AS the drama of acrimonious suspensions, expulsions, counter-suspensions and counter-expulsions continues to unravel within the strife-torn opposition MDC-T which appears headed for yet another split soon, Zimbabwe Independent reporter Herbert Moyo (HM) spoke to the chairpersons of the warring MDC-T factions aligned to “suspended” party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and “suspended” secretary-general Tendai Biti, Lovemore Moyo (LM) and Samuel Sipepa Nkomo (SN) respectively. Below are the excerpts:
HM: Can you explain and give us an insight into the problems afflicting the MDC-T. What exactly is going on?
LM: Well what is clear now is that the current so-called problems have a long history where there has been dishonesty by some of our members in the standing committee and national executive.
HM: What do you mean by this?
LM: There was dishonesty on the part of some of our members dating back to our congress which re-elected (party) president Morgan Tsvangirai. These individuals were not bold enough to challenge Tsvangirai at the time, but however proceeded to make it their agenda to dislodge him — the so-called 2016 Agenda (which aims to change the party leadership).
HM: But they have said they were only exercising their democratic right to advise the leader on shortcomings in the party?
LM: As a party we are very democratic and we have always believed and practised democracy. People must get their mandate to lead from party members from time to time and our constitution is very clear that every five years all of us from the president down to the branch leaders subject ourselves to the electoral processes, so we were surprised mid-way into our term when a member (“expelled” deputy treasurer-general Elton Mangoma) wrote to say our president must go. It is unprecedented and what we expected from genuine and progressive party members was to wait for congress. The national council can evaluate the leaders’ performances, so can the national conference, but ultimately it is congress that can say we have failed, and say we are not giving you another chance to lead the party.
HM: But surely any party member has a democratic right to express their views on any issue including the performance of the party leader, especially in private, as Mangoma did in this case.
LM: When Mangoma wrote his letter and the president showed it to us, we welcomed it and we even thanked Mangoma for expressing his views candidly. Little did we suspect that it was part of a process leading up to staging a palace coup. I ask: why would you write to someone instead of approaching them? Why would you write to someone whom you have unlimited access to in your capacity as deputy treasurer? I have got no doubt there were some hidden agendas.
HM: Is there a platform for the presentation of concerns such as those Mangoma had?
LM: Yes. In fact we always have this self-introspection. We always provide what we call the surgery platform within the standing committee. We begin with that every year and we ask each other: guys before we start a new programme, can we please evaluate the last one? We have evaluated everything we have done as a party including the GPA (Global Political agreement, precursor to the unity government), the GNU (Government of National Unity), and even the last elections.
HM: Perhaps it is the freedom that is lacking after exercising one’s democratic right.
LM: We are absolutely democratic, even more so than any party in this country. In other organisations you can be seriously harmed or chucked out for calling on a leader to step down — look at what happened to (Dzikamai) Mavhaire (currently Energy minister) when he told Mugabe to go — did you hear of any disciplinary proceedings there before his expulsion?
HM: But Tsvangirai has been involved in several elections which he has lost as MDC leader and in some countries that is reason enough to step aside and make way for a new leader.
LM: That is an absolute lie. Morgan Tsvangirai is not an individual but a team player. I have never seen a football team which has only one player. Tendai Biti had his own role in the elections strategy; he had a role in the unity government negotiations and he is the one who produced the party’s election manifesto which he criticised after the elections in favour of the Zanu PF one. As for Mangoma, he was effectively the party treasurer and the question is: did he raise enough funds for Tsvangirai to campaign? Did he raise enough for the MPs? These are some of the factors that contributed to us being “Nikuved” by Zanu PF.
You should be asking what role the two (Biti and Mangoma)played as MDC negotiators that led to the party failing to achieve the reforms needed to create an atmosphere for credible elections. We gave them unlimited support and we would have continued to support them even if they had walked out of the negotiations but did they deliver electoral reform? Did they deliver media and security sector reforms? As for Biti, what did he do to respond to civil servants’ plight when they were crying out for higher salaries when he was Finance minister?
HM: Your former colleagues have raised allegations of violence mostly against Tsvangirai. Has the MDC been reduced to violent outfit?
LM: That is a shameful lie. (MDC-T spokesperson Douglas) Mwonzora has actually been called for questioning about some young man who was allegedly beaten at Harvest House but there is no proof of that. As a movement we have always condemned violence and we did say to Mangoma give us the names and we will act. We will never condone violence.
HM: But there was violence at your 2011 congress in Bulawayo and there was an internal investigation which has never been made public despite the party’s promises to act against all culprits regardless of their party status.
LM: Well the MDC is a massive movement and sometimes things will happen, which the leadership has no knowledge of. We will however act where there is proof. Personally I have experience of violence from the Fifth Brigade and Gukurahundi. I know very well what it can do to someone, so I would never wish it on anyone. But these rebels would want to portray this picture of violence, especially to the diplomatic community.
HM: Why would they want to portray this image if it’s non-existent? Is this in any way related to your battles to secure funding from the international community?
LM: I am a national leader and I will not speculate. I am not in their (rebels’) camp, but there are always these rumours that they get their funding from our Zanu PF opponents or even from the intelligence. They may be receiving funds from some of those they got to know while serving in the MDC.
HM: And where are you getting your funding from? It is now suggested in your desperation you are now squeezing money out of ordinary party supporters?
LM: We are getting our money from our membership and we are not forcing anyone. That said, we do need people to support their movement.
HM: What is the state of your relations with the diplomatic and international community given reports that some of them also feel Tsvangirai must go?
LM: Diplomats assess situations thoroughly and make their own conclusions. We are confident that we remain on the right track and once people realise that we are done with Biti and Mangoma, they will decide who to rally behind. But we are confident that they will side with the only party with a bright future ahead. You need only look at the huge turnout at our rallies and that should tell you people can already see that ours is a bright future.
HM: There have been conflicting statements with both of you claiming to have convened the authentic national council prior to the suspensions. Whose council was the genuine one?
LM: You should also decide as the media and if you do your job and verify name by name, you will realise that the meeting at Mandel Training Centre (in Harare) did not meet the criteria and quorum. The authentic gathering was at Harvest House (on Tuesday). In fact it is the national chairman who decides if the national council should meet. The president and secretary also have a say so we have three people involved here. What Mangoma and Biti did was illegal.
But when we convened at Harvest House everybody, even Biti, was consulted. He was invited but when you have decided to go against the people you do not respond.
HM: Some have suggested that those of you who have sided with Tsvangirai are only doing so because of the promise of positions that will open up after the party splits. How do you respond?
LM: Actually the point is that Biti and Mangoma only became well-known and achieved their wealth and influence because of Tsvangirai. They would have been nothing without him. They have mansions and many cars and they even became ministers because of Tsvangirai.
HM: Speaking of the opulence of party leaders — is the MDC still in touch with its working class roots or has it been hijacked by elites?
LM: Most of us in the MDC leadership are still struggling. We have not abandoned workers, we remain pro-labour. We are still a workers’ party and even when Biti was Finance minister, we urged him to increase workers’ salaries. That said you cannot discount that we have bourgeois elements, but that is not necessarily reflective of the character of the party which remains essentially working class. See interview with Samuel Sipepa Nkomo on Page 5.