Nelson Chamisa (NC, pictured), who was appointed substantive MDC-T president and the party’s 2018 presidential candidate by the party’s national council yesterday, will face the biggest challenge of his political career when he stands for presidency in the forthcoming general elections to be held by July. His dramatic ascendancy has not only created foes within his party, but has also put him on a collision course with hawkish Zanu PF politicians backed by the military. In written responses to Zimbabwe Independent political reporter Wongai Zhangazha (WZ)’s questions this week, Chamisa outlined his strategy for the polls, while tackling internal party succession strife and attendant dynamics. Below are excerpts of the interview:
WZ: The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) reported that 60% of the 5,3 million people who have registered to vote are between the ages of 18 and 40. How important is this for you as the opposition party?
NC: Every vote counts for us and we will leave no stone unturned to secure the maximum out of registered voters. We are not an opposition party. We are an alternative government — a government-in-waiting. This is a national strategic interest election. This election is about preserving our history, liberation legacy and freedom as a people as much as it is about securing a firm and democratic path to the future where change, opportunity and prosperity for all are the key beacons of hope and success.
WZ: What are the major programmes and policy strategies of the party that will attract those who will be the majority of eligible voters?
NC: Young people must be agents of change. 2018 is the year of the young. This is the year for the young to defend, protect and help the old or the elderly in and out of government. Young people are not passengers, but drivers to our destination of a new Zimbabwe. Young people are not only present, but involved and participating in all major leadership enterprises. We need to see more young people in parliament, in cabinet, in business, in local authorities and all spheres of life in our society. We should not end there. Let young people take charge in all spheres of our nation including business, government bureaucracy and general community leadership. Young people are the game changers; the movers and shakers. This is the year of the great shift and great transformation. You cannot transform a nation and an economy without a transformed mindset and this is why in our programming we are outing transformers and shifters at the centre of it all.
Our campaign is going to be an organic grassroots campaign. Just the same way the young Joshua Nkomo, young Robert Mugabe, young Herbert Chitepo, young Alfred Nikita Mangena, young Josiah Tongogara and young Lookout Masuku took charge to lead the liberation struggle. We must also as young people lead the battle of democratisation and transformation of our country.
On the policy front, in the context of our new economic blueprint, we have a credible jobs plan anchored on boosting productivity, enhancing public works programmes, driving entrepreneurship, injecting capital into an infrastructure master plan and rehabilitation as well as technology and skills transfer.
Young people are going to be the new army in waging the war against unemployment, poverty and suffering. We are behind our peers by 37 years, but we can catch up and overtake in five years. Zimbabwe is a sleeping economic giant soon to be awakened by strategic deployment by technological and innovation initiatives making it a renowned offshoring and outsourcing services centre in the whole world. This is so particularly if we leverage on our educational and human capital — skills, knowledge and experience — dividend.
WZ: What can you say have been the MDC-T’s past failures and challenges that you as president intend to fix?
NC: The MDC record is a record of courage, determination, sacrifice and delivery of service to the people. The party has scored major victories over the past 18 years. At 18, the party is an adult and has attained the legal age of majority and is ready for the bigger world out there. This 2018 at 18, we are ready to engage with the people of Zimbabwe through a resounding electoral victory in the coming election.
Our late president Morgan Tsvangirai was a visionary, an outstanding doyen of democracy who has left us a massive party of excellence with a ubiquitous footprint in all the provinces, districts and wards in the country. Ours is a national party that has faced challenges of repeatedly winning elections only to have the will of the people subverted by those who always want to rule by the sword. We have always won the hearts and minds of the electorate. We now need to win the support of the electorate, those with influence in other areas. That is our major task.
WZ: Which areas can you say as MDC-T you can do better speaking from the past mistakes?
NC: We have introduced an alternative governance culture. We have injected a fresh breadth of air into the structures of government, particularly during the inclusive government. Our craft competence and craft literacy have been second to none. We have remained standing as a party against all odds. Building a viable party in the middle of incessant machinations and attacks by our detractors is a mean feat.
We have managed to thrive in adversity and to fly in turbulence. We have the energy and we have the ideas. In fact, we are the answer to Zimbabwe’s question. We are the solution people have been waiting for through our menu of policies we shall soon be unveiling as we officially launch our election campaign, but we need to learn from our past mistakes and they are many. We are dealing with this internally.
WZ: There has been criticism that MDC-T is weak in terms of its rural social base. How do you intend to address this?
NC: We are a national party. A people’s party. We have a ubiquitous presence, a nationwide footprint. This is why it has been difficult to destroy this great people’s project. We are there in the rural areas. Our campaign is intensively ruralised and I can assure you we are there in the villages, in the mining towns, at the growth points and those outlying areas. We are engaging the very grassroots people and I can assure you that our work is bearing fruit. We have massive traction in the rural areas, although we need to consolidate and hold our line.
WZ: In terms of funding, is the MDC-T adequately funded? Do you have enough resources to challenge Zanu PF in 2018?
NC: The MDC’s greatest resource is its people. In that regard, we are adequately and sufficiently resourced. We have great engineers, accountants, bankers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, trade unionists, war veterans, former student leaders, minority and special interest groups in our midst, and that makes us a well-resourced team. We are mobilising financial resources from Zimbabweans and the party membership who have sacrificed and served this great party for a long time.
WZ: War veterans leader Victor Matemadanda recently denounced you saying your ascendancy to the position of acting president violated democratic principles which Tsvangirai stood for? What is you comment on that?
