Zimbabwe Tuesday admonished Western diplomats for walking out on President Robert Mugabe during the burial of his sister Sabina after he launched a blistering attack on the United States and its European allies, further precipitating the already frosty relations between Harare and the West.
The diplomats walked out after President Mugabe launched a tirade, telling the US and its allies to go “to hell” for their sanctions.
Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi summoned three Western ambassadors and, one by one, read them the riot act – warning them against attending national events if they were not prepared to follow protocol.
Protocol dictated that they should have stayed until the end of the proceedings and President Mugabe’s departure.
The diplomats — US Ambassador Charles Ray, Albrecht Conze of Germany and European Union Charge d’affaires, Barbara Plinkett – refused to be cowed and stood by their walkout saying they had “acted accordingly”.
Earlier yesterday morning, the diplomats had called a press conference scheduled for 1530 hours, to explain their weekend walkout, but Mumbengegwi summoned them to his Munhumutapa offices at 1500 hours.
“I have summoned you to convey our concern and disappointment over your conduct on Sunday 01 August 2010 during the burial of the late heroine Cde Sabina Mugabe,” said Mumbengegwi to the diplomats.
“We observed that you left shortly after the President had just delivered his speech and before the heroine had been laid to rest despite the fact that the programme had been availed to you.”
The minister said the diplomats were supposed to leave after burial and the departure of the President.
“Your conduct was therefore very disrespectful to our National Heroes’ Shrine, the heroine who was being honoured and His Excellency the President,” said Mumbengegwi. “We are disappointed that you chose such a sad occasion to show your disrespect for Zimbabwe, its leaders, its fallen heroes and its people.”
“This kind of behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. If you decide to attend such functions in future, you are expected to show respect and observe the protocol befitting these important occasions.”
The diplomats said they were not given a chance to reply there and then. They called a press conference at the American Embassy immediately after leaving Mumbengegwi’s office.
They hit back at Mumbengegwi accusing him of “making matters worse by exacerbating a problem created by the Zimbabwean side, rather than attempting to put it behind us.”
Reading from a prepared statement, Conze said: “I had been invited by your protocol to attend last Sunday’s State funeral.
“I followed the invitation in order to pay my last respects. I earned disrespect in return.