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Tsvangirai Says Ready To Negotiate Mugabe Exit

Ulysse Gosset of France 24 interviews Morgan Tsvangirai

Gosset: Welcome to France 24 for this new edition of The Talk de Paris. Today we will be looking at Zimbabwe and at the complete deadlock there. The presidential election took place a month ago but nobody can tell who will be running that country.

The world’s oldest head of state (84) Robert Mugabe is clinging to power. Our guest today is his main opponent and the leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai — who claims he has won the election.

He has taken refuge in South Africa, and the images of this former miner and trade unionist being pounded have been around the world.

Good day, Mr Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai: Good morning.

Gosset: Do you see yourself as a political exile, or as a refugee? You left Zimbabwe three weeks ago. When do you think you’ll be able to return without putting your life at risk?

Tsvangirai: Thank you very much. I do not consider myself to be in exile. I simply consider myself to have embarked on a diplomatic effort to try to address the political impasse in Zimbabwe. Therefore, once that has been accomplished — that is once the political impasse has been unlocked — I will return home where I have very important responsibilities to discharge.

Gosset: How long do you think it will be before you can return? Mr Mugabe had you beaten up and we’ve all seen the dreadful images. Do you think your life is in danger and that you could be assassinated if you returned to Harare?

Tsvangirai: Well, the risk has always been there ever since I challenged Mugabe when we formed the Movement for Democratic Change in 2000. The risk has always been there. But that has never deterred me from challenging Mugabe, as has been witnessed by the number of elections that we have participated in. So I will be going back in spite of that potential risk.

Gosset: More specifically, do you think Robert Mugabe has made plans to eliminate you? Are you one of the targets of the regime? Are you afraid for your life?

Tsvangirai: Well, I know, from reports, from threats (from Mugabe’s verbal and psychological threats), that I am the prime target because I provide the leadership to challenge (his) dictatorship. So I am the prime target. Whether he’s going to discharge that execution or elimination is another matter. But I know that Mugabe, the Zanu PF and other zealots that do not want to see democracy achieved in our country (see me) as their biggest obstacle to permanent power.

Gosset: Do you know that some people have criticised you for leaving your country, and that some are wondering if it might have been more useful for you to stay on the spot. Why have you left Zimbabwe and what do you have to say about those criticisms?

Tsvangirai: Well, those criticisms (have) no justification. A leader does not just (stand still). You find alternatives to try to solve the problem.

I am not the first leader who has left a country in order to launch a campaign for freedom. Robert Mugabe himself (has been) outside the country.

So the question here is not my presence in the country. The question is what agenda we are pursuing inside the country to mobilise people and outside the country to mobilise international opinion in order to resolve the crisis.

That is the challenge. My physical presence does not mean that my leadership is not there. After all, Morgan Tsvangirai is one of the leaders of the movement. There are others inside the country who are discharging their various responsibilities — (especially with regard to) the humanitarian crisis that we face.

But Morgan Tsvangirai remains the symbol and the leader of the movement whether physically inside the country or outside it.

Gosset: So you think you’re more useful outside Zimbabwe in the safety of South Africa…

Tsvangirai: I am not in the safety of South Africa. I have been embarking on a diplomatic African effort to try to persuade Robert Mugabe to concede defeat on an election that he has lost. I am (asking) various African leaders to help us and press upon Robert Mugabe that he has lost and that he should retire. So that effort (engaging these African leaders) cannot be discharged by anyone other than myself.

Gosset: If today you were invited to a direct face-to-face meeting with President Robert Mugabe, would you agree to negotiate the future of the country and end the deadlock?

Tsvangirai: Absolutely. That has been my demand. What is needed here is a negotiated process that will see Robert Mugabe exit honourably and provide security to all those who feel very insecure about the democratic change that is taking place in the country. What must be accepted is that the people have spoken and that their voice and their will must be respected. That’s our fundamental position. So Robert Mugabe and myself must sit down and chart a new way forward for the country. We cannot hold the country to ransom with his intransigence.

