BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2007, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Viewpoint: Kaunda on Mugabe
Robert Mugabe
Mugabe's regime has been widely condemned in the West
Leaders in the West say Robert Mugabe is a demon, that he has destroyed Zimbabwe and he must be gotten rid of - but this demonising is made by people who may not understand what Robert Gabriel Mugabe and his fellow freedom fighters went through, says former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda.

In 1960, Harold Macmillan, then British prime minister, made a statement in Cape Town referring to what was taking place in southern Africa as "the wind of change." He had correctly read the feelings of the black masses.

Eventually, the British government abolished the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In 1964, Northern Rhodesia became Zambia and Nyasaland became Malawi.

But white people in Rhodesia rejected that wind of change and, in November 1965, Ian Smith, by force, took over in a "Unilateral Declaration of Independence".

It was treason against the colonial ruler, the British monarchy. Soon Smith had arrested a number of African leaders, including Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.

By now Harold Wilson was the British premier, but he showed signs of hopelessness. He called meetings aboard the Tiger and Fearless navy ships. But neither meeting showed tiger claws, and both were fearful of the rebels in Rhodesia.

I spoke with Wilson myself, but there was no progress. And, sadly, Smith's rebel regime went on.

White train

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe freedom struggle was continuing, but handicapped because its key leaders were locked up.

Even talks with another British prime minister, Edward Heath, did not help. I could see clearly that no matter who became prime minister of Britain, they would do nothing about the Rhodesia situation.

Kenneth Kaunda
There are some things which President Mugabe and his colleagues have done which I totally disagree with
Kenneth Kaunda

It was South Africa that was in charge. I concluded that the settlers were interested in keeping Southern Rhodesia under white rule so that they could have a buffer against advancing African independent states.

In 1974, I decided to meet John Vorster, South Africa's then-prime minister. We met at the bridge between Zambia and then Southern Rhodesia, in Vorster's white train, for three nights.

He had to leave on the third night because he was not feeling well. But as a follow-up to our discussions, he freed our colleagues in Zimbabwe's liberation movements.

There was, of course, not a single dull moment in the struggle for independence in our region. In August 1979, Commonwealth countries from all over the world met in Lusaka to consider many issues - but the most serious one was the Zimbabwe situation.

In the end it was Britain's new prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who agreed Britain would hold a conference on the future of Zimbabwe in London. She asked me to be around at what became known as the Lancaster House talks, in case difficulties arose in the negotiations.


At the talks, the people of Zimbabwe were assured that they were going to be independent the following year, 1980.

But that wonderful news was conditional. The new government of Zimbabwe was not to deal with land issues but was to "leave that in the hands of the British government".

Ian Smith
Mugabe was a long-time opponent of Ian Smith

Nationalists from Zimbabwe accepted this rather harsh and complicated condition.

The Thatcher government had begun to deal with the land issue, as did her successor, John Major.

But when Tony Blair took over in 1997, I understand that some young lady in charge of colonial issues within that government simply dropped doing anything about it.

I ask you to consider the implications of the long struggle. The nationalists, who had the regaining of land as a key objective of their struggle, were now being told the British government, which promised to look after that issue themselves, was not going to go ahead with it.

The Zimbabwean government waited patiently for more than 10 years, but the British government defaulted.

We must remember the occupation by Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes removed African people from fertile lands to hilly and unfertile lands in favour of settlers.

And remember that, later, while neighbours became independent, Southern Rhodesia was grabbed by white settlers, led by Smith. In the struggle, many people were killed.

There have been allegations of corruption in relation to land allocation. Well, the corruption should have been dealt with by all. Stopping the land programme, and doing nothing, was not the solution.

I do not believe it is right to demonise Robert Gabriel Mugabe. It is notable that he and his colleagues have not expelled from Zimbabwe people who did terrible things to them.

A star is born

Of course, there are some things which President Mugabe and his colleagues have done which I totally disagree with - for example, the police beating of Morgan Tsvangirai.

Margaret Thatcher with Robert Mugabe
Thatcher began to deal with the land issue in Zimbabwe

It is not that I think Tsvangirai can make a good leader - I see him as the [former Zambian leader] Frederick Chiluba of Zimbabwe - but beating him or even sending him to prison will not be the right thing.

On the other hand, given their experience, I can understand the fury that goes through President Mugabe and his colleagues.

Now, let me reveal that when Blair was elected British prime minister, I wrote a poem in his favour, called A Star Is Born To Us. Indeed, his feelings for Africa have been very good.

