Tony Blair’s Government asked South Africa to help Britain invade Zimbabwe and topple Robert Mugabe by force, Thabo Mbeki, the former president, has claimed.
When Zimbabwe began sinking into economic collapse and political repression in 2000, South Africa and Britain held starkly different views over how to respond to the crisis. Mr Mbeki favoured a negotiated settlement; Mr Blair wanted Mr Mugabe to go, by force if necessary.
“The problem was, we were speaking from different positions,” said Mr Mbeki, who served as South Africa’s president from 1999 until 2008. “There were other people saying ‘yes indeed there are political problems, economic problems, the best way to solve them is regime change. So Mugabe must go’. This was the difference. So they said ‘Mugabe must go’. But we said ‘Mugabe is part of the solution to this problem’.” Mr Mbeki recalled an interview given by Lord Guthrie, who was Chief of the Defence Staff and Britain’s most senior soldier throughout Mr Blair’s first government.
In 2007, Lord Guthrie disclosed that “people were always trying to get me to look at” toppling Mr Mugabe by force. He did not say whether these requests had come from the Prime Minister himself. In any event, Lord Guthrie said that his advice was: “Hold hard, you'll make it worse” - suggesting that the idea was never a serious proposition.