As MDC-T Morgan Tsvangirai tries to fend off attacks by senior party members calling for leadership renewal, the Zimbabwe Independent political reporter Elias Mambo (EM) spoke to former parliamentary affairs minister Advocate Eric Matinenga (AEM) on the squabbles in the MDC-T and the impending split, among other issues.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
EM: What are your views on the problems currently facing the MDC?
AEM: As you are aware, I am an ordinary card-carrying member of the party. I don’t sit in the organs of the party such as the National Executive or Standing Committee, but I met president Morgan Tsvangirai soon after what has now become to be known as the Mangoma saga. If the option I had suggested had been considered we would not have found ourselves in this situation.
EM: And what were the suggestions?
AEM: I told president Tsvangirai and others whom I have met that the crisis we are in needed a mediating process which would help bring all of us together and not through the court process, which isolates and destroys, instead of building the party. You will agree with me that we have suffered a lot in the hands of Zanu PF and everyone had put their trust in the MDC and so we will not achieve our goals by fracturing the party, by balkanising the MDC.
EM: Advocate so what is the way forward?
AEM: The MDC needs everybody, I said it before elections that we needed a grand coalition which included all the actors so as to unseat Zanu PF and everybody in the party received the idea well, except one or two, but it seems the problems that led to the failure of the grand coalition are coming to haunt the party.
EM: And what are these problems?
AEM: Everyone wants to be a leader and we cannot have such a thing. I spoke to Tsvangirai and asked him about his plans and he said he has a plan and he encouraged the succession debate to be discussed. It was an open meeting where I wanted to understand his plan because this is what any democratic party should discuss so that we paint a different picture from that of Zanu PF. It is important that we accept that people have different views which need to be expressed freely and even if we don’t agree with them, we must take responsibility to protect the person who makes those views.
EM: How did Tsvangirai take your advice?
AEM: He said he was alive to the succession issues. He said he had a plan and a time frame for it. He said he had engaged with the younger generation in the party and told them that they should be ready to take over the leadership of the party in the near future.
EM: Does it mean he is ready to hand over power to a new leader?
AEM: I don’t know to what extent that has been discussed in the organs of the party. But if it has not been discussed, then we would have lost an opportunity to address crucial issues for the good of the party and for the good of Zimbabwe. We did it in Buhera West and we thought all the functionaries of the party will look at this and replicate it. It was a success in my constituency. I believe if MDC is to take the Zimbabweans to a promised land, then there is need to deliberately discuss succession. We cannot run away from it if we are to deliver anything. Everyone knows the MDC is the only visible opposition party that can bring hope to the generality of Zimbabweans and we need to exploit that strength in order to bring about democracy.
EM: And how did it come to this if you say you have always advised Tsvangirai to allow leadership renewal debate?
AEM: I am not sure because I have been following this public talk in the media about Tsvangirai adopting the handiende (I will not go) attitude like that of Zanu PF’s Robert Mugabe. I find this contradictory to the discussions I have held with him and at the same time I ask myself whether leadership renewal discussion took place in those organs such as the national executive or people fear to raise them and only do so in inappropriate fora such as the media.
EM: But are there people in the party besides Mangoma who are saying they want to take over from Tsvangirai?
AEM: People are there, I asked one high ranking official whether he at one time would want to be president of the party (I will not mention names). His response was that I want, asi tiri muAfrica unofa (I want, but brother we are in Africa one can die for expressing their ambitions).
EM: Does it mean then that people in the MDC fear expressing their ambition?
AEM: It is because of this culture of intolerance which unfortunately is borrowed from Zanu PF. In one of my Facebook posts I made reference to bhora rechidhende (kids’s football) which says I am either there or that organ must collapse. It is very sad, but we have not reached a point of no return. I think we can still sit down and find a solution.
EM: Why not resolve all this by going for a congress?
AM: There is need for a fresh mandate from the people. Naturally after an election, we should always go back to the people and ask whether they still have faith in us or not. Whoever wants to contest must be allowed to do so and you will be surprised at the results. There is no need for people to be afraid.
People must realise that we are different from Zanu PF and that they can make unhindered choices. We need an early congress so that the wounds are healed before elections and that the new leadership that is chosen has time to project its vision to the electorate.