But then came the two Bs, Blair and George Bush, and their terrifying act of March 2003 - the invasion and occupation of Iraq. I condemned the two Bs publicly, denouncing the criminal invasion.

Now my prayer is that the Zimbabwe issue will be treated differently by Blair's successor, Gordon Brown.

It is also my humble prayer that South African President Thabo Mbeki and his regional colleagues will meet Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who will be ready in his soul, mind, and body to respond to the advice they give him and the people of Zimbabwe.

How should Western leaders treat President Mugabe? Has he been demonised unfairly?

Thank you for your comments. Please read a selection of them below.

The Western world has a big responsibility in making Mugabe what he is today. Remember the massacres in Matabeleland and Midlands in the mid 1980s? What did the West do to stop this? Did they condemn Mugabe... no... its only now that he has killed white farmers that the West are now demonising him. The people in the 1980s were not human beings, according to the West, as they were not white. Imagine if those people were white, do u think Mugabe wouldl be in power till this day? I don't think so.
irvine ndou, Perth, Australia

In my opinion this man should be put before the Court of Human rights in The Hague for what he has done.
Paul Ellis, Staffs UK

I think Mugabe should give way to new generation and stop behaving like a toddler. He deserve what comes his way.
Amanda, Amersfoort Holland

A senior states man has hit the nail on the head. Mugabe has his own mistakes like beating of opposition leaders and corruption in land allocation, but to be fair with him he has been patient over land issue. In Africa we own land and it is different from the west where ownership is conferred using a deed. In Africa it is a birth right to have land inherited from parents. This explains why local people love him and those conditioned by western training demonise him. Those of us who have been to Zimbabwe wonder how this was tolerated for a long time. Mugabe minus his shortfalls corruption and beating opposition members is a true African hero who has love for the local people at heart.
Boyson Moyo, Muzzy Malawi

Why do these Mugabe apologists always insist on blinding the masses? This land policy is not about the British or Zimbabwean people. We had a referendum in 1999 where 55% voted against the constitutional amendments which would have resulted in the expropriation of land because people saw through the trick. If Mugabe really respected his people he would have listened to them then and not only then but even now by giving them a fair vote. No this is not about black or white Zimbabweans, Rhodesians or British.., this is about Mr. Mugabe's insistence on clinging to power at all cost, it's as simple as that, why do we have to go at great lengths to try and justify the unjustifiable, complicate the simple, and comprehend the incomprehensible?
Njabulo, Johannesburg, South Africa

Mugabe has been unfairly demonised by the West including its media. There are far more brutal despots in Africa than Mugabe; the only problem is that Mugabe dared touch what the West treasured so much in Zimbabwe, the land its (the West's) kith and kin(White settlers) brutally and unfairly grabbed from Black Zimbabweans before independence. It seems the trick for some African leaders is: serve the interests of Western governments and you will be 'canonised' and left alone to brutalise your people as much as you want without anyone condemning you. And it seems to be working in some African countries with worse leaders than Mugabe!
Ayo Olwa, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Whilst I think Kenneth Kaunda's piece on Robert Mugabe does make one pause for thought, it certainly does not address the treatment of the Zimbabwean people, and the effective destruction of the Zimbabwean economy, and ultimately this is how he will be remembered in his final years.
Kevin, Switzerland

Yes Mugabe has been demonised, we Africans look at him as one of Africa's greatest Heroes. He is one of the few leaders who has continued with the struggle against imperialism in all its forms notably the new kind (neo-colonialism), he's given back the Land to its rightful owners what else would a poverty stricken man wish for but to rebuild his family name that was once mighty before the rule of the white man that took away his most treasured asset land.
Herman Kalinte, Barking Essex United Kingdom, Home country: Uganda

The one sided ramblings of a one time dictator who was single handily responsible for bankrupting the Zambian nation. Lest we forget he also nationalised once profitable mines and industries, only to be privatised again several decades later. In my opinion K.K is just another elder African statesman with no credibility.
Mike , Johannesburg

Thank God for Kenneth Kaunda's reminiscences. Mugabe remains a hero, although he is fighting against improbable odds and has alienated even his fellow Zimbabweans in his struggle to restore land to his people. I'm afraid, given global (political and economic) power relations Mugabe cannot win this battle without the trade support of his brother African countries. The problem is that African countries have not begun to think or act in that direction yet.
Obasi Ogbonnaya, Abuja, Nigeria

"All men are created equal..." I don't think Mr. Mugabe is a bad person. With the bitter experiences of the past he can't accept the direct and indirect colonial rules going on anymore....Yet there are always ways to solve issues....through negotiations, peaceful constructive talks....One thing that some westerners always forget is that all young African students of today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, and what they have been through will affect their sense of cooperation, and domestic policies of tomorrow. The Africans respect the western policies and the western should also respect the African policies or rather negotiate for consensus.
Stevie, Johannesburg, South Africa.

