Jimmy Carter photo

Meeting With Prime Minister Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe Remarks at a White House Reception.

August 27, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Prime Minister, Ambassador McHenry, former Ambassador Andrew Young, distinguished leaders of our Nation and of the new Republic of Zimbabwe, and friends of Zimbabwe from throughout the United States:

This is an exciting time in our country's history and the history of the world, and we're delighted to have you, Mr. Prime Minister, here with us.

On all too rare occasions, there is achieved a result which thrills the entire world, based on decency, based on freedom, based on independence, based on equality, and based on human courage. The independence of Zimbabwe is the result of all those factors. And the small role that our Nation played in the support of these efforts for freedom and independence and for equality and for elimination of racial discrimination is indeed gratifying to me and to the 240 million people that I represent.

In the past few months and years, the leadership of people like Andy Young and Don McHenry in our country has helped to shape and to change opinion among the American populace in support of this notable achievement. And the admiration, Mr. Prime Minister, for your courage over long and sometimes lonely years under the most difficult possible circumstances is a feeling which I share with millions of Americans who admire you very deeply.

I want to congratulate you on the acceptance of Zimbabwe as a new member of the United Nations, on your tremendous speech on that occasion which exemplified the principles and ideals of your own life and also of proving already that you are the leader not only of a great new republic but a notable world leader exemplifying the finest aspects of humanity.

I might say that you have also been invited here, because I want to observe very closely the techniques that you have used in your successful political effort. [Laughter] I think we underdogs have to stick together. [Laughter] And I have been observing, as a matter of fact, your progress in the brief time you've spent in our own country.

You have accepted membership in the United Nations. You've made a notable address to the U.N. General Assembly. You had a remarkable political rally in Harlem. [Laughter] You've already been on "The MacNeil/Lehrer Report." [Laughter] You've had a notable performance on "Meet the Press." I've seen very favorable and supportive editorials in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post- [laughter] —building up additional political and economic support for your country from our Nation, and you've also dined with some of the major business leaders in our country. You had congressional leaders there, particularly the Black Caucus, and you had lunch with Secretary Muskie. Before I had a chance to meet with you, you had already marshaled all the support on your side so that it was impossible for us to find very many differences between us. [Laughter]

This is a very fine opportunity for our Nation to get to know you better and to let you know how deeply we share your pride in what has been accomplished. But we have come to expect this kind of dynamism, this kind of sensitivity, this kind of leadership, this kind of political acumen from Prime Minister Mugabe.

You're the kind of person who rejects orthodoxy when the maintenance of the status quo is an obstacle to progress. You're a leader who has probed other nations and other societies for new ideas and new concepts that might provide the basis for good investments, for a better life for your own people. You've already become a leader among other African leaders, struggling for great things among the people of that continent and for the end of discrimination and apartheid and the enhancement of independence among all the nations of Africa.

We know that the road to liberation has been very difficult for the people of Zimbabwe. There has been too much bloodshed. There has been too much division. There's been too much economic deprivation. The first 140 days of your own administration has been a notable example of the alleviation of tension, the assuaging of unwarranted fears, and a description of a possible future for the people of your country which inspires confidence, unity, and hope.

Your nation has been blessed by very fine national resources; mineral deposits not even yet explored, certainly not exploited; productive land, the potential of which has not nearly been reached; eager, well-trained, highly motivated people who want to work in a sense of peace for future progress. But I think perhaps one of the greatest assets is the wisdom and the courage and the knowledge of the people which you express in your own character and in your own commitments.

I think the greatness of any nation is measured not just in material things, not even what it possesses, but what it stands for. And I'm very proud as an American to realize that the principles and ideals of our two countries, as exemplified by you and your new government, are very similar, perhaps even identical.

In this sense, there are strong parallels between our two countries. We've both learned that the path to social justice is not an easy one. Our Nation had been in existence for many generations before we finally were able to eliminate the legal discrimination against the black people of our country. That was not an easy path to follow. And some of those, even on the platform with me, who were instrumental in that major breakthrough in human decency and equality were also not coincidentally involved in the breakthrough toward decency and equality in your own new nation.