NC: Mr Matemadanda is a comrade and a veteran of the liberation struggle and like all other war veterans I respect him, but I am afraid he seems not to be well-versed with the MDC constitution. We are consummate democrats and practitioners in constitutionalism. I have always attacked and decried the perennial ailment in Africa of having constitutions without constitutionalism. We defend the rule of law, constitutional order and democratic practice. Well, besides, how does Zanu PF speak about respecting the constitution after the party resolved its succession crisis militarily?
WZ: What is the state, structure and dynamics of the MDC Alliance?
NC: Convergence is the new game in town. We believe in an omnibus as opposed to minibus. It is intact and on the roll. We are in the process of coming up with credible and popular candidates chosen by the people in various constituencies. We are going to be launching our new Zimbabwe blueprint soon. We have launched a diplomatic offensive in the region, on the African continent and globally to articulate our case for a credible, free and fair election in Zimbabwe. On the home front, we are rolling out meet-the-people programmes and rallies. I hope you have been attending our rallies. If not, you are welcome to our rally in Chinhoyi on Sunday and you will see for yourself the state of the MDC Alliance and its resonance with the people on the ground. Remember the alliance is a project of the people; it is people-driven.
WZ: Former vice president Joice Mujuru at Tsvangirai’s funeral said she was going to join the MDC Alliance. Are we going to see an alliance taking place with her party and what has been done so far since her announcement?
NC: In line with our convergence thrust, the party has given the leadership the mandate to conclude all business relating to alliance building within the next few days so that we focus on campaigning. Mujuru is welcome. We are hopeful that the collective will overwhelm the individual and the personal. We are heartened by the vision of our late leader who kick-started this process. We will not let him down. We must do it for him to unite all democratic forces and the nation. There can never be any better tribute to the late icon’s illustrious sacrifice than to deliver victory at the vote. That will be a befitting tribute to his life of service and sacrifice.
WZ: People out there are saying it is high time you and the party’s vice-presidents mend bridges and that the MDC-T should go to elections as a united party. How far have you gone with discussions of working together with the other VP’s?
NC: If we are to be remembered as democrats, we must be united, engaging, inclusive and accommodating in our politics. The future is inclusive. Leadership is no longer about one centre of power, but multiple centres of power all cohesively contributing to an organised universal unit that delivers and performs. We are building bridges, extending olive branches and smoking peace pipes for the greater and common good.
No leader is more important than the cause. For that reason, we all subordinate ourselves to the cause of the many. We are finding each other and every day is certainly far much better than the previous day in that regard. There is certainly no substitute for unity and we are actively working on that. In terms of how far we have gone, we can certainly not be holding discussions in the media, but we have gone satisfactorily far.
WZ: As MDC-T, is there anything you are working on to pressure the President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to adopt electoral reforms?
NC: There can never be a resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis without free and fair elections. Free and fair elections are the path to economic prosperity and unlocking of investment and entrepreneurship. Zimbabwe needs a fresh start; a fresh beginning. We must get Zimbabwe working again. It is only possible upon credible, free and fair elections.
We need an audit of the BVR voters’ roll to make sure we do not have people who have been pre-loaded, post-loaded, group loading of names or those who are dead on the roll. The issue of the servers has not been dealt with. We need to be sure of the system. It’s just four months before the election, and Mnangagwa has not given us a roadmap. In other jurisdictions within Sadc, parties are given 18 months in advance of how elections will be done. But in this country we do not know how other things will be done in terms of proclamation, nomination, assessing the voters’ roll. Who is going to be in charge of polling material? We must all agree on who prints the ballot papers. We must do forensic audits, even testing of those ballot papers before we use them. Access to the public media by all political parties must be granted, and making sure our military is liberated from partisan politics to focus on national duty of security and defence. These are the issues and we have engaged Mnangagwa and Zec to say we are still lagging behind, we need to be transparent. We are mobilising other opposition forces to support us in that regard.
As such we shall pursue multiple fronts, including strategic litigation on electoral issues. We shall be active on the streets to demand those reforms and also engaging the international community, including Sadc and the AU to be guarantors of free and fair elections.
WZ: Some have claimed that you are working closely with the military; in other words that you are their secret ally, front or useful idiot. What is your comment on that?
NC: I respect and honour our men and women in uniform. I personally have always wanted to be a soldier because I believe that serving in the military is the greatest of all national services. In fact, it is a patriotic act to be in the national army. So I admire our military particularly with regards to their outstanding achievements in the liberation struggle, international assignments and deployments.
I believe that the bullet brought the ballot, but in our circumstances, the bullet must work hand in glove with the ballot to secure the freedom of the ballot and not undermine it. I hope that very soon I will be working with our military as commander-in-chief to advance our national interest and secure this great and beautiful country, Zimbabwe. The rest is fiction.
WZ: What is the nature of your relationship with President Mnangagwa? Do you engage in any discussions — formal or informal?
NC: I respect him as the current President whom I will soon relate as the former president in the next few months. I have no personal relationship (with him). I only speak to him in formal platforms such as parliament and before in cabinet. I don’t have a special relationship with him outside formal platforms where we transact national business.
WZ: What is nature of your relationship with former president Robert Mugabe? Do you have any plans to meet him?
NC: He is the former President of Zimbabwe and I respect him in that context. There are good things he did and I recognise that. There are also mistakes he made; I hope to correct some of them if or when I come in. In terms of plans to meet him, I hope to meet him at our inauguration in a few months’ time. God bless you and God bless Zimbabwe.