On Wednesday, Zimbabwe Independent reporters Herbert Moyo (HM) and Owen Gagare (who conducted the interview below this one) spoke to the feuding MDC-T factions’ spokespersons Douglas Mwonzora (DM) of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led formation, and Jacob Mafume (JM) of the Tendai Biti-led renewal team on various burning issues.
The conversation dwelt on matters including preparations for the party’s divisive early congress in October, the prospects of the two factions reconciling, funding and who really is running the MDC-T. Below are excerpts of the interviews:
HM: What is the state of your preparations for the MDC-T congress in October?
DM: The MDC-T is serious about the congress starting with congresses of the youth and women’s wings as separate from the main one. But even before these we will start with congresses at the lower level of branch, district and provincial party structures and all of this is in line with our long-standing philosophy that leaders are elected or removed through democratic processes, not through some boardroom arrangement.
HM: Presumably you are talking about Tendai Biti, Elton Mangoma and others? Would it be far-fetched to assume that you were forced into an early congress by their vocal calls for leadership renewal?
DM: Far from it. We had always budgeted for an early congress because we wanted our leadership to have time to prepare adequately for 2018 (general elections). Biti and Mangoma did not want to take over leadership through a democratic process like a congress.
HM: Do you have adequate funding for the congress and other party activities?
DM: The MDC-T gets its funding from Treasury under the Political Parties Finance Act but the government has failed to disburse the almost US$3 million to the MDC-T. Inevitably that has created a funding gap and so we have resorted to asking our members to pay subscriptions because that is the only legal option we have. Many believed that we were funded by some countries, but that has never been the case.
HM: Who will get the money from treasury — you or the Biti camp?
DM: (Laughing) It is a very simple issue in that treasury is supposed to give it to the party on whose ticket the legislators were elected — that is the MDC led by Tsvangirai. The records submitted by Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral commission) demonstrate that fact.
HM: But the issue of who really runs the MDC-T or rather who has the right to recall MPs or even to receive the funds is one that may have to be resolved in the courts?
DM: We are not going to court anytime soon but it is Biti who has to do that since he is the one who wrote to the Speaker of Parliament demanding to be recognised as the only MDC official with the mandate to communicate with parliament on party issues, and also demanding that the party must not recall any MP. Those requests were rightly not granted and in light of that we will proceed to receive the funding and recall the MPs who have transgressed, but the timing for that is ours. He (Biti) can go to court should he feel aggrieved.
HM: Biti and others are planning a convention for “democratic forces”. Will Tsvangirai attend if invited?
DM: There is nothing democratic about a convention planned by people who have tried to steal power through a palace coup. They cannot claim to be democratic when they have tried to remove a democratically elected leader. They are only talking like that because the people have amply demonstrated by flocking to Tsvangirai’s rallies that they are behind the MDC-T and Tsvangirai’s leadership. We have been averaging 10 000 people in attendance and that compares favourably with the 50 people who attended Biti’s rally in Mutare.
HM: But the convention includes Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa and even Mavambo/Dawn/Kusile leader Simba Makoni who has been vocal about the need for Tsvangirai to be part of the convention.
DM: What Makoni is calling for is different from what Biti, Mangoma and (MDC president) Welshman Ncube have in mind. The Biti convention is a different issue altogether and it excludes the main actor in this struggle; that is the MDC-T. It is a conglomeration of political Lilliputians who will just bus and feed people to attend. Ultimately, nothing will come of it. Biti, Mangoma and Ncube have one thing in common — they are undemocratic elites who tried and failed to hijack the people’s project.
HM: Is there any chance of you ever finding each other again?
DM: What is more important for us is that we are on the side of the people. So far that has been demonstrated by the attendance at our rallies and that is all we care about.
HM: There are suggestions that the split has or could weaken the party?
DM: We are actually in a much stronger position — organisationally sound. In any event, history has always shown that every time some people move out, the MDC performs better. In 2008 we actually trebled the parliamentary representation we received before the 2005 split. Some of the officials who have gone were actually inhibiting progress.
HM: And you only made the discovery after they had taken the initiative for leadership renewal?
DM: We discovered this prior to the elections and afterwards we still noted those tendencies to undermine the party, but our belief has always been that people are only removed through the democratic process of the congress. These people knew that they were going to meet their fate at a democratic congress, hence their decision to jump ship so you could say that all the noise and their subsequent behaviour was in fact to pre-empt their impending fate!
HM: But is there any substance to the congress in the wake of (acting secretary-general Tapiwa) Mashakada’s weekend remarks that Tsvangirai will not or should not be challenged?
DM: We have said and even Tsvangirai himself has said all positions including his will be contested. Mashakada was probably giving his own impressions about the person our delegates may want and that is normal. So far Tsvangirai is very popular and looks like he will win. But should he lose then we will throw our weight behind the winner because that will be the people’s choice.
HM: What is the thinking behind Tsvangirai’s recent hiring of new strategists? Has the MDC-T brand suffered a knock?
DM: It is nothing out of the ordinary. From time to time, the president engages technical staff to assist various office holders, be it in the information, organising or elections department. Tsvangirai has merely strengthened the technical component of the party and we are happy to attract people with good credentials.
