Zimbabweans now live on less than $1 a day in
Gutu said it was ironic for Mugabe to win the award as he had presided over a complete breakdown of the rule of law and Zimbabwe had become a one-man dictatorship, “with Mugabe as the emperor, and his wife Grace being the empress”.
“Because of his misgovernance, intolerance and political repression, at least five million Zimbabweans have escaped into the Diaspora. He has reduced Zimbabwe from being the jewel of Africa in 1980 to being a pariah State in 2015,” he said.
But the founder of the Confucius Peace Prize — a Chinese rival to the Nobel Peace Prize — Qiao Damo, defended the decision to honour Mugabe for his “outstanding contributions” to world peace this year.
“If he hadn’t come to power in 1980, if he hadn’t played a role, how much talent would have been wasted?” he told international news agencies yesterday.
Qiao cited Mugabe’s “ability to stabilise Zimbabwe and at the same time promote peace in Africa” as chairperson of the African Union.
“Unrest is quite normal. When America was first founded, it was also very chaotic, and Zimbabwe was only founded 30 years ago,” he said.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) described Mugabe’s award as a “malicious” move by the organisers.
“The 1980s they were parading as Mugabe’s most successful years were actually the worst years in the history of Zimbabwe,” PDP said in a statement.
“It was that ‘lost decade’ which saw Mugabe presiding over ethnic cleansing, which left over 20 000 innocent lives of Ndebele-speaking people — including women and children from Matabeleland and Midlands provinces — losing their precious lives.”
Former Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said the honour was a mockery, adding the Chinese were not honest in awarding Mugabe a prize for being a peace-builder.
“They are not sincere; they are doing it to butter Mugabe,” he said.
“How can they give him a peace prize when the country is burning, people have no food, they are harassed left, right and centre by State agents every day, and yet they give him a peace prize?” he queried.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe’s honour was highly controversial and disputable.
“It is merely a political statement rather than real recognition,” he said.
“Most peace awards are very controversial. It is simply symbolic to the relationship between Zimbabwe and China.”
Masunungure said the award was an insult to victims of Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland and survivors of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina which displaced hundreds of thousands of urban dwellers.
Political analyst Takura Zhangazha added: “As far as the iconic perception Mugabe has, people might believe he is not the right candidate. The Chinese view is not the globally agreed view.”
The Confucius prize emerged in 2010 as a Chinese response to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize award, which infuriated Beijing.
Mugabe — who has had a close relationship with Beijing for decades — joins a motley roster of past winners, which includes Russian leader Vladimir Putin and former Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, as well as more mainstream figures such as Kofi Annan.
According to international media reports, the 91-year-old politician is scheduled to be presented with his prize money of $80 000 at a ceremony to be held in China in December this year.
Chinese Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told AFP the Confucius prize was “not affiliated with the government”.