The Botswana Defence Force army commander, Lt Gen Tebogo Masire, has slammed western countries of peddling false and negative stories about the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe during the relocation of Marange to make way for a diamond mine.
Masire, who is in Zimbabwe on a working visit, was quoted by the Zimbabwean media praising Zimbabwe’s indigenization policy and urging the country to ignore propaganda on programmes that benefit and empower people. “All this criticism on Zimbabwe’s diamonds being blood diamonds it’s all propaganda”, he was quoted saying.
Masire’s attack against the west follows reports of how the Robert Mugabe regime launched Operation No Return in October 2008, during which the army ordered a shoot-on-sight policy, killing hundreds of illegal miners. According to media reports, men were strafed by helicopter gunship, and a cordon was set up around the diamond fields. As many as 10,000 villagers living near the fields were relocated 15 miles away. It is further reported that the army recruited villagers under gunpoint and forced them to dig for diamonds.
At a dinner party hosted in his honour by Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga last week, Lt Gen Masire said, “Information that is being peddled by Western countries is so negative and you guys never passed information to us and here is the truth. There are no people being killed.” Lt-Gen Masire said Botswana had a similar situation of condemnation by the West for moving its people from the Central Kgalagadi Desert to pave way for mining and development purposes.
“The co-operation that exists should be further strengthened,” he said. “I am sure you all know about the hullabaloo of the Basarwa people we relocated for development. We need to develop our people. The relocation of people in Marange, Chiadzwa we got the stories from Western media. We said oh there you go again.”
Lt-Gen Masire said he was impressed by what he saw when he visited the massive Arda Transau housing project in Marange to relocate those affected by diamond mining at Chiadzwa.
“I was impressed by the programmes so after this I am sure you are going to be inundated with calls from Botswana,” he said.
In a separate interview with a Zimbabwean newspaper, Masire described as malicious and false claims that Botswana and Zimbabwe were at loggerheads. “We have good cordial relations despite what the media say.”
Masire’s statement flies in the face of recent Wikileaks revelations that Botswana four years ago sought weapons from the United States in readiness for war with Zimbabwe.
According to the confidential diplomatic cables leaked by whistle-blower website Wikileaks, Gaborone believed that charges by Harare that it was training rebels to topple President Robert Mugabe were part of a propaganda war to justify military attack on it by the larger and better equipped Zimbabwean army.
In preparation for such an eventuality then Botswana Defence Forces deputy chief, Major General Tlhokwane, met defence officials at the US embassy in Gaborone in July 2008 to request arms including anti-tank missiles, helicopter gunships and short range air defence systems, the cables say.
But the embassy advised against supplying weapons to Botswana for fear that would damage overall US policy objectives in the region while also triggering a dangerous arms race between the hostile neighbours. Relations between Zimbabwe and Botswana have been strained since President Lt Gen Ian Khama became the region’s most outspoken critic of Mugabe’s controversial rule.
Masire’s statement fit in with an emerging trend where The Botswana Democratic Party and its government seem to be trying to ingratiate itself into the favour of the Robert Mugabe administration.
This is believed to be part of a grand plan to normalize relations with the Robert Mugabe regime in an attempt to save a P70 billion Pula business venture linked to President Ian Khama’s friend.
One of Khama’s aides, whose name is known to this newspaper, is reported to be behind the planned Botswana and Mozambique oil and coal habour with a railway line and oil pipeline which will pass through Zimbabwe. The new rail and pipelines will ferry coal, crude oil, liquid fuels and other goods between Botswana and Zimbabwe, and India and China, bypassing South African harbours and the nearby port of Maputo.
Botswana’s former minister, Frank Ramsden, and his Mozambique counterpart, Paulo Zucula, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and the Mozambican government has already gazetted the boundaries of a 30 000 hectares harbour and industrial zone around Ponto Techobanine. The project to develop the port and build a rail link to Botswana and Zimbabwe will cost an estimated US 7 billion dollars and take ten years to complete. A feasibility study has been completed and work is expected to begin soon. The preparatory phase, including the mobilization of finance, was expected to be completed by the end of 2011, and the first phase of construction is expected to take place between 2012 and 2015.
There are, however, fears that unless Botswana warns up to the Mugabe regime, Zimbabwe poses a threat to the project which is considered to be of strategic national importance. Strained relations between Khama and Mugabe were also expected to turn off potential financiers.
Sources close to the project say they were not surprised when a Zimbabwean newspaper reported that the BDP had endorsed President Robert Mugabe of the ZANU-PF to stand as a candidate and also embraced his policies, amongst them the land-grabbing and indigenization.
The BDP recently sent a delegation, led by Thabo Masalila, to the ZANU-PF annual conference, which endorsed the 87- year-old Mugabe as its candidate in the presidential elections that may be held this year or in 2013. Masalila was quoted in the Zimbabwean Standard calling on African countries to emulate Zimbabwe. “You should consider yourselves blessed to have leadership that has such wisdom,” the paper quoted Masalila as saying.”It is important to reflect on how indigenization can help to propel us forward. As Africans, our greatest resource is our land. This is one commodity that we have to guard,” the paper quoted Masalila.
The Standard further reported that President Ian Khama was working day and night to restore relations between BDP and ZANU-PF, after publicly criticizing Mugabe and openly supporting his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai.
Masalila has, however, claimed that he was quoted out of context, accusing The Standard of spicing its report when in fact there was no romance between BDP officials and ZANU-PF.