HM: How would you describe your relations with the diplomatic community given Tsvangirai’s claims that they are interfering with internal party issues?
DM: We have never said that all diplomats are interfering with our political processes. We only said that some had attempted to interfere and this on the back of information from the Biti group who were moving around shouting names of those diplomats they say support them.
HM: Finally, what are your prospects for 2018?
DM: The formation of the MDC was part of the democratic revolution that inevitably follows the nationalist revolution. As a social democratic party we have a mandate to deliver the people of Zimbabwe from poverty, misery and our presidential candidate will definitely defeat the Zanu PF candidate.
Renewal Team is the real MDC: Mafume
Q. Do members of the MDC-T Renewal Team still consider themselves to be part of the MDC-T?
A. Yes we are members of the MDC. We just suspended seven individuals, but we shared the values of the MDC.
Q. So are you participating at the party’s October congress?
A. No, that congress is not a congress but it’s an endorsement. It’s an endorsement of (MDC-T leader) Morgan Tsvangirai like you heard (acting secretary-general) Tapuwa Mashakada announcing at a rally over the weekend. How do you call it a congress when it is already being announced that Tsvangirai will not be contested?
Q. Is there any possibility that members of the renewal team and those supporting Tsvangirai can find each other?
A. Yes there is a possibility. Tsvangirai has to find the democrat within himself first. He has to embrace the values of non-violence, the value of rule of law and allow people to have freedom of expression. If he finds those values we will be able to find each other.
Q. In an earlier interview you stated that a convention of democrats would be held possibly by the end of this month or early next month. It looks like you are off course, doesn’t it?
A. We are going to have a convention of democrats within two months. We have held a series of meetings with various organisations, political parties and individuals. The issue of the grand alliance is the only game in town. We realise that we have tried to deal with the problems of Zimbabwe separately, but failed, hence the unity call.
Q. Who is actually organising and convening this convention?
A. The church will convene the convention.
Q. But I understand politicians have been meeting to organise the coalition without church leaders. Is that not so?
A. Political parties are simply but a factor of the people who will participate in the convention. The political leaders will also be consulted. Of course politicians have been meeting to discuss political issues.
Q. Who is funding the convention? There are reports that you are getting foreign funding?
A. No, no! The various stakeholders who are participating in the convention will fund the gathering. It is illegal to get foreign funding and I only know of one party which gets foreign funding, which is Zanu PF which received funding from China.
Q. What is the purpose of the convention.
A. The plan is simple; we have to have a grand coalition and to come up with a common agenda for the country.
Q. In terms of the grand coalition, what do you hope to achieve. Do you want to collapse the parties and have a single party or do you want the parties to maintain their identities and form alliances during elections?
A. All these formats will be up for discussion. Others want us to form a single party but others prefer us to follow the Kenyan example, where we form alliances in elections. Technically, any of the two can work but this is what we will discuss.
Q. I understand though that there are differences even before the coalition comes to fruition. Some people, such as Simba Makoni, believe Tsvangirai should be invited while others believe he should not. We also understand there are a number of people eyeing the leadership position and yet others believe Makoni is the best person to lead. What’s happening?
A. The reason why things are as they are is that there are a lot of different opinions. This is why we are calling for a convention where we will discuss all these issues and find strength in our diversity. Diversity of ideas is not a weakness.
Q. But are there leadership wrangles even before the coalition is in place?
A. One of the tragedies in Zimbabwe is that people believe that leadership contests are abnormal and this is because we have been stuck with Mugabe for so long. In Britain for example, two brothers (Ed and David Milliband of the Labour Party) contested each other but it was seen as normal. In Mozambique many people were in the running for the Frelimo presidency and three were eventually short-listed but now only one person is in contention. There is nothing wrong with having many people in contention. We have not yet discussed the leadership, but the time will come.
Q. Will Tsvangirai be invited to the convention?
A. It’s about values, so once a person or organisation commits to certain values, then people can work together. So if he subscribes to our values, he may be invited.
Q. Are Zimbabweans warming up to your renewal message?
A. Yes they are warming up to the renewal messages. They are aware that there is a need for leadership renewal; the country itself needs renewal, the economy needs renewal.
Q. What has your message been?
A. The message has been very clear. We need renewal in Zimbabwe and a leadership that has the craft and competence to take the country forward. We do not need a ceremonial opposition leader who is just content with being in the opposition without taking power.
Q. The small numbers you are attracting at your rallies though seem to suggest that you don’t have much support.
A. We have not held a rally yet. We are holding meetings with the structures to explain what is going on. We will not compete with Tsvangirai on rally tourism. What is the purpose of rounding up villagers so that your party officials can sing praises to you.
Q. A rally is a show of strength. Are you not holding rallies because you know you may not command huge crowds?
A. No, no, no. Even the Bible says there is a time for everything. This is a time to plan. Rallies may not matter that much, for example, we (MDC-T) held a rally in Mkoba where thousands of people came, but Zanu PF did not hold a rally. We however lost the by-election in Mkoba, where we barely managed 500 votes.