THE RECENT political gaffe by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe that Jamaican men are "drunkards", forever "lighting up" with marijuana and that Zimbabweans should avoid visiting the country, has rightly evoked a stinging response from prime minister Portia Simspon Miller for being "misguided and disrespectful" to the people of her nation, and Jamaican men in particular.
She said that regardless of whether Muagabe's remarks were spoken "in jest" they were "grossly unfortunate, misguided, disrespectful and untrue...
The prime minister's sharp rebuttal followed an earlier brief telephone conversation that this correspondent had with Jamaica's Foreign Affairs and foreign trade minister, AJ Nicholson.
In what could well be regarded as a charitable response from the foreign minister, who was due to leave yesterday for Cuba, he had stated:
"I prefer to regard what President Mugabe said as misguided statements expressed by a wayward brother in the winter of his years", declared minister Nicholson in a brief telephone conversation we had this past week.
Charitable response indeed, from Nicholson, a former attorney general of Jamaica and quite familiar with the country's relations not just with Zimbabwe but the African continent as a whole.
But for his understandably angry prime minister and leader of the governing People's National Party (PNP), President Mugabe was quite insulting to the many thousands of Jamaican men who, in addition to being "outstanding citizen" were also "excellent fathers and professionals...."
As is widely known, perhaps more than any other single member state of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), leading political, cultural and academic personalities from Jamaica have been quite consistent and fervent in influencing support for Zimbabwe and its leader, Mugabe, prior to and since independence from Britain in April 1980.
Think, for instance, of the inspirational lyrics and joyful performances of the legendary Bob Marley and the militant support that successive PNP governments in Kingston, particularly under Michael Manley's leadership, and readers beyond the Caribbean region would be startled to learn of the very unkind and unprovoked criticisms against Jamaicans uttered by the once revered Zimbabwean revolutionary freedom fighter -- President Mugabe.
For the now octogenarian Head of State of the Southern African nation he has been ruling by recurring rigged elections and political repression, Mugabe's verbal swipes at Jamaicans came in a radio broadcast .
According to an early "clarification" sought by Jamaica's foreign ministry, Mugabe's jeering, scathing criticisms of Jamaicans and Jamaica did not form part of his lengthy written address at a university event as reported by Zimbabwe's "Nehanda Radio". Nevertheless, his comments were "quite surprising" and unnecessary.
Surprising? It was indeed shocking, coming from the President of Zimbabwe who was honoured with the "Order of Jamaica" in 1996 while on a state visit to this CARICOM member country.
Now, in the "winter of his years" (to quote foreign minister Nicholson), Mugabe seems to have conveniently forgotten Bob Marley's famous "Zimbabwe lyrics" he once enthusiastically embraced, and the hugs he cherished from the "natty dread brethren" who kept showing up to entertain the government and people of Zimbabwe.
'Not Zimbabweans view'
In my telephone conversation with minister Nicholson, he remarked that he did not wish to "make too much of President Mugabe's unflattering comments....
"I prefer to regard what he said as misguided statements, expressed by a wayward brother in the winter of his years. The Jamaica government and the people of Jamaica know that those negative comments by Mugabe do not represent the feelings of the people of Zimbabwe nor those of the other nations of Africa...."
Jamaican writers and scholars may not be so gracious. Indeed, Horace Campbell, author of "Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney", had observed in his much hailed "Reclaiming Zimbabwe" in 2003 as Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University in New York:
"Zimbabwe's promise of liberation, democracy, majority rule and renewal has been shattered by executive lawlessness; state-sponsored violence and military intervention.... (amid) the wretched conditions of millions of Zimbabweans...."
Given the continuing controversies inside Zimbabwe over undemocratic governance and political corruption under his rule, perhaps Mugabe should consider doing himself and the Zimbabwean people a favour by relinquishing the presidency and assist his biographer (s) in avoiding the misrepresentations of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean people as he did in his blunder against Jamaicans and Jamaica.