Gosset: Some observers have compared the situation in Zimbabwe to the Titanic, arguing that it is sinking. Are you that pessimistic? Everybody knows you have a staggering 160 000% inflation rate. Is Zimbabwe Africa’s Titanic?

Tsvangirai: Well, I’m sure the analogy of the Titanic is very, very instructive. That you have a country that has been one of the potential success stories in Africa but that has all of a sudden, due to policies that Mugabe has pursued, run aground is undeniable. So, yes, I think that analogy fits quite perfectly.

Gosset: How do you explain that the population that voted for you is not more mobilised? Why aren’t there any street demonstrations calling for the election results to be acknowledged? Why haven’t the people come down into the streets?

Tsvangirai: Well, I’ve heard that people talk about “people power”. But you must understand that, over the last 30 years, state-sponsored violence has suppressed any expression of discontent. The government has responded to any expression of discontent by violence. It has been beating up people. It has been using the army and other paramilitary units to make sure that this population is captive and does not express itself. I suppose, as far as that is concerned, that Mugabe has succeeded in making the population captive to his view. But that certainly does not mean that the people of Zimbabwe support his view. They are just afraid.

Gosset: Let’s talk about the leaks regarding the results. People say that, today, according to the Electoral Commission, these are unconfirmed results. The opposition has won the presidential election with 47% of the vote but you don’t have an absolute majority. What is your response? Do you question those figures or do you think they are right?

Tsvangirai: Those are merely speculative numbers thrown around by Zanu PF in order to justify their position that there is going to be a runoff. Our own figures demonstrate quite clearly that the MDC, including myself as the presidential candidate, won that election decisively. So there is no need for a runoff. Those figures have no basis. They are intended to create an impression that nobody won outright. But, besides, if I may make an argument, if you add my numbers (even at 47%) together with my colleagues’ figures, you get to over 57%. That’s more votes for the opposition than (for) Mugabe himself. It would have made more sense for the opposition, if it (had got) 43% to demand a runoff rather than the incumbent demanding a runoff when he has lost (by) such (a wide margin).

Gosset: Is the 43% figure for Mr Mugabe credible or did he get fewer votes than that, in your view?

Tsvangirai: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know whether that 43% or whatever percent (is accurate). All I know is that, as far as we are concerned, we have won over 51% and Mugabe has around 43%. This gives us an almost nine percent’ lead over his (result).

Gosset: So a run-off is out of the question even if, officially, the commission decides you haven’t got an absolute majority?

Tsvangirai: A run-off is out of the question for three reasons. Firstly, the MDC has won the election. For a whole month, they have not been revealing those results, which means that they have either been tampering with those results, they have been manipulating those results, or massaging those results. So the ZEC itself has totally been discredited by this delay. Secondly, from our own results, which we collected from polling stations, the ZEC has already published those results by posting them at various polling stations. What that means is that the MDC collected all those results and has come out with a result that we feel is credible. And that result gives us a decisive victory. So there is no need for a run-off.
Thirdly, how can you have a run-off when Mugabe, over the last month, has been unleashing state-sponsored violence against our structures and decimating our electoral structures on the ground?

Gosset: Some people today think that a solution has to be found. If there isn’t a run-off, is it possible to set up a future government of national union? Are you prepared to negotiate a government of national union?

Tsvangirai: Let me just make it clear. An election has been conducted. There is an obvious winner. In normal circumstances, that winner must be inaugurated. That is what would happen in a normal democracy. Democracy at the moment is on trial when the people suggest that the obvious loser now wants to negotiate the transfer of power. I think it’s ridiculous to make that suggestion. However, we believe as MDC that, being the winner, we must be allowed to show magnanimity towards the other parties and create a government of national union. We do recognise that there is a need to manage that transition and to create security for everyone. But, certainly, we have a situation where the loser wants to negotiate on his own terms and I think it’s ridiculous and undemocratic.

