PROMISE Mkwananzi (PM), the spokesperson of Tajamuka/Sesijikile, a non-partisan citizens’ movement that has co-ordinated significant protests against President Robert Mugabe’s government, spent nearly a month in remand prison and was released on bail last week. He was arrested and charged with inciting public violence and destroying property during a demonstration against police brutality on August 24. Zimbabwe Independent reporter Hazel Ndebele (HN) caught up with him to discuss his experience in prison and issues around the Tajamuka/Sesijikile movement, among other issues. Below are excerpts of the interview:
HN: Tell us about the Tajamuka/Sesijikile movement; what is it, how did it start, what motivated it and who came up with the idea?
PM: Tajamuka was an organic idea which began naturally because of the vacuum which was and is there in terms of cohesive youth mobilisation. There were discussions among various youth formations about the need to create a common platform, obviously to pull together towards what is now in the public domain, that is, the demands that we are putting to government. Initially it started off as a campaign which would raise the discontent of the young people to government through action and unity. The fundamentals were that young people from various progressive youth formations must come together for action. Tajamuka was never designed to be in the boardroom or in the hotel to discuss anything; it was designed to be in the streets in action with young people, particularly those 40 years and below. Young people from all walks of life, be it opposition parties or civil society, so that it how it started. However, now it has developed into a citizens’ movement. One of the centrepieces of Tajamuka’s strategy is the social media which plays a critical role in mobilisation and dissemination of information.
HN: What does Tajamuka seek to achieve?
PM: The idea is to push government to an early election in light of the economic crisis. We believe as Tajamuka that we cannot go all the way to 2018 like this. We cannot have any reforms as long as Mugabe is there. He must step down to allow a transitional period to take place and allow electoral, political and economic reforms to happen before elections. He is the biggest stumbling block to reform.
HN: Who is funding your social movement? There have been suggestions that you are sponsored by Western governments.
PM: We are not funded by anyone. Zanu PF has a tradition of criminalising and delegitimising legitimate voices that oppose its rule and one of the ways they do that is to allege that those groups are externally funded. It is an insult to the intelligence of people of Zimbabwe that they cannot determine their own destiny and need the West to define what they want. I think it is very important to clarify that from the Tajamuka point of view citizens of Zimbabwe are going to fund their own struggle. Our conception of Tajamuka is people should jamuka (protest) from wherever they are. We do not need to bus people from different places to demonstrate, they should demonstrate in their own localities. We do not need a lot of resources, we only need US$1 a week to buy WhatsApp data bundles and communicate with colleagues.
HN: You spent nearly a month in prison, how was your experience in jail?
PM: The conditions there are horrible. It is supposed to be a place to correct and reform, but people there are not treated as human beings and are badly punished. The sleeping space was not enough, the water situation is very bad.
Our meals were badly prepared, especially sadza. In the morning we were given dry bread with no tea and sometimes porridge with no sugar once a week, for lunch and supper we would be given sadza with spinach with a drop of cooking oil.
HN: What went through your mind when you were in prison and did you regret your actions?
PM: I knew immediately that the arrest was a political strategy to beat me down so I had prepared myself. Actually I used my time in there wisely to strategise with other members who were with me how we were going to handle the situation once we were out. I do not regret anything, I am actually more determined than ever and I say the struggle continues until the things we are demanding are done. We will be hitting the streets from every corner until Mugabe gracefully resigns.
HN: One of your members, Silvanos Mudzova, was abducted and tortured, how do you feel about this and are you not worried you could be next?
PM: I am obviously disturbed by such a barbaric act. Perpetrators of the criminal act will be brought to justice in the fullness of time. The abduction of Mudzova cements what we have always been saying that it is them (Zanu PF) who are responsible for Itai Dzamara’s disappearance. I am not scared at all because I know it is their strategy to intimidate us, but we are not fazed at all.
HN: Are you a member of any political party and, if not, do you have plans to turn Tajamuka into a political party?
PM: I am not part of any political party. People are very excited about political parties and there is anxiety about this organisation being turned into a political party. I do not think we will turn into a political party because we see limitations of being a political party. If a political party calls for action it is largely its members that will come, but if it is something like Tajamuka, which people know is not seeking political power but change, people tend to attend. In a citizens’ movement, citizens are not straitjacketed in political ideologies, to political bureaucracies or political orientations of their political party. Existing political parties must actually rally behind Tajamuka to create a critical mass.
HN: You were once part of the MDC-T structures, how is your relationship with MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai?
PM: As far as I am concerned we have a warm relationship. I think he is one important opposition leader and I think it is critical for him to lead the coalition formation because he has the experience and support. The only way elections can be won is for political parties to pull together and join forces.
HN: Is it true you were expelled from the University of Zimbabwe and did you further your studies after that?
PM: I was a law student at the University of Zimbabwe and, as a result of my role in the students’ movement which was critical of the dictatorship of Mugabe, I was deregistered in 2007. I went on to further my education at the Utrecht University in Netherlands where I attained a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations as well as a master’s in international development studies.