THE severed relations between Botswana President Ian Khama and President Robert Mugabe played out in the open at the just-ended 34th Sadc Heads of State and Government Summit in Victoria Falls when the Gaborone leader snubbed Mugabe’s official opening and closing remarks.
Although reasons for Khama’s absence at the two sessions were not disclosed to the public, NewsDay is reliably informed that the Botswana leader was avoiding being publicly humiliated by Mugabe.
The two leaders, who incidentally were elected Sadc chair and deputy respectively, have had an uneasy working relationship over the past decade with Khama labelling Mugabe as “illegitimately elected”.
During the official opening, Khama was represented by his Trade and Industry minister Dorcus Makgato-Malesu while Finance minister Kenneth O Matambo attended Mugabe’s closing speech.
Sources close to the developments told NewsDay that Khama jetted into the resort town on Sunday morning and was at the Elephants Hills Hotel, the venue of the summit, at around 11 am when Mugabe was about to officially open the summit.
Khama went straight to his hotel room and only surfaced for a Head of States group photo session after the official opening of the summit.
He then attended the Heads of State meeting that ended on Monday afternoon and immediately left before Mugabe officially closed the summit.
However, Foreign Affairs secretary Ambassador Joey Bimha yesterday played down the alleged tiff saying there was nothing unusual about what Khama did as he always came late at all Sadc summits.
“He came late and he attended the most important session of the summit. He always does that at summits,” Bimha said.
As if to confirm the bad blood between the two leaders, the Botswana Embassy in Harare reportedly snubbed government-owned CMED chauffer vehicles for Khama’s delegation and instead hired escort vehicles from a private safari operator in Victoria Falls.
Bimha again defended the decision, saying the Botswana delegation was bigger and the private vehicles were for use by other additional delegates.
“All Heads of State are provided with security requirements for their officials,” Bimba said.
But a source close to the developments said: “President Khama also expressed dismay that the regional bloc would now be led by Zimbabwe, [a country] with a soiled human rights record.”
Khama has often crossed swords with Mugabe for labelling Zanu PF as undemocratic. But Mugabe has on many occasions hit back, describing Khama as a political novice and an agent of the West.
Khama once appeared on his country’s national television saying Botswana would no longer be part of future Sadc election observer missions and that sitting Heads of State should, contrary to an African Union resolution, face trial at The Hague for human rights violations.
This was after he blasted Sadc and the AU for endorsing Zimbabwe’s July 31 harmonised elections which he described as heavily flawed.