Gosset: Today, in your mind, are you already the future president of Zimbabwe? Do you feel that you are the new president of Zimbabwe?

Tsvangirai: Absolutely. I have no doubt in my mind that I have won this election. I have no doubt in my mind that the people of Zimbabwe have shown their confidence in my leadership. I have no doubt in my mind that we have the responsibility of addressing the people’s needs with a specific programme (which) we issued during the campaign and (which) the people support.

Gosset: Mr President, let’s listen to a question we have received over the Internet. It is a question about the future of Zimbabwe from Elodie Bouchot, a student in Paris.

Bouchot: The violent crackdown on dissidents against Mugabe clearly shows his refusal to release the reigns of power. My question is what the opposition’s attitude will be if Mugabe, in spite of a second defeat, still refuses to step down.

Tsvangirai: Well, our strategy is very, very simple. Mr Mugabe will be staying in power by default. And therefore is illegitimate. And therefore the crisis continues. It is inevitable that Robert Mugabe has no solution to the people’s plight, has no solution to the crisis the country is facing. Just to retain power for power’s sake is not a solution. And therefore the problem of Zimbabwe becomes a regional problem. And that’s why we are mobilising regional leaders so that they realise that they have to impress upon Mugabe (the need) to accept defeat and go into retirement, and allow the country to move forward.

Gosset: Mr President, are you afraid of a confrontation, bloodbath or coup d’état?

Tsvangirai: Look, we don’t subscribe to the values of violence or unorthodox means of obtaining power. That’s why, for the last 10 years, we have been at the receiving end of Mugabe’s violence. We have had to fight a dictatorship using democratic means. And there is no way we can review our position and say “Let there be a military coup, let there be violence, let us resort to military action in order to remove the dictator.” It’s not necessary. The people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough. What they want is peaceful reconstruction of their country.

Gosset: Have you got any information regarding the army? What’s the position of the military? Are they prepared for democratic transition or could they hang on to power with Mr Mugabe?

Tsvangirai: Well, we do understand that there are a few individuals who are taking that hard-line position [and] do not want to relinquish power. But they don’t have a solution once the people have voted. Either they have to declare themselves that they are ruling by decree (in other words that they have subverted the will of the people) and see how they can sustain that position. But they also know that the international community and African leaders are against any attempt at a military takeover or any attempt at military rule.

Gosset: What role are South Africa and its president playing? We have a question from our correspondent there, Caroline Dumay.

Caroline Dumay: Mr Tsvangirai, I have a question about South Africa and South Africa’s role. You’ve rejected President Thabo Mbeki as continued Sadc mediator. Now I wonder if that’s because you consider his mediation to be too narrow and would actually rather have a mediator with a higher profile who could broaden the mediation effort.  Can South Africa put direct pressure on Mugabe?

Tsvangirai: Well, let me say that South Africa could play a very critical role in the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis. If it wished to take a strong position, the Zimbabwean crisis would be resolved overnight. Why do I say that? Because the Zimbabwean crisis is no longer just a foreign policy crisis for South Africa. It is a domestic crisis for South Africa. And therefore it is in the best interest of South Africa to ensure that the Zimbabwean crisis is resolved peacefully.

At the moment, we are talking about two million to three million Zimbabweans crossing the (border) and causing a totally unnecessary social and economic burden on South Africa. So, yes, South Africa has the responsibility for taking the leadership but it cannot afford to (be a mediator and take sides at the same time). And I think that’s where their problem arises.

Gosset: Is Mbeki a good mediator or are you expecting somebody else to play that role?

