President Emmerson Mnangagwa arrived in Tanzania last week intent on projecting Zimbabwe as a country that has moved on from the shadow of former president Robert Mugabe, the man he deposed in a military coup last November.
Mnangagwa, who has visited Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the six months that he has been president, hoped to use his latest trip to reach out to a key traditional ally as he seeks to build international acceptance for his government.
The Zanu-PF leader, who broke off his campaign ahead of elections on July 30 to accept the invitation for a two-day state visit to Tanzania, spent most of his time discussing trade, tourism and historic links between the two countries.
His hosts, however, would drag him out to discuss the one subject he prefers not to talk about: Robert Mugabe.
At a press conference in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, his host President John Magufuli waxed lyrical about Mugabe – currently in Singapore receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment.
Mugabe, said Mnangagwa’s host, was in the league of African luminaries like Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Nelson Mandela and Samora Machel.
And at a dinner hosted for Mnangagwa and his delegation, Magufuli would return to the subject, saying Mugabe’s contribution to Zimbabwe and Africa “can never be understated”.
Magufuli revealed that former Tanzanian president Hassan Mwinyi, during a meeting with Mnangagwa, had pressed the Zimbabwean leader about Mugabe’s welfare amid persistent claims by his supporters that he was being mistreated by the new administration.
Mugabe himself said during a media briefing with journalists in March that his staff were routinely harassed by the military, and most of his security had been withdrawn.
At the Zanu-PF headquarters in Harare, Mugabe’s framed pictures have been pulled down and replaced with those of Mnangagwa. In the room, as Magufuli spoke, his official portrait was flanked by that of founding president Nyerere – which is the sight in all public buildings.
When Mnangagwa stood to speak, he thanked Magufuli for the invitation, recalling his days in Tanzania during the 1970s when he was among the liberation fighters hosted by the Tanzanian government.
“We used to have meetings with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in this very building (State House), there were very good lessons in the past which we must carry on,” he stated.
“Tanzania was a midwife of liberation struggles in Southern Africa and it is our obligation to pass this information to the young generation.”
He then turned to the subject his hosts had flagged enough times he could no longer avoid it. Mugabe, said Mnangagwa, was an icon with whom he had worked for 55 years.
“In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe will continue to be the Father of the Nation and an icon of the country,” he said.
He revealed that Mugabe was receiving treatment in Singapore, adding that once he was better, he would be sending a plane to pick him up and bring him home.
Mnangagwa returned home on Friday, but left for Mauritania yesterday where he will attend an African Union summit.