FROSTY relations between the late former South African President Nelson Mandela and President Robert Mugabe started when the veteran Zimbabwean leader arrived late for a Sadc meeting in Mauritius in 1998.
According to excerpts from the book Good Morning Mr Mandela by his long-serving private secretary Zelda la Grange, the Sadc meeting from September 10-12 was being chaired by Mandela.
“The meeting was scheduled to start at 10am, but Mugabe entered the room more than an hour late. Mandela didn’t like chairing meetings and would usually open a meeting and then hand over to someone else to ensure the rules were observed,” Grange said in excerpts of the book published by Talk Radio 702’s Eye Witness News in South Africa.
“No one ever questioned this peculiar arrangement and he would only occasionally comment on proceedings or nod to add his approval to process. When Mugabe entered, another head of State was busy addressing the meeting.”
Grange said Mandela interrupted the Speaker and asked him to stop.
“This was unusual for him and the atmosphere grew tense as silence descended in the big hall. It was one of the few occasions that Mandela interrupted someone while he was speaking.
“Mandela waited for Mugabe to be seated and then launched into an off-the-cuff speech of about 20 minutes about being disrespectful and wasting other people’s time and that ‘some heads of State’ considered themselves more important and therefore thought it was acceptable to arrive late,” Grange said.
“He (Mandela) didn’t mention Mugabe’s name once, but we all knew. He subsequently used words that never left me: ‘Because you hold a particular position, doesn’t mean that you are more important than anyone else. Your time is not more valuable than anybody else’s time. If you are late, you show that you have no respect for another person’s time and therefore no respect for other people because you consider yourself to be more important than others’.
“After Mandela finished his speech, Mugabe allowed proceedings to continue for a while and then quietly left as unnoticed as he could.
“That was the last time I ever saw any kind of interaction between them and there was no contact again that I am aware of, except exchanging courtesies whenever they shared a stage at an all-Africa event.”
Grange said Mandela often related the story that before South Africa’s democracy, Zimbabwe was considered the star of the continent, but when South Africa became a democracy, they said the sun came out and the star disappeared.
“I was of the opinion that was one of the reasons why Mugabe felt bitterness towards South Africa’s efforts on the continent. More recently in an interview, Mugabe paid back by commenting on Mandela being too much of a saint and pleasing white people at the expense of black people.
“Mandela was no longer able to defend himself due to his age at that point and I thought that Mugabe had waited for a very long time to seek revenge through public humiliation.
“His comment clearly lacked understanding of the South African situation and that had it not been for the focus on reconciliation at the time, our country would have gone up in flames, ending up much like the state in which Zimbabwe is today,” Grange added in her book.