Ben Harding, iol (SA), Apr. 27
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe received a standing ovation as he arrived for Tuesday’s inauguration of South African President Thabo Mbeki, a party also marking 10 years of post-apartheid democracy.
South African and foreign dignitaries rose to their feet at Pretoria’s Union Buildings as the Zimbabwean leader arrived for the inauguration ceremony, accompanied by his wife Grace.
Thousands of party-goers attending a public concert on lawns below the buildings whooped and cheered as huge television screens showed Mugabe’s arrival.
“He is a hero as far as the African struggle is concerned. He has done so much to liberate the African people. We know the problems that are going on in Zimbabwe, but they will bounce back,” said Ludwe Solwandle, a 27-year-old businessman who joined in cheering Mugabe’s arrival.
Mugabe was among a selected group of African heads of state invited for Tuesday’s inauguration, which coincided with celebrations of South Africa’s historic all-race elections in 1994 that ended centuries of white rule in the country.
Other headline guests at the event included the presidents of Nigeria, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well the two men who guided South Africa’s transformation in 1994 — FW de Klerk, the country’s last white president, and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, its first black one.
Mugabe — accused of political repression at home after his re-election in 2002 polls described as rigged by domestic opponents and some Western countries — has been the centre of a media controversy since arriving in South Africa on Sunday.
South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma confirmed that at least one South African hotel had refused to host the controversial Zimbabwean leader — although she said he did not want to stay there anyway.
“It seemed to us that the feeling was mutual,” Dlamini-Zuma said on SABC television on Tuesday.
“The (Zimbabwean) mission didn’t want him to go there, but the establishment didn’t want him to go there because of the previous experience with the media… I don’t think there’s going to be any row.”
Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to South Africa Simon Moyo on Monday blasted South African media reports that the 80-year-old Mugabe had been turned down by two South African hotels.
“President Mugabe was offered three hotels and a guest house to choose from. He preferred a guest house,” Moyo told the South African Press Agency, accusing local media of being “abuzz with distortion and falsehoods”.
“The fact is that President Mugabe is jubilant to be in South Africa,” Moyo said.