Tsvangirai: Well, what we have said is that this crisis in Zimbabwe has been with us for almost nine years. In March last year, President Thabo Mbeki was appointed mediator in order to prepare for elections. He has played his part. It wasn’t because of lack of effort. But Mugabe proceeded to (set) an election date unilaterally. But I think there were positive outcomes (from) that mediation. We are allowed, now, to display for the first time the results of the election in polling stations. The election was relatively peaceful. And I think the objective of the dialogue literally came to an end at the time we went to the election. After that, there is no (place) for mediation because the results are known. Therefore, we do not foresee a situation where President Mbeki will have a role. However, we believe that Sadc, which initiated the dialogue on the crisis, have a responsibility (for) launching another initiative which (should be) broad-based (and focus) on the transfer of power and not at the elections or election disputes.

Gosset: Are you thinking of a solution on the lines of what happened in Kenya, where there was an international mediator, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan? Would you like the UN to get involved? Do you think what happened in Kenya could be applied to Zimbabwe?

Tsvangirai: There are differences with the Kenyan example. The difference is that, in Kenya, the results were not known. In Zimbabwe, the results were published at various polling stations. So, as far as we are concerned, the mediation in Kenya was about sharing power. In Zimbabwe, it is about transferring power from a regime which has lost the election to a regime which has been given a new mandate. So, whilst there are similarities, I think that what is important is [that] people recognise that difference and appreciate that what we are dealing with is the intransigence of a man who has lost the election openly, and is refusing to transfer power. So, yes, perhaps there needs to be  regional…

Gosset: Who is the man who could organise this transfer of power? Are you thinking of Kofi Annan and the United Nations? Who could help you to end the deadlock?

Tsvangirai: I think that any mediator or group of mediators would be helpful. I don’t have anyone in particular in mind. But I suppose that somebody who enjoys the confidence of all the parties in the region will be useful in unlocking that [situation].

Gosset: France will become President of the European Union in July this year. What would you expect from Europe and what do you expect from Nicolas Sarkozy if the crisis were not resolved when he becomes leader of the European Union for six months?

Tsvangirai: I am sure that, when Mr Sarkozy takes over leadership of the European Union, there will not be any significant (change in) the European Union’s position on Zimbabwe unless there is a significant (display) of reform (from) the Zimbabwean government. So, as far as I’m concerned, the European Union’s policy will remain consistent within the parameters set out by other countries.

Gosset: Do you want Europe to get more involved? The UN Security Council has agreed there is a
problem. What do you expect of Europe? Or is the solution with the UN?

Tsvangirai: I know that current UN discussions are informal so the UN will not come out with a resolution. But I also know that the Secretary General has been given the responsibility of appointing an investigator to come and investigate the current violence in Zimbabwe. And I hope that the UN Secretary General, together with the support of everyone, will come to investigate the current violence and undertake that mission in order to stem the violence and solve the crisis.

Gosset: Some people are thinking about power sharing in the absence of an agreement between President Mugabe and you. Could a third man emerge? One of Mr Mugabe’s former Finance Ministers, Mr Makoni also ran. Could you form an alliance with him?

Tsvangirai: We do have an alliance with all the opposition forces. As far as I am concerned, there is no third man because the results are very, very clear. The winner, with an absolute majority, is the MDC. Zanu PF is in the opposition. Mr Makoni has no Member of Parliament to talk about. But he has a significant following and therefore cannot be excluded when a government of national healing is formed. But one has to understand the matrix underlying the political results of this election.

Gosset: You were talking about the risks of the conflict in Zimbabwe spilling over its borders. We all remember the Chinese ship that was turned back (with weapons, apparently). What do you say to China and what do you say to those who would be tempted to support the current regime?

Tsvangirai: The MDC has no hostile intentions against China. But I think that for the Chinese government to support arms shipments to Zimbabwe to suppress the people of Zimbabwe and oppress the people of Zimbabwe is unacceptable. So that policy difference has nothing to do with Chinese-Zimbabwean relations. It has everything to do with the Chinese government providing partisan support to Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, (in whom) the people of Zimbabwe have no confidence. That’s where we have a big, big, big problem. — News24.

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