AFTER holding fire for some weeks, President Robert Mugabe eventually moved on February 19 to dismiss Information minister Jonathan Moyo for defying Zanu PF rules on primary
elections. Could Mugabe’s blow mark the end of Moyo’s short but dramatic political career or will the pastmaster of spin and spleen rise from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix? Zimbabwe Independent news editor DUMISANI MULEYA (DM) this week interviewed Moyo (JM) on a wide-range of issues. Questions & answers follow below:
DM: You were dismissed by President Robert Mugabe on February 19 after you had filed nomination papers to contest the forthcoming general as an independent candidate. Were you surprised and how did you feel?
JM: I wasn’t surprised at all. Everybody, including myself, knew that there were consequences for standing as an independent candidate in Zanu PF.
I had been warned that if I did that I would have automatically expelled myself. What I found ridiculous though was the whole notion of “self-expulsion”.
How can someone expel himself? It’s obviously an oxymoron, self-contradictory. That sort of thing has no room in a serious democracy. Zanu PF missed a glorious opportunity to self-reflect and self-correct by clinging on to a backward concept.
That action can only be defended on punitive grounds, not on a constitutional, democratic or legal basis. The whole thing was simply a confirmation that we are still living in backward times. But the good thing is that it removed a heavy burden on my shoulders.
DM: But is that not a question of sour grapes?
JM: No. I was subjected to all sorts of things after the so-called Tsholotsho Declaration, which was just an excuse by some people to settle political scores.
DM: You have kept on claiming Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy. In your view, is Zimbabwe a democracy or a tyranny?
JM: The issue is not whether it is a tyranny or a democracy. Objectively speaking, one can say Zimbabwe is a democratising society. To call it an “outpost of tyranny” is not just a malicious exaggeration but absolute madness!
DM: Well, most people, or at least your critics, think you are now down and out. Do you think you have reached a dead end?
JM: There is no question of a dead end. A human being by definition is essentially a political animal. You only go down and out politically when the creator has called you, but fortunately I haven’t been called yet. I can’t be finished because I went to school and everybody knows what I can do. We don’t need to waste time on that.
DM: Do you mean you want to go back to lecturing at universities, doing academic research and writing books?
JM: Once a writer always a writer. (Interruption (DM): Do you still believe in what you wrote in the past?) I believe in every single word I wrote.
DM: Let’s go back to 2000 where your current story begins. You were a trenchant critic of President Mugabe, Zanu PF and government. Why did you change your mind and join Zanu PF?
JM: You know, I resent the suggestion that I was a Zanu PF critic by profession. I never went to study how to be a professional, permanent and rigid Zanu PF critic.
The record will show that I’m a social scientist by education and training. There is a world of a difference between being a critical scholar and an opposition figure or activist.
I criticised Zanu PF policies, their application and practices, not President Mugabe as a person or anyone else for that matter. I don’t regret at all criticising things like the one-party state, slow land redistribution, Esap, the judiciary, the role of NGOs, and opposition parties.
I did not change in order to join Zanu PF but I moved from being a social analyst to policymaker at cabinet level. The two roles are different but both legitimate.
DM: The question is what made you to join Zanu PF?
JM: The unpalatable truth to some is that virtually all Zimbabweans initially shared Zanu PF’s broad vision, objectives and principles, which were also shared by the former PF Zapu. Zanu after its unity with Zapu became an embodiment of our shared history, particularly as derived from the liberation struggle.
It would be a very expensive proposition to deny that. But what drove people away from Zanu PF was its abuse and misapplication of those shared principles.
I did not appoint myself into Zanu PF and government structures. Sometimes it would be nice for you to ask those who appointed me to tell you why.
But I accepted the appointment as a calling by my country at a time when our collective survival as a sovereign and independent country was at risk because by some historical accident our fate as a nation had become intertwined with that of Zanu PF.
DM: Some people say it was for self-aggrandisement, material gain, or power ambitions. Were you there to make money?
JM: Making money from what? Cabinet? Everybody knows if you want to make money you go into business and not cabinet. There is no money in cabinet!
Let me finish my earlier point. There were very powerful and hostile foreign forces ranged against us. If Zanu PF had gone down in 2000 it would have collapsed with the country.
It’s very important to put this issue into context. We would have most likely come out of that experience as a weakened or fragmented state and that would have had disastrous consequences for our collective being.
DM: Do you mean we were really under threat and you were only doing public service? Under threat from who, how and why? What public service when people actually say you aided and abetted Zanu PF repression and human rights abuses?
JM: There was a threat against Zimbabwe from Western powers which wanted to protect the interests of a minority here. The hostility was unprecedented. The behaviour of the US, EU and the Commonwealth was really fierce and a threat.
DM: But Western countries were only reacting to repression and human rights abuses.
