Imagine Madiba taking on Robert Mugabe

Watching TV footage of celebrations marking Madiba's 90th birthday, one felt your soul groaning with pain. Not many people, let alone Africans, would begrudge Nelson Mandela any kind of celebration.

Watching TV footage of celebrations marking Madiba's 90th birthday, one felt your soul groaning with pain. Not many people, let alone Africans, would begrudge Nelson Mandela any kind of celebration.

He is the ultimate African icon.

Anyone who believes that this can be overdone is a political sourpuss, a wet blanket, a spoilsport.

All I could not excuse was the energy with which all this was conducted the last time around. Madiba must have struggled to put on a happy face. He really ought to have been allowed to take it easy, not to stand up or to speak.

But Africa sorely needs Madiba's presence to remind all African leaders that this man, who blazed a trail as leader of a country once torn by racism, introduced political tolerance that would bring peace to Africa and even the world if all who aspire to leadership emulated his example.

One analyst recently wondered what might have happened if Mandela had decided to serve his two terms as president of South Africa.

"He would eventually have given Robert Mugabe short shrift," he said. "He was always going to be tougher with Gushungo than Thabo Mbeki could ever be," he said.

That, as they say, is water under the bridge. Yet it is worth speculating on. Had Mandela been president and engaged Mugabe over the crisis in Zimbabwe, he would not have agreed to come away with some vague promise of "unity".

Mandela would have insisted on a written undertaking from a man whose word, according to some pundits with MDC sympathies, is now as worthless as the currency over whose demise he has presided since 2000.

The theory that only Zimbabweans can solve their own problems is not to be sniffed at. But the origin of the talks that culminated in the independence agreement was in Lusaka in 1979 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm).

There were Africans, Asians, British, Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, Fijians, northand central Americans at the meeting.

At Lancaster House in London the Zimbabweans, who had been killing each other for 15 years, were joined by the British in talks that ended with a deal on independence.

So, to put it as diplomatically as possible, it was "with a little help from their friends" that Zimbabweans solved their problems.

You can imagine Zanu-PF leaders sneering at that conclusion: to them, colonialism was ended through the barrel of a gun.

What Madiba might have done to convince Mugabe to be more conciliatory could have been a reference to how long he had spent in prison, if taken side by side with the time Mugabe himself had spent in jail.

Had that failed, Mandela could always have pulled "liberation" rank on the younger man.

Had that too failed, he probably would have resorted to strategies that some might describe as "rough stuff" or "guerrilla tactics", which have always featured ambushes as their stock-in-trade.

He might have been more subtle but I have no doubt he would have convinced Mugabe that sticking to his "only God can remove me" response was not only suicidal and sacrilegious, but also highly insulting to other African leaders, including Mandela, who has the Nobel Peace Prize to show for his pains.

Mugabe used to have a number of honorary degrees but has now lost most of them. It has to be a sign from Above.

l Bill Saidi is deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe.

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