Outgoing SADC chairman, Robert Mugabe used his valedictory address to give a historical lesson, speaking on matters ranging from incoming chair, President Ian Khama’s parentage, to a US$50,000 gift Zimbabwe allegedly offered to late Batlokwa paramount chief, Moshibidu Gaborone.
With the SADC chairmanship rotating around the 15 member states, Mugabe will be more than 100 years old when Zimbabwe again becomes eligible for the regional body’s highest position.
Observers expected a memorable address from Mugabe as yesterday was likely one of the last times he would be able to address open sessions of the regional group’s summits.
It was widely expected that Mugabe would make some form of reference to Khama, with whom he has previously had tense relations. Khama has broken ranks with the region on several occasions in condemning Mugabe’s government and dismissing the electoral process in that country. At the Summit, Mugabe characteristically went off-speech, recalling the outrage that accompanied founding SADC chair and former president, Seretse Khama’s marriage to Ruth Williams in September 1948.
In a speech largely addressed to Khama whom he faced as he spoke, Mugabe said his arrival in Gaborone for the Summit on Sunday had evoked memories of the role Botswana and Seretse Khama had played in the regional struggle for liberation.
“It was from Botswana that we got our inspiration in the Frontline States, but unfortunately some of the leaders are now dearly departed,” Mugabe said.
“I was glad that your father saw our independence and when he wanted to visit, I said ‘fine come’. He (Seretse Khama) wanted to see this Rhodesia, which together with South Africa was angry when he married a white woman.
“He was trained and prepared to take over the royal chieftainship, but like a young man, when he fell in love, the sin he committed was that it was a white woman.
“You don’t know the war that was waged by whites in South Africa and Rhodesians. ‘It’s an offence against the natural, no, no, no!’
“They all said he was a bad example to the rest of Africa. A bad example just to marry a white woman!”
Mugabe said the late president had shrewdly sidestepped his subsequent ban from the chieftainship by forming a political organisation and becoming its leader.
“In a clever way, that’s what he did because he could not be stopped from forming a party. I think that’s still the party you are leading.
“That’s the legacy of a fighter. Sorry he did not live long, but he left that legacy of freedom of a man marrying whomever he wants.
“As I recite your names, which are quite long, you have received them by virtue of your father having endowed you with his name. Ian is your own but still Khama. Seretse Khama Ian Khama; you have two Khamas in you.
“Great country, great father and I’m sure that you will be a great successor.”
Mugabe warned the Summit against being duped by “whites” whom he said were now claiming to have supported Seretse Khama’s marriage in the 1940s.
“Things were never that easy for us. The whites were very vehement against the marriage, but today it’s like they were very accepting. Nonsense!
“I don’t say let’s revenge. As Africans, we are free and loving people of joy. Full of joy the Africans are, always dancing and laughing, but the whites must not play the fool with us because then the devil in us comes out.”
Mugabe also recounted a story in which he said the late Batlokwa chief had closely helped Zimbabwean liberation fighters, providing safety, accommodation and passage. He said prior to his death, Moshibidu Gaborone had asked for a tractor.
“Not long ago, he came to Zimbabwe and said to me: ‘I have come because you had stayed so long without visiting me.’
“He said he had a little problem in that he had a small piece of land from which he was eking out some existence and needed a tractor. “I said I would definitely find him a tractor. We arranged a gift to give him of US$50,000, but he fell ill and we later heard he had passed away. We had arranged a Massey Ferguson and that should still be given to his family because I had promised him.”
In his acceptance speech after receiving the chairmanship from Mugabe, Khama made brief references to his predecessor’s remarks.
“I am very humbled by your recollections of our history as a country and my parents. You make reference to Kgosi Gaborone and in fact, we have a direct descendent in this room who is also the chief and is the chairman of the House of Chiefs,” Khama said.
He added: “Some people in this country never referred to me as the deputy SADC chair. They were referring to me as Mugabe’s deputy.”