London, Jun 26: Former South African President Nelson Mandela has broken his silence on the Zimbabwe crisis to condemn the "tragic failure of leadership" in the violence-torn country. Mandela did not issue any specific call for action, and did not criticise by name Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, a fellow activist from the days of the struggle against White minority rule.
But in his statement, read out at a fundraising dinner on Wednesday (June 25) night in Hyde Park for his 90th birthday, he made clear the depth of his feelings on the matter, The Independent reported. After speaking of his "sadness" about the conflict in Darfur, he said: "Nearer to home, we had seen the outbreak of violence against fellow Africans in our own country and the tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe." It was Mandela's first statement since Zimbabwe's March 29 elections, which triggered a wave of "electoral cleansing" by Robert Mugabe's supporters after he came a humiliating second in the presidential contest against his opposition challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change.
Among the guests in Hyde Park were British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former US President Bill Clinton, who also spoke, as well as Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, and many of the stars who act as ambassadors for Mandela's charities.
Mandela, who is in Britain for a week-long visit in advance of his 90th birthday next month, mentioned Zimbabwe only briefly, calling on his audience to reach out to the "poor, vulnerable and marginalized" in society.
In the audience were Will Smith, and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, classical singer Katherine Jenkins, and former James Bond star, Pierce Brosnan.
The television presenter Oprah Winfrey, campaigner Bob Geldof and actor Robert de Niro were also in attendance.
Many of the guests will return to the park on Friday for a charity concert in Mandela's honour, featuring performances from Queen, Leona Lewis and Annie Lennox.
However, absent from the bill will be the supermodel Naomi Campbell, following her conviction for air rage.