THE opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) this week celebrates its 17th anniversary in Bulawayo.Zimbabwe Independent senior political reporter Wongai Zhangazha (WZ) caught up with MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai (MT, pictured) to discuss the party’s achievements, failures and prospects, among other issues. Below, we publish the first excerpts of the interview which will be continued next week:
WZ: The MDC marked its 17th anniversary on September 11. What have been the party’s major achievements and failures?
MT: The MDC has been a phenomenon characterised by a movement which emerged out of the people. It is a people’s project and we were an unknown quantity at our formation. The achievement of the MDC was to break the siege on people by the Zanu PF government, bringing in a new constitution in the country and a new political philosophy outside Zanu PF’s authoritarian nationalism. We definitely introduced a new democratic narrative in the country and we believe it’s what the country needs.
One achievement we can summarise by saying that the MDC provided an alternative to one-man rule, an alternative to one-party rule. I think the only negative side I have is the failure of not being able to achieve democratic change and the transfer of power through the electoral process.
WZ: What are the major programmes and policy strategies of the party going forward, what can you do better, picking from your past failures and challenges?
MT: As they say, doing the same things over and over again while expecting different results is insanity. The party has gone through what I call ups and downs. It has split, but I think the resurgence and the unity of the people’s project still enjoys the majority of Zimbabwean support.
We believe that national mobilisation of the people, involving the people in their own project, is actually the way we need to continue. But also at our congress we had a clear road map that we need to put pressure on Zanu PF so that we can bring Mugabe to the negotiating table and that negotiation should define a transition and that transition that should lead to free and fair election.
We are still committed to the electoral route as an avenue for change rather than anything else so that’s the focus of our party — our programmes will be defined by that road map.
WZ: Which areas can you say as MDC you can do better, speaking from the past challenges?
MT: We have to recognise the fact that Zanu PF survival has not been because of the electoral mandate. It has been because of the pillars of support that they have continued to enjoy, especially the security establishment. We want to convince everyone in Zimbabwe that the current crisis that we face as a country is as a result of defending the indefensible and that people of Zimbabwe should script their own agenda rather than being protected as if they want patronage from anyone. I think we have learnt that we need to engage everyone across the political divide and also the security establishment that in the end it’s not about individuals but the welfare of Zimbabweans.
WZ: By engaging everyone, do you also mean engaging those who split from the MDC?
MT: Let’s examine the nature of the split. Was the split caused by a conflict of policy or it was just a personality conflict? I believe both the 2005 split and 2014 split had nothing to do with major policy conflicts. It has always been about personalities and, as far as I am concerned, everyone has a democratic right to move away from the organisation even if we don’t encourage it; to move away and form their own parties. But fundamentally they are not our enemies; we don’t regard any of the people who split from the MDC as enemies.
WZ: You said you need to translate the massive support base into registered voters. What programmes or processes have you in place to motivate your supporters to register to vote?
MT: I have made an assessment during my tour of the party in every province and I have come to the conclusion that if we have to increase our vote beyond the traditional 1,2 million voters that always vote for us we need to tap into the new voters — the millennials. Those who are young, educated but are uninterested in politics. Our assessment is that between the age of 18 to 35 only 3% vote. That’s where we need to encourage their participation. At least we need another extra million.
WZ: There has been a lot of debate around succession and the failure by Zimbabwe’s major political parties to manage it. Does the MDC have a succession plan? If yes, can you elaborate and, if not, why is it so?
MT: Every party has got its constitution. Every party has got its modus operandi. I am sure the MDC is seized with the matter. It’s not even about succession; it’s about how leaders are elected when there is an opportunity to elect a leader. The leader of the party is elected directly by the people and anyone can contest that post. Because of that, you can then not say there is a plan to have a succession without having the underlining principle — of the people choosing their leaders at their appropriate time.
There are congresses and, even if there is no congress, there is an opportunity for the people to participate in the election of their leaders, especially the leader of the party. So anyone who is interested at that particular point will put forward their candidature and the people elect. I want to emphasise here that I am not the type of leader who wants to die in office. I would want to see a situation where the party elects new leaders so that there is continuity and sustainability.
WZ: Zimbabweans, in some cases led by your party, have taken to the streets protesting President Mugabe’s misrule and bad policies, while the police have violently cracked down on demonstrators. Have protests been effective?
MT: The programme for campaigning for electoral reforms is not just an event, it is a process. When we are campaigning for reforms and we are pressuring Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) to institute those reforms in the electoral management system; we are saying even Zanu PF will benefit from the electoral reforms. But here you have a state which then responds to the demand for electoral reforms violently, so what does it mean? It means that Zanu PF does not want an independent electoral management system and would like to maintain the status quo which everyone realises is not in the best interest of a free and fair election.
The demonstrations have been effective. The state responded brutally; if they were not effective the state would have not responded. We will continue to re-examine out tactics and our strategies around putting pressure on electoral reform.
WZ: Where do you see the country going in the next two years before the 2018 elections?
MT: The country is really at a precipice. The financial situation is precarious, the economy is on its knees, and there is massive discontent across class, business, workers, unemployed, students. Every sector of our society has a grievance against the government. Therefore, you cannot run a government with so much internal discontent.
My own assessment is that this pressure will continue and that the centre will have to give in to a negotiated political settlement. I am very confident that this will happen before the 2018 elections and that a clear roadmap to the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis is VaMugabe should retire. We should have a transition, a political settlement to sort out reforms leading to free and fair elections. Any other route will not solve this problem. It’s just a perpetuation of the inevitable.
WZ: So do you see demonstrations increasing even after the bond notes are released to the public?
MT: I see a situation in which the public expression of discontent will increase. Literally it’s like a spring — the more the pressure, the more the rebound. So the more the state responds to the people’s expression of discontent by repression, the more people will gather their courage to confront the regime. The bond notes will be a trigger point because it reminds people of the previous experience of the worthless Zimdollars and bearer cheques.