JM: (Interjects) Why don’t they react with the same interest and vigour to the situations in Somalia, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Guantanamo Bay or Abbu Ghraib Prison for that matter? (Interruption: Some soldiers have been jailed for 10 years for abuses at Abbu Ghraib but no one in Zimbabwe…)
That was just scape-goating for image-making. (DM: Damage limitation, you mean?) Yes, let’s make one thing clear: human rights abuses are indefensible where and whenever they occur, but it is clearly wrong to use those kind of issues as an instrument of foreign policy for self-serving interests.
DM: You have been given credit for Zanu PF’s disputed victories in the 2000 and 2002 elections. If you do accept that credit, which I think you do, do you also accept responsibility for the grave human rights abuses? I mean political violence, torture and killings, which went with that?
JM: I can’t take responsibility for something I didn’t do. (DM: Are you in denial?) No. It’s a matter of public record that I was never associated with any acts of violence. But authorities say they are dealing with those who were involved and I’m certainly not one of them.
DM: Your department acted like a repressive rapid reaction force, hounding and getting journalists arrested, newspapers closed, haranguing opposition and civic groups, and the general public. Why?
JM: On the media, the issue is not whether it was right or wrong to have those things that you have referred to but the situation at the time (is what matters). Surely, the closure of newspapers and arrests of journalists can’t be celebrated, but it was the application of law. Sometimes you have to ask whether it was right for newspapers to break the law with impunity and some journalists to provoke arrest.
DM: What? Do you seriously mean the media broke the law and journalists provoked arrests?
JM: The Daily News broke the law and opened a Pandora’s box for itself. Some journalists, who are just “wordsmiths”, wrote lies. For instance the Magunje story, and instead of being censured by their editors they were congratulated. Some even won awards for such things. In that situation, there was need for regulation by the law in particular when self-regulation had evidently failed.
DM: But the Daily News won court orders for it to be opened and you refused to allow it to do so. Why, wasn’t it political and illegal?
JM: The issue of the Daily News was a protracted legal wrangle and it’s still in the courts. But the courts can’t close a paper forever. One only hopes that if and when the Daily News returns it will be edited by professional journalists and not political activists or clowns.
DM: Why did you deport several foreign journalists who used to work in Zimbabwe?
JM: It’s not about journalists being deported, anyone who breaks the law and is a foreigner anywhere in the world can be deported.
DM: Do you think the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) was a necessary law? Did you write that law?
JM: You don’t say a law is written, you say it is drafted. I didn’t draft it. It was written as you say by draftsmen in the Attorney-General’s office. Aippa has been misrepresented and demonised but I can tell you without qualms it is a very good law. The situation needed such a law to curb bad media practices.
DM: What bad media practices are you talking about? Bad as defined by whom?
JM: Writing lies like the Magunje story and using the media as an instrument of subversion. (DM: But did we have to have papers bombed and journalists arrested?) Nobody celebrates those sort of things and I hope that is now behind us.
DM: Why did you refuse to allow private broadcasters despite an opening up of the airwaves?
JM: There were no serious applications. That law is very good. (DM: Good when it maintains a broadcasting monopoly?) No, I mean it brought good things like the 75% local content and local programming. (DM: But some say it was just partisan propaganda, especially your music groups). That was cultural development, if you call it propaganda, then it’s good propaganda!
DM: For interest’s sake, do you watch ZBC?
JM: Yes, I like Power FM. I listen and watch everything.
DM: Why did you ban European football from ZBC when most Zimbabweans actually like it?
JM: We are not in Europe. Those who want to watch it can subscribe to DStv.
DM: Is ZBC any better now? You retrenched a lot of people and rendered them destitute and forced them to go abroad.
JM: ZBH hasn’t got there but it’s on track, especially on local productions. If they went abroad to work they are earning forex and can’t be poor. But ZBC was overstaffed and needed rationalisation.
DM: Zimpapers, are you proud of your legacy there?
JM: Of course, I’m proud. The company results speak for themselves.
DM: How about the quality of journalism?
JM: It’s fine, at least better than you guys!
DM: Are you serious about that?
JM: Well, it’s just my view.
DM: What is your view on the intimidation of judges and purging of the judiciary?
JM: That is an unhelpful assessment. No judges were intimidated. There were no purges but reforms. (DM: Former chief justice Anthony Gubbay and others were intimidated.) By who? (DM: Chinotimba and his gang).
They were expressing their views and what’s wrong with that? (DM: So in your view it’s only Zanu PF supporters who are free to express their views even by threatening to invade the Supreme Court? Demonstrations by other people are virtually banned now.) Really, I don’t know about that. But some of those things were an outcome of a temporary period of instability and I hope that is behind us now.
DM: Did you save Zanu PF from collapse? Would it have won the elections without you?
JM: I’m not able to tell history as it did not happen, but it happened or could have happened. Your guess is just as good as mine on that!
DM: Is the party democratic or not?
JM: Democracy is not a virtue in the current Zanu PF configuration.
DM: Does the party have any future?
JM: It needs leadership renewal and to realign itself with society, otherwise it will be a disaster.
DM: Finally, what were your successes and failures? Some people say you did more harm than good for Zimbabwe. What’s your comment?
JM: Posterity will judge. I’ve got to go now.