The responses from leaders in Africa in support of Mugabe all follow the same line: he is a freedom fighter who liberated his country from white suppression rule and therefore is beyond criticism. What a sad fallacy. Remember that Winston Churchill, the hero who had liberated the UK from the Nazis was removed from power through elections after the war. This did not make Churchill less of a hero. It did assure that the UK could move on after the war. It is very sad that, partly through the blind support of other African leaders, this same process was not allowed to take place. Now Zimbabwe is burdened with a leader ruining his country and guess what: this does make him less of a hero. When history will look back at him he will be seen as that hero but also the leader that failed in letting his country move on and in the process destroyed the country.
Arnoud Snepvangers, Basel, Switzerland

It is a tragedy that African politicians excuse each and every crime and atrocity they commit against their own people with the crimes their White peers commit, today and in the past. He is right though when he states Mugabe and his colleagues have not expelled people from Zimbabwe who did terrible things to them. No, instead they are torturing and killing Zimbabweans like no other leader before him. I assume for the victims it makes no difference whether they are tortured by a White or Black president. Unfortunately neither prayers nor Mr. Mbeki will change anything. I wonder what Mr. Kaunda is actually trying to tell us.
Reinhard , Cape Town

Unfairly treated is an understatement and he and the Zimbabwean people are not isolated in this issue. If you're not liked by Britain and the US, then you and your people are in for a lot of suffering. This is the new form of bondage and colonialism that has always characterized the relationship between the west and the rest of the world. I firmly believe that just as minority voices gained momentum in centuries past to cry against slavery and other forms of bondage and just as we are appalled at the brutality of westerners of those years, so will future generations judge the Tony Blair and George Bushes of our time.
Saiku M Bah, Freetown, Sierra Leone

I myself live in the west. The redistribution of the land seemed only to be done to provide the regime's backers with a payoff for loyalty. But the Land issue is irrelevant now, and people that continue to discuss it only show how out of touch they are. The issue now is the security. The government has passed law after law restricting personal freedom. Reports coming out of the country are of a security forces out of control. With rape and murder everyday events for those who even hint of straying out of line. This, the clearance of the slums and the stifling of the opposition are what needs to be discussed now!
Nich Hill, Portsmouth UK

President Mugabe surely has been unfairly by the west, led by the UK over the land issue. Unfortunately the land has been given back to its rightful owners, the black majority. And for those who had a regime change agenda, Mr Blair has failed to affect it in Zimbabwe. The same for Mr Bush. What a combined failure by these two in Zimbabwe and Iraq.
Simeone Rumhiba, Zimbabwe

The comments by Kaunda are ramblings. How on earth can anyone in their right mind excuse what Mugabe has done? Let's face it, the land deal with the British has never been withdrawn, but Mugabe will not abide by the conditions of fair and sustainable land distribution. Instead it is parcelled out to mostly government supporters, ministers and military officials in order to stay in power. It really is that simple. Mugabe has got off very lightly, and I pray that one day he will face justice for the thousands of (mainly black) victims of his Gukurahundi massacres and subsequent "clamp downs". Let's not mention the more than four million of us of have had to leave the country as a result of the madness going on there.
Alex Nhando, Zimbabwean in Budapest

If Mugabe had more than his share of troubles when fighting for independence, he should have learnt from his experiences and become wiser and more humane and just. Instead he has become far worse than his former colonial masters in mistreating and misruling his people. What is deeply disturbing is the deafening silence on part of other African leaders when it comes to criticising their counterparts and their misdeeds. One has the impression that black African leaders, in general, have entered a conspiracy to slowly send Africa to hell.
Jai Singh, Kaiseraugst, Switzerland

It is only people who have read the history of Zimbabwe in depth are able to understand the current situation in Zimbabwe. From the time Zimbabwe was occupied the issue of contention was land. The land was parcelled among the whites with impunity. The Africans were relocated to the wastelands. For your own information African cattle were not even allowed to mate with whites cattle or even allowed to graze in so called white lands. The only solution is to share the fertile lands equally.
Louis Mpande, Lusaka, Zambia

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific