PROFESSOR Arthur Mutambara, the recently elected leader of one of the rival factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), this week gave an exclusive interview — his first locally — to the Zimbabwe Independent. The Independent also wanted to interview founding MD
C leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who now leads the other faction, but he said he would only be able to do so after his congress this weekend. News editor Dumisani Muleya (DM) spoke to Mutambara (AM) on Tuesday on a wide range of issues just before he flew to South Africa.
DM: Since you now lead one of the MDC factions and you have been in charge for slightly more than two weeks, can you tell us in detail what your political agenda is?
AM: Let me start by making preface remarks. First of all, we need to resolve the debate around the issue of reuniting the MDC. We need to resolve the issue of how to reposition and refocus the party. Above all we should not lose sight of the agenda: that is fighting Zanu PF and its political culture.
We have to fight this culture of dictatorship, intolerance, and develop and build a new value-system, democratic institutions both in government and in civil society. To do this we need to have a democratic constitution first.
DM: How are you going to do that?
AM: We must always maintain the moral high ground that we are occupying now. To do that it means we must ourselves be democratic. That’s why we are opposed to people who don’t respect collective decision-making and believe in violating constitutions and then use violence as a means of settling disputes.
DM: How about the issue of re-establishing cohesion in the MDC?
AM: The first prize is unity. If that can’t happen then we can go for amicable divorce, resolve the issue of the name and allocation of assets. We should do it in a manner that allows us to preserve our MPs and democratic space.
The third option if we can’t agree is to go to court, the Zanu PF courts. From there we can build a new party relevant to the generality of Zimbabweans.
DM: Going back to the need to refocus the MDC, what will this entail?
AM: We need a patriotic and nationalistic opposition coming in the tradition of our history, culture and the liberation struggle. Zanu PF at the moment is a negation of the values of the liberation struggle. (President Robert) Mugabe and Zanu PF do not represent what the heroes of the struggle fought for.
DM: How are you going to tackle all these problems facing Zimbabwe at the moment?
AM: Let me finalise my point on what we represent. Our foreign policy is rooted in the national context and experiences of our people. It is also based on notions of regional and continental integration. We also want to define sovereignty in the national, regional and African context. At the moment Zanu PF, for all its pretences, is the greatest threat to our national sovereignty. By subjecting citizens to repression and poverty and going about picking fights with everybody and presenting itself as fighting against the world, Zanu PF poses a threat to the country, region and even Africa. We believe in the territorial integrity of all countries.
Lastly, we will distinguish political allies and strategic partners. In this era of globalisation, you can’t survive without strategic partners in the international community and global institutions.
Our political allies are parties which represent the interests of the people, like the ANC in South Africa, and other parties in the region and beyond.
DM: You are now on the political scene, so what? What’s new under the sun?
AM: Our idea is to build a strong political party which has capacity — intellectually, structurally and practically — to deliver. We need to re-brand and refocus. We also need to debate and ultimately address the substance and content of the change we need.
The MDC also needs new strategies. We can’t afford to go to elections without Plan B. Not only should we have Plan B, but also Plan C, D and E. I hope those responsible for rigging elections are listening carefully. It’s not going to be business as usual. We have the capacity to outgun Zanu PF intellectually, outflank them strategically and outrun them in the streets. We will outmanoeuvre them in every arena of political combat.
DM: Some of your critics say you have been out of the country for too long and thus are out of touch with Zimbabwe’s political dynamics and realities. What do you have to say to this?
AM: To begin with, I must say I’m not more qualified to lead than other Zimbabweans. I have only stepped forward and I want to make a contribution. I went out of the country to learn and I hope my education and experiences will add value to the struggle.
It’s a myth that I’m out of touch. When I was out of the country, especially in South Africa, I always came home. I was a consultant for many local companies and I addressed numerous meetings here.
In my own home area — Mutambara village in Manicaland — I helped, working with others, to develop our area. I have also been working with civil society and political groups albeit at a lower level. So I’m very clued-up about what’s going on.
