Botswana, Botswana, Botswana! Ooooooh,” chanted Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe holding on to his microphone.
This was an on the spur of the moment reaction after his scripted speech at Rainbow Towers was disrupted by President Ian Khama’s entrance amid chants of “Khama! Khama! Khama”, from the crowd.
The ceremony to mark the signing of the power sharing agreement between Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, attended by 10 regional leaders, turned out to be a popularity contest among the heads of state.
Khama stole the show, attracting the loudest cheers, with the audience giving him a rock-star ovation.
Mugabe decided to hitch his appeal on the coat-tails of Khama’s popularity, saying, “We are pleased that he is here (President Khama). During the liberation struggle many of our people went to Botswana. We know of the suffering that the people of Botswana went through because of their support for our liberation struggle. They were bombed and parcel bombs were sent by the Rhodesians to Botswana.”
Mugabe went on to assume fatherly authority by reminding the young Botswana president of his relationship with his late father, Sir Seretse Khama.
“We made very good friends … but unfortunately he passed away… but we have established very strong ties, and I would want these strong ties to continue. Whatever happened is history.”
The crowd, which was ecstatic when they saw President Khama in person, probably many for the first time, could not hide their excitement and hailed the first leader in Southern Africa who had been courageous enough to express his heartbreak over the situation ordinary Zimbabweans had been enduring for a decade.
Although Botswana’s controversial stance for a while appeared as if it might ignite a cold war between the two countries, many ordinary Zimbabweans saw the criticism by President Khama as a bold step in the right direction.
“President Khama earned the respect and love of the people of Zimbabwe because for the first time, here was a young brilliant leader who took time to study how the situation in Zimbabwe was impacting on the ordinary Zimbabwean and all he wanted was for the world to appreciate the magnitude of our problem. We will always love him for his bravery,” said Dr Michael Chasara of Harare.
About two hours after President Khama had taken his seat, the conference centre again exploded with whistled and chanted of ‘Viva Botswana’.
President Mugabe ironically remarked he would never attack in public a fellow African country or leader and political analysts have indicated he, (Mugabe) in essence had implied ‘he would not do what President Khama had done” by way of defying his purported control over the whole region mainly because of his age and openly criticizing the octogenarian leader.
President Khama, on the other hand, remained cool and composed, nodding his head and smiling at some remarks made by President Mugabe.
The Botswana Foreign Ministry, which had issued statements on President Khama’s discomfort in sharing the same room with Mugabe owing to what was happening in Zimbabwe at the last SADC meeting held in South Africa on Tuesday said it welcomed the power sharing deal and urged the international community to help revive the country’s economy.
Millions of Zimbabweans in the last 10 years have been flooding neighboring Botswana to buy food where the Government has repeatedly turned down pressure from some quarters to introduce stringent visa requirements in order to reduce the number of Zimbabweans who visited the country.
For hundreds of Zimbabweans who had found work in Botswana, the semi arid country becomes a source of livelihood for their families.
Like during the liberation struggle, the Setswana people continued to support in various ways, the majority of Zimbabweans who had fled their country for both political and economic reasons.
Professionals got work easily while those who had acquired ordinary level qualifications did menial type of work.
“Botswana had realized not only the need to assist Zimbabweans but also the practical scope of integrating those who genuinely wanted to work and help build Botswana,” Dr Chasara said.
He said, in this instance, countries like Botswana capitalized in the brain drain, which was taking place in Zimbabwe.
“The exportation of labour was something that was unplanned but had to naturally take place because the people were suffering and therefore had to invent means and ways of survival. Botswana and other regional countries came in handy and were there for the suffering Zimbabweans,” he said.
Botswana, which is referred to as the Texas of Southern Africa, has a fast growing economy that depends largely on diamond mining, livestock rearing and tourism, which comes in a diversified wildlife species. Botswana has the largest elephant population in the whole of Southern Africa region making it a wildlife rich country set to become one of the most exciting tourist destinations in Africa.
It also boasts of a strong cultural heritage, a country proud of its local language and ideals.
Botswana is a small country of just about two million people whose politics is on the quiet and stable side but shocked the world when it kicked in the face Robert Mugabe who had fallen from grace when his
Government was accused of ruining the once prospering economy.
Mugabe was beaten in the March 29 Presidential elections by the now Prime Minister designate, Morgan Tsvangirai who failed to take the hot seat on a constitutional technicality.
Mugabe then took a month to announce the results and it was not clear whether the results could have been tampered with. The whole of Southern Africa leaders fidgeted and mumbled without anyone daring to criticize what was happening in Zimbabwe, before ‘the man of the moment’, President Khama came on board just a few months ago.