Former president Thabo Mbeki addresses ANC members at former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s memorial service held at the Durban City Hall. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA)

Durban - Once again former President Thabo Mbeki has set the country talking after his Robert Mugabe memorial service address in Durban on Tuesday afternoon. 

The address was full of intellectual jargon and offered insight into international politics and interference by Western powers in the affairs of some African states. Mbeki also brought the issue of land to the fore. The land issue saw Zimbabwe and Mugabe moving from being a blue-eyed boy of some western countries to a pariah who was described as taking the country down with him. 

Like most of his speeches and general comments on Zimbabwean issues since 2000, Mbeki’s speech divided people in the country and Zimbabwe. Here at home, some said it was a fitting tribute to a man who helped the ANC to fight apartheid while others accused Mbeki of "revisionism". 

Some in Zimbabwe accused Mbeki of ignoring Mugabe’s (a man some call an educated tribalist) massacres including Gukurahundi and Operation Murambatsvina. Gukurahundi was a series of massacres of Ndebele civilians (who were pro Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU) carried out by the Zimbabwe National Army from early 1983 to late 1987. Over 20 000 lives were lost.

Here are the five key political points from Mbeki’s speech at the memorial service which attracted a full house.

Mugabe was very important to the ANC during the anti-apartheid Struggle 

According to Mbeki, Mugabe was crucial to the ANC during the Struggle years because he was willing to help them with arms and identity documents to disguise activists while travelling around the world. He said Mugabe never abandoned the ANC. He said at some point the army of Mugabe was helping the ANC armed wing, uMkhonto Wesizwe, to move arms around.

The land question and the uneasiness of whites in Zimbabwe and SA 

Turning to the land issue which later proved to be a sore point for Zimbabwe, Mbeki said Mugabe, as the president of Zimbabwe, was willing to delay a constitutional amendment in order to allow the ANC to negotiate with the apartheid government. He said around 1990, Mugabe’s government wanted to deal with the land issue, but because at that time the ANC was heading for negotiations with the racist National Party, he agreed to delay the amendment. Mbeki said that helped the ANC to negotiate with whites who were unsettled by a land issue next door.

Britain wouldn't fund plan to buy land from farmers for war veterans

Known for his long memory when it comes to international affairs, Mbeki told a little known story of how South Africa and Zimbabwe made an effort to deal with the land issues around 1998 when war veterans there first invaded some farms. He said in order to ensure that the invasions did not continue, they approached Britain under Tony Blair to help finance the buying of farms that were on the market for the vets in order to remove them from the occupied farms. The British pleaded poverty. He said they later got the required money from some unnamed global donors and the UN under Kofi Annan took over the process but it failed when they (SA and Zimbabwe) insisted on following the Lancaster house agreement against a call by the UN to use their own model. 

South Africa’s post apartheid transition was modelled on Zimbabwe’s

Mbeki spoke eloquently bout Mugabe and his administration. He said the ANC learnt a lot from Zimbabwe as even the South African transition, which allowed some senior civil servants like army generals and police chiefs from the old order to remain in their positions, was modelled on Zimbabwe. He said the reason why they kept some of these people was to enable a friction-free transition to allow the officials to leave without being pushed as pushing them out would have created tensions.

He said he never met a Zimbabwean who told him Mugabe must be deposed  

Although Zimbabweans are scattered around the globe, with some of them armed with the best qualifications but doing menial jobs just to survive and some of them attributing their misery to Mugabe, Mbeki said he never met a Zimbabwean national who wanted the late leader deposed from power. Mbeki said the pressure to get Mugabe out of power around 2008 came from outsiders instead of Zimbabweans. He said even the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which in some quarters was seen as a western project aimed at toppling Mugabe, never wanted the man deposed. 

Political Bureau