DM: Other people say coming from the ivory tower as you do, you are out of sync with grassroots politics and cannot mobilise a critical mass. What do you have to say?
AM: Those who say that don’t know Mutambara. I’m a street fighter. As university students we fought in the streets, not just for payouts, but for democracy and against misrule and corruption.
What we were saying 16 years ago is exactly the kind of problems we are confronted with now, if not worse. The only difference is that the problems have now become a national crisis. We started fighting for democracy and political and civil liberties while we were students when some of our critics today were still members of Zanu PF and in its Youth League.
DM: There are suggestions that you haven’t graduated from student politics and that you need to be taken to a finishing school. What’s your comment?
AM: I accept criticism and I hope to learn and thrive to be a good leader from it. I have strengths and weaknesses, just like everybody else, but that’s why I work with a team. They will teach me some things and I will do the same.
DM: Your assumption of leadership has caused a stir. Some say you were brought in because your faction needed a Shona politician for an ethnic balancing act. Are you a token leader?
AM: Mutambara a token Shona leader to help revive the fortunes of a dying Ndebele faction? What a travesty of justice! What a misnomer! What raw tribalism! I’m my own man.
Those who know me know I can’t be a token. The barrage of attacks I have been enduring in the state media show that I’m not a token. A token which causes so much interest in politics must be interesting indeed!
I reject lock, stock and barrel such tribal interpretation of politics. It’s part of the Zanu PF culture which we need to destroy. I came in on the basis of my leadership qualities and credentials, not because I’m Shona.
I’m not a tribal populist and I don’t follow the wind. I follow reason and principle. A leader is there to make unpopular decisions popular. I also chose the side I did on the basis of principles — my stance against violence, respect for collective decision-making and party constitution.
DM: Let’s move on to the economy. How are you going to fix this virtually collapsed economy if you were to end up in government?
AM: Firstly, let’s accept the gravity of the crisis. The economy, as every one says, is in intensive care unit. Let’s acknowledge the problem before we can start searching for a solution. Then we can talk about the economic model and stabilisation we need for this economy. We can then also talk about the role of strategic partners in all this.
In the next two weeks we are going to release a two-pager of our economic blueprint. Later we will have a comprehensive macroeconomic blueprint. It will be a holistic multi-variable mathematical economic model. It will be followed by a stabilisation programme. After that we can introduce a plan of growth and how to sustain it.
Going forward, we will move to a knowledge-based and technology-driven economy. There are cheaper and suitable technologies we can use, for instance WiFi and WiMax, to develop our economy.
We charge Mugabe’s regime with appalling economic ignorance. They are in denial and seem to believe in an atomic or single-variable approach to economic analysis. That’s ignorance of the highest order. You can’t say inflation is our number one enemy as if inflation works independently of other variables.
DM: But for all this to work, after dealing with the superstructure, you need to address agriculture which underpins the economic base. How are you going to deal with that?
AM: We believe in land reform and we will move swiftly to clear the chaos on the farms, audit land allocations and have a rationalisation programme. Then we will address security of tenure and funding. Tenure can take the form of title or 99-year leases which allow people to plan and invest in long-term projets.
This will then address issues like food security, foreign currency shortages (we need to work with strategic partners), fuel, power, all these things.
DM: How about the issue of sanctions which Zanu PF has been talking about? What will you about it?
AM: If there are any such sanctions, you can’t call for their lifting before you lift internal ones. Zanu PF must first of all lift the sanctions it has imposed on Zimbabweans via misrule, mismanagement, corruption and repression. That has to be addressed before we can talk about external sanctions. We have never believed in the imposition of sanctions on our country. That is Zanu PF propaganda.
DM: Lastly, is it true you are married to former Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Dr Charles Utete’s daughter? If so, won’t this compromise you politically?
AM: This is a malicious rumour and an untruth. For the record, I’m married to Dr Jacqueline Sekesai Mutambara (nee Chimhanzi) and we have two children.