Former South African President Nelson Mandela has brought a quiet feud with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe into the open, urging Zimbabwe’s people to take up arms against the “tyrants” who rule.
Ordinary people, Mr. Mandela said, should depose leaders who enrich themselves at the expense of their countrymen by “picking up rifles and fighting for liberation.”
Speaking in Johannesburg at the inception of a new UNICEF initiative for impoverished children on Saturday, Mr. Mandela departed from his prepared text to level the unusual broadside.
In the process, he has placed himself at odds with his successor, President Thabo Mbeki, who has publicly embraced Mr. Mugabe in an effort to end a wave of violence in advance of elections for Zimbabwe’s parliament.
Mr. Mandela said South Africa was committed to diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, in which supporters of Mr. Mugabe have beaten and killed opposition-party supporters and seized all or part of more than 1,000 white-owned farms.
But he also said ordinary people were not bound by the diplomacy of South Africa and other nations.
“That is the lesson of history. The tyrants of today can be destroyed by you, and I am confident that you have the capacity to do so,” Mr. Mandela said.
Asked whether the remarks were directed at Mr. Mugabe, he replied: “Everybody knows who I am talking about.”
About 4,000 white farmers have held one-third of Zimbabwe’s most fertile lands since before British colonial rule ended in 1965.
In the so-called Lancaster House accords of 1980, Britain and the nation’s black independence leaders agreed that after 20 years, the farms could be redistributed to landless blacks, with the consent of whites and adequate compensation to be paid by London.
The redistribution has long been under way but, instead of going to landless blacks, much of it wound up in the hands of well-to-do, well-connected blacks.
So Britain balked on paying compensation.
Mr. Mandela and Mr. Mbeki also differ on Britain’s response to Mr. Mugabe’s land grab, namely to suspend all new export licenses for arms and military equipment to Zimbabwe and to halt the supply of 450 Land Rovers to Mr. Mugabe.
The British say Mr. Mandela supports their policy. Mr. Mbeki is critical, but the British believe his public remarks mask his real feelings.
Mr. Mandela’s call for Mr. Mugabe’s ouster was rejected by Mr. Mbeki, who has urged a softer approach to the crisis and solidarity among Zimbabwe’s neighbors in southern Africa.
Immediately after Mr. Mandela’s remarks, Parks Mankhahlana, Mr. Mbeki’s spokesman, said: “That is Mr. Mandela’s view. Mr. Mbeki has explained his position.”
Herman Nickel, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa, said in a telephone interview: “Mr. Mandela’s call for the overthrow of tyrants is clearly in contrast with the pronouncements and show of friendship toward the Zimbabwean leader by Mr. Mbeki.
“When Mr. Mandela went to London, [Prime Minister Tony] Blair issued a statement noting that the former South African president supported the British position on Zimbabwe.”
Britain has pledged to contribute to compensation to the white farmers provided the illegal farm occupations stop.
Asked how he viewed Mr. Mandela’s remarks, Mr. Nickel said, “Mr. Mandela has always been his own man and at times a bit of a loose cannon.”
Reports of a feud between Mr. Mandela and Mr. Mugabe two of the continent’s best-known leaders of liberation movements against white domination have long been whispered. However, Mr. Mandela’s latest remarks are believed to be the first time either has so openly criticized the other.
For Mr. Mandela, Mr. Mugabe represents a type of African independence leader who fought successfully for independence, then drifted toward tyranny by clinging to power, said Joseph Sala, a former State Department official who served in the region.
Mr. Mandela did the opposite, assuming the leadership of his nation and then stepping down after one term in office.
“There are leaders in Africa … who have made enormous wealth, leaders who once commanded liberation armies. But rubbing shoulders with the rich, the powerful, the wealthy has made some leaders despise the very people who put them in power, and they think it is their privilege to be there for eternity,” Mr. Mandela said in Saturday’s speech.
Mr. Mbeki, meanwhile, is preparing for a two-day summit next week in London with Mr. Blair.
Mr. Mankhahlana, the South African president’s spokesman, said it was critical for the British to hear the voices of the southern African leaders.
After the recent meeting between Mr. Blair and Mr. Mandela, a senior British official suggested that Mr. Mandela was speaking with Mr. Mbeki’s blessing.
“He is free to say what everybody feels. Do not underestimate how tough Mbeki is in private talks with Mugabe,” the official told a British newspaper.
Mr. Mbeki is also reported to have offered Mr. Mugabe a deal: Public backing by southern African leaders for a land-resettlement deal in exchange for the calling off the confrontation.