USA: Condi vs the President; Condoleezza Rice, the New US Secretary of State, Has Been Called Many Things in Recent Years, but Being Described by Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, as "That Girl Born out of the Slave Ancestry" Appears to Have Taken the Insults Two Bars Too High. Leslie Goff in Washington DC and Tom Mbakwe in London Report on the Repercussions of the Spat between Condi and Mugabe

Article excerpt

President Robert Mugabe might as well have called Condoleezza Rice, the new US secretary of state, a nigger when he described her recently as "that girl born out of the slave ancestry, who should know from the history of slavery in America, from the present situation of blacks in America, that the white man is not a friend."

African-Americans know the white man has not been their friend since the first of them arrived in America 386 years ago as slaves, but many find Mugabe's comment highly insulting.

Condoleezza Rice (Condi for short) has been called many things while serving George W. Bush as a national security adviser between 2001 and 2004, and now as secretary of state, the first black woman to hold the post. But Mugabe's comment appears to have taken the insults two bars too high.

Because Condi has chosen to serve a conservative Republican administration that appears determined to reverse gains achieved by African-Americans in recent years, many of them have denounced her and some have even compared her to "Beulah" and "Aunt Jemima", black maids and nannies from American TV and literature that cared for their white employers better than they cared for their own families. But harsh as many African-Americans have been on Rice, most draw the line at President Mugabe's description of her as "that girl born out of the slave ancestry".

"He is trying to degrade African-Americans by talking about her as a girl of slave ancestry," complains Alan Peters, a 24-year old African-American student in New York State. "What he is saying is that 'I'm an African, I'm superior, I'm not a slave. Africans are not slaves'. He's trying to say we, African-Americans, are the stupid ones. Who is this guy to say this? These are his own people who went into slavery."

Keisha Washington, 62, a nurse raised in the American South during segregation, agrees: "I think it was an insult, a big insult. It should never have been said. He owes an apology to her. But I guess she will never get it. Even if she was born of African slavery, Condoleezza Rice was one who was determined to make it good in life. I feel proud of her. She achieved."

President Mugabe was obviously irked by Condi's description of Zimbabwe, at her confirmation hearing in the US Congress in January, as one of the six remaining "outposts of tyranny". The other "outposts", according to her, are Belarus, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea.

Condi's remark forced Zimbabwe's foreign minister, Stan Mudenge, to invite her to Zimbabwe to "see things for herself". After a month of no-reply from Condi, Mugabe went on the offensive when launching his party's electoral campaign on 11 February.

"That girl born out of the slave ancestry," the president said, "who should know from the history of slavery in America, from the present situation of blacks in America, that the white man is not a friend. She says Zimbabwe is one of the five or six outposts of tyranny. Ah well, she has got to echo her master's voice. The white man is the slave master to her."

If Zimbabwe were indeed a tyranny, Mugabe argued, "the first person to lose his head would be Ian Smith", the Rhodesian prime minister whose government fought a bitter war with the African nationalists who wanted black majority rule in Zimbabwe, led by Joshua Nkomo and Mugabe.

"We have kept him [Ian Smith] and eats our food, lives in our home comfortably and is protected by our rule of law and order. He enjoys the comfort of Zimbabwe, he can travel ... He writes books freely, against us even, and using that head, which, if we had been a tyrannical government, we would have long taken off. How many countries would have done what we did?" Mugabe asked, adding that Ian Smith enjoys "charity, generosity, kindness and forgiveness in our house".

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In fact, from what is happening in Zimbabwe or has happened there in recent years or since independence in 1980, (which is totally different from what is reported in the Western media or what Western politicians and governments say), Condi pushed the truth a bit too far. …

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