Zimbabwe has the corpse of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes while South Africa has his statue, said Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe on Wednesday.
“We in Zimbabwe had forgotten about Cecil Rhodes until South Africa said it has his statue in Cape Town, where he was the minister of the Cape and mischievously wanted to also take control of Zimbabwe,” said Mugabe.
“We have his corpse, you can keep his statue,” he added, causing South African President Jacob Zuma and the twenty cabinet ministers from both governments to break in laughter.
Mugabe arrived in South Africa on Tuesday on an official visit, accompanied by ten of his cabinet ministers and his wife Grace.
Rhodes’ statue, situated within the campus of the University of Cape Town, has been the subject of national dialogue after students staged protests, demanding that it be removed.
This was followed by protests and the defacing of other statues of colonialists and apartheid-era figures across the country.
Rhodes is buried at the “View of the World” hill in the Matopo district in Zimbabwe, reportedly in keeping with his final will.
Mugabe said Zimbabwe was looking after Rhodes. “I don’t know what you want us to do with him…do you think we should dig him up? …but perhaps his spirit may rise again. We have decided to keep him down there,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mugabe defended his government’s drive to take majority control of foreign-owned mining companies, saying investors must pay for exploiting Africa’s mineral wealth.
In his first state visit to neighbouring South Africa in two decades, 91-year-old Mugabe was scathing of mining firms that criticised a law obliging foreign-owned firms to sell at least 51 percent to black Zimbabweans.
“You’re leaving holes in my country and you want to say the capital is more valuable?” Mugabe told reporters after trade talks with South African President Jacob Zuma.
“The gold that I have, God given gold, is much more beneficial to my country,” he added, drawing applause from Zimbabwean and South African government ministers.
Impala Platinum, Anglo American Platinum and London-listed Aquarius Platinum are among foreign firms operating in Zimbabwe, which has significant reserves of platinum, diamonds and gold.
Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s only leader since independence from Britain in 1980 and one of Africa’s most divisive figures, was also defiant on the seizure of white owned commercial farms for redistribution to blacks.
Land is an emotive issue also in South Africa, where most of it remains in white hands since apartheid ended two decades ago despite the ruling party’s efforts at redistribution.
Western countries have withheld financial aid to Harare in protest over Mugabe’s policies and charges he has rigged elections to stay in power, worsening an economic crisis that has driven millions of Zimbabweans to South Africa for jobs.
During an hour-long, unscripted speech, Mugabe attacked the “reckless and brutal approach of the West” towards Africa and the Middle East, lampooning former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and describing the United Nations as a “circus”. Southern Eye