We've also learned that a nation faced with great challenges, if united, can prevail and that justice can indeed be established. We've learned that the best road to progress is through peace, through the respecting of different views and different concerns, and the forging in a common effort of a future based on principles and ideals which, in a changing world, do not change.

Some have asked me as President, "Why do you take such an interest in Africa? Your predecessors never did." I believe this is one of the great opportunities for our Nation, not only to beneficially affect the lives of many others who've been deprived too long but to give a new depth and a new dimension to the lives of Americans and a new pride in the beneficial extension of the principles of which I'm so proud in our country. A deeper answer perhaps, or one equivalent, can be found in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., written by him during our own struggle for civil rights. "Injustice anywhere," he said, "is a threat to justice everywhere."

The peaceful transition of Zimbabwe to popular majority rule is the strongest affirmation of our own human rights policy. Human rights is not an idle concept. It's not a dormant concept. It's not one that ever sleeps. It's a burning, vital issue, not only in governments but in the hearts and minds of human beings throughout the world. It's a testament to hard work, and it involves the courage of great men. And I would say that the essence of human rights, as exemplified by our own country, has been expressed in the recent careers, in fact the longstanding careers, of two men behind me on this platform, and that is Andrew Young and Don McHenry.

In closing, let me say that they never let me forget— [laughter] —your struggle, Mr. Prime Minister, and they never let the Members of Congress forget the burning issues involved. It required some political courage on the part of many Members of our Congress to make votes which were quite often contrary to the majority opinion of the American people, but because of the courage of Andy Young and Don McHenry and the Congress, the opinion of the American people changed and became extremely supportive of the effort that finally resulted in success.

We stood with the sanctions against the former oppressive government; we stood with the forces of liberation and justice. And today we stand with Zimbabwe's efforts toward economic development and toward stability in your own country and the realization of the legitimate hopes and dreams of the people whom you lead.

I had not had a chance to meet with Prime Minister Mugabe until today, but I feel that we have been, in the past and will be for many years, on the same road. We've begun to chart an equally hopeful course for our future mutual relationships and for the realization of the dreams and the hopes and the ideals of all our people.

After Prime Minister Mugabe responds, he would like to stand in the Blue Room and to have all of you come by, and you can express on behalf of the people of our country the same sentiments that I have expressed as the leader of our country.

Mr. Prime Minister, we would be delighted to hear from you.

THE PRIME MINISTER. Mr. President, Lady Carter, ladies and gentlemen:

This is a moment when I feel I must make reference to one ancient fighter, but reverse him, for he fought for imperialism. I indeed came, I saw, I was conquered. [Laughter]

I feel really conquered, overwhelmed by the support that I've received the whole way through since my arrival in the United States, support from all quarters. At every stage when I've had occasion to meet the people of the United States, this spontaneous welcome that I've enjoyed, the words of praise and the warmth of friendship have indeed been overwhelming. Mr. President, may I thank you, as I thank your people, for the support given me and given my newly independent Republic of Zimbabwe.

When we decided to take up arms in order to bring about change in our country, we were doing so out of a commitment to definite principles, which principles you had fought for, established, and consolidated in the United States: the principle of a democratic society, the principle of nonracialism and equality, the principle that a society which divides itself into groups of people on the basis of race is anathema to humanity. And these principles you had enshrined in your own Constitution. We fought, therefore, to overthrow an evil system based on racialism. It was a colonial system, one which had been imposed by history on us, and one which had brought about a great deal of suffering amongst our people.

When we took to arms it was not because we wanted to see blood flowing in our streets. We did so because there was no alternative, and as I said yesterday in my address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, we had to resort to war in order to bring about peace, using war as a means for achieving peace. You had done it here with pride, and we felt we could do it with pride and emerge at the end of it with a democratic society.

We have done it; not alone, Mr. President, but with the help that came from all quarters of the international community. And here may I also, in the same way as you paid tribute to me and to the people of Zimbabwe, pay equal tribute to your administration, Mr. President, and to the people of the United States who in our hour of need came to our support. It may not have been obvious to the rest of the world, but it was quite obvious to some of us that in your administration here we had a true friend.

The bitterest period of our war was indeed the last 3 years. It was during this period that we had massacres of all kinds, that we had the frontline states being harassed and bombed and their populations suffering as much as our people were suffering. These were the very bitter years of our struggle.

