Zimbabwean president has the crowd eating out of his hand at the University of Fort Hare centenary celebrations
As President Jacob Zuma’s speech scrambled for a wow moment, his Zimbabwean counterpart, President Robert Mugabe, captivated the audience at the University of Fort Hare centenary celebrations on Friday with attention-grabber quotes that he has stayed on as president to prevent the Western-engineered regime change in his country.
The elderly statesman, who studied at Fort Hare in the 1950s, received a warm welcome at his former university, which he credited with having shaped his African identity and educating some of Africa’s great leaders.
He poked fun at Western powers, accusing them of attempting to effect regime change in African states to serve their colonial interests. With the audience inside the venue eating out of his hand, Mugabe said countries such as the US, UK and France always wanted to interfere.
“America has been open about it. They said they can change regimes. And in Zimbabwe they said we will have a regime change. I said never, ever! And that is one of the reasons I have stuck on,” he said.
Mugabe said that since his days at Fort Hare during the colonial years, Africans have had to consistently prove that they had the same mental capabilities as other races. “The university played a critical role in shaping the political consciousness of young Africans such as the late Oliver Tambo, [former president] Nelson Mandela, Duma Nokwe and others. They fought tirelessly for the liberation of this country and Mandela sacrificed 27 years in jail at Robben Island,” Mugabe said.
He added that Mandela did not regret staying in prison all those years, but said freedom and equality must be for all. “That is what must be recognised. Equality for all must not just be political, it must also be economic equality,” he said to loud cheers, adding that the university had been a breeding ground of excellence.
However, many of the current generation of students were outside the venue, daring the authorities by blocking the main campus gate in Alice and burning mattresses, trees and tyres in defiance of an urgent court interdict that the university sought at the Bhisho High Court on Thursday to prevent protests and disruptions.
This forced police to usher dignitaries and guests through an alternative entrance at the back. Students were demanding an increase of the financial aid package for poor students’ fees and meals. They also condemned the money spent on the centenary, saying most of them went to sleep hungry.
Plodding through his poorly scripted speech, Zuma lambasted the growing pattern of destroying property in the country and in Fort Hare during protests, drawing reluctant applause from the fatigued audience.
“Students must reflect and think deeply about whose interests they are serving when they go all out to destroy their future and the future of their country. Burning schools, libraries and university buildings means burning the future. History will judge those who burn university buildings and schools very harshly.”
Zuma said claims that people resorted to violent protest because this was the language government understood were mistaken and that such a view did not take the country forward. His remarks also targeted the unprecedented torching of 25 schools in Vuwani, Limpopo, during violent protests over the demarcation of municipal borders.
“There can be no justification of violence and anarchy, especially in a country where people have freedom of speech and expression, and where government has formal programmes of engaging the people. We have a responsibility as leaders to ensure that our hard-won freedom and democracy are defended and protected from those with sinister agendas, who wish to sow mayhem and undermine our hard-won freedom and democracy,” Zuma said.
According to Bulali Rawana, Students’ Representative Council president at Fort Hare, at least 14 students were arrested for the violence on Wednesday night and briefly appeared at the Alice Magistrates’ Court on Thursday morning. The students, three of whom were female, were charged with theft, public violence and malicious damage to property. They were denied bail and will appear in court again on May 27.
Other dignitaries at the event included African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, several Cabinet ministers, Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle, parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbethe, as well as Fort Hare vice-chancellor Dr Mvuyo Tom and alumnus Makhenkesi Stofile.