It was during that period we relied on you to continue to argue for sanctions against the settler regime of Ian Smith to continue. It was upon you we relied to effectively block the internal settlement which had started brewing in Salisbury, and in partnership with you we tried to negotiate against the internal settlement for a constitutional agreement which would have brought about the independence that we now enjoy.

I remember those days when, with Andy Young and Don McHenry here and later with Cyrus Vance in Dar-es-Salaam, we battled to reach agreement, to get a compromise between the British side and our side. It was not possible at the time to conclude the discussion, because there wasn't, in Britain, the presence of an authority which would have effected a decision in Salisbury. But you did your best. You couldn't have gone to the extent of assuming the authority of an administering power and thereby usurping the authority of Britain in order to bring about change.

We admire you for the efforts that you showed, and we admire you for the stand that you took, which was, as we saw it, a kind of solo effort in a situation which threatened to reverse the good work that the United States had done when, last year, there was the threat in the Senate to lift the ban on sanctions which, I take it, would have led to the recognition of the internal settlement in the country. But the President stood firm, stood firm on a matter of principle, and I think today those who would have reversed the decision must be men who admire him as much as we admire him.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, as an independent Republic of Zimbabwe we cannot say that we have achieved every goal that we set about to achieve. We have achieved only some of our primary goals. The goal of independence has been achieved, but we view our independence now as a process which is destined to lead us to attainment of the socio-economic goals we have set ourselves.

We have established the theme of reconciliation in the context of this independence in order to enhance that independence, rather than detract from it. We believe, as you have believed for years, that after civil strife, after the loss of many lives, men must agree to achieve peace; that once peace has been attained there is no longer any need to be vindictive, because the peace has been achieved; and that peace then becomes an instrument that enables us to harness the totality of our population, regardless of race, color, or creed, in a new phase that is aimed at achieving the goals that our people expect us to work for.

And so, today we say even to Ian Smith, who, as you are aware, caused so much suffering, even to Ian Smith, who was capable of so much illegality—we called it treason at the time— [laughter] —that he too is acceptable to us. He too is free to choose to live with us, but live with us as a friend who has learned from history, as a man of peace, not a man of war. And reconciliation to us therefore means that there is a preparedness on the part of those who have been victorious, a magnanimity to accept those who stand defeated and have lost in the battle for justice which we fought for, that there is need on the part of those who fought for an unjust society, for the maintenance of the racial society, to accept the objectives of the new government. If there is that responsiveness from their side to the magnanimity that the new government offers, then there is the necessary rapport between us of the nature that can unite us into one nation with a single loyalty.

This is our belief. It was your belief yesterday. We would want to believe that we also enjoy that belief because you, having established a democratic society, have made it impossible [possible] 1 to learn from you some of the golden ideals that go into creating a truly humanitarian entity in our society.

1 White House correction.

Mr. Chairman—Mr. President- [laughter] —let me once again repeat how touched I am by the warmth of friendship that I've found in the United States. I'll return home in full belief that here in the United States we have friends and allies who can assist us in consolidating our independence in the same way as they have assisted us in achieving that independence; that our hand of friendship, which we have extended to the people of the United States, is in response to the hand of friendship they have extended to us during the years of our bitter struggle; and that between our two countries and our two peoples there is true amity, there is that depth of feeling which makes us true allies.

It is this admiration we have of the people of the United States and of you personally, Mr. President, which leads me to wish you well in the race you are running.

Ladies and gentlemen, the race he's running is, unfortunately, in the United States. I'm sure if he was running it in our territory he would be assured of victory.

He asked for a tip. [Laughter] I didn't have a tip. I had a crowing cock. [Laughter] I don't know whether you would want us to give you that emblem, for indeed you are the cock of the United States. [Laughter]

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, may I say thank you for all the support you have given us. May I say, Mr. President, thank you for all the support that I have received since my arrival here, which really is a continuation of the support you have given us all along.

We are one people, bound together by our common ideals and our need to improve the lot of our people. We believe in the same democratic principles. May these continue to tie us together. But more than that, may the friendship that we have established hitherto continue to exist.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:52 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Meeting With Prime Minister Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe Remarks at a White House Reception. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251996

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