RENOWNED lawyer and MDC-Alliance treasurer-general David Coltart says the crisis which played out in the last few weeks in the backyard of the country’s main opposition MDC has Zanu PF fingerprints all over it. The former Education minister in the 2009-2013 Government of National Unity believes President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruling party is seeking to weaken and crush the once vibrant movement — a development he says lays the groundwork for the Zanu PF leader to establish a one-party state. Coltart (DC) this week spoke to Zimbabwe Independent correspondent Nkululeko Sibanda (NS). Below are the excerpts of the interview:
NS: The MDC-Alliance national council last week resolved to disengage from Parliament, citing a number of reasons. Given the political matrix at play in present-day Zimbabwe, would you think that this was the best way to confront the challenges the party is facing?
DC: Let me stress something about that decision for a start. It was not a final decision. It was agreed that there was need to suspend activities in Parliament pending consultation. So we are now trying to consult with our structures on the way forward.
NS: Would complete withdrawal of MDC-Alliance legislators from the National Assembly and the Senate be the best way to deal with issues?
DC: Well, I think at the moment we cannot say the decision to disengage will be a good one or bad one because we still need to see where the broad consensus, in terms of party members and supporters, lies. There are powerful arguments that can be forwarded both ways.
Let me take you a little bit back to 2005 and one of the reasons of the MDC split was whether to participate in the senatorial elections at the time or not. (Founding party leader Morgan)Tsvangirai did not want to participate in those elections. He put the matter to the national council which narrowly made a decision that we should participate in the elections and that is how the split came about.
I was in that group which said we should have participated in that election. And the reason why I said we should have participated was that we needed to maintain democratic space. We were not supposed to yield the hold that we had managed to get in places like Bulawayo to Zanu PF. And that argument, in a certain way, still holds sway today in saying that we are in Parliament. We need to maintain our hold in Parliament and not to let it go.
However, on the other side, there is a very strong argument to say we cannot compare the Parliament of today to the one in 2005 for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, no matter what one thought about the split then, there was no clear evidence in 2005 that either formation of the MDC was working with Zanu PF.
We had a disagreement in terms of policy but there was no question of either faction working with Zanu PF. No evidence was brought forward and, critically, there was no action taken by either faction to destroy the other. In that respect, things are totally different. In the present circumstance, we have the MDC-T which is working in clear alliance with Zanu PF. The best example that I can put forward is the removal of the four MPs.
It would be impossible for the four MPs to be removed from Parliament without the consent of Zanu PF. In essence, the speaker of Parliament (Jacob Mudenda) made a political judgment in the matter given that he had two letters before him, one from the MDC-A which said Mwonzora and company should be dismissed and another from Mwonzora pushing for the recall of the four MPs.
The Speaker decided to act in a quasi-judicial manner where he dismissed one letter and upheld the contents of the other. What I am saying is because of this clear connivance, one dares question or imagine how it would be to remain in parliament going forward. We wonder whether parliament is still independent or it is now a body that one political party can abuse to deal with the other.
NS: Some within the MDC-Alliance family as well as outside feel there was a need for the party to engage with its stakeholders before the decision to disengage from Parliament was reached. Do you share this sentiment?
DC: Well, I think that is our intention (to consult), bearing in mind that this is a provisional decision subject to consultation with the wider MDC-Alliance family. We still need to go out there and consult. There is also an understanding going on in Parliament that our MPs are being subjected to a lot of intimidation in the form of people saying if you resign, if you do not join Mwonzora, there are going to be a lot of consequences. We have seen (Justice minister) Ziyambi Ziyambi talking about the withdrawal of MPs’ vehicles and all sorts of things. There are overt threats on our MPs and covert threats as well.
NS: One believes that Parliament is the rightful body to handle the administrative issues pertaining to the withdrawal of MPs for one reason or another, in that certain measures will be taken in accordance with the standing rules of Parliament. Is there anything wrong with that?
DC: If we are to assume that Parliament is an objective national institution and independent in its discharge of duties, then it’s a different case. But when our Parliament ceases to be independent and becomes an appendage of Zanu PF, those rational and lawful processes won’t take place.
NS: Reports this week have suggested that there is discord within the MDC-Alliance and its MPs on the course of action to be taken, chief among them the disengagement agenda. One would wonder: Is everyone in the MDC-Alliance singing from the same hymn book with the national leadership of the party?
DC: Inevitably, in any political situation, you might never get a consensus on a particular issue all the time. That is made even more difficult in a country where people have no other prospects of employment outside their being MPs. Our people have been reduced to paupers by some of the policies of this Zanu PF regime. Some of our MPs have very tough choices to make. Many of them live from hand to mouth. They do not have savings.
Quite frankly, they will be thinking of their survival post the Parliamentary term. So this talk of losing cars and allowances and amending the constitution to avoid by-elections is designed to send a message to all our MPs to say that if you go with the decision of the MDC-Alliance (to disengage from Parliament), you will lose all these things, your cars and allowances and you might never return to Parliament again. It is the equivalent of blackmail and, in those circumstances, it would be foolhardy for me to say that we will get 100% support. A lot of our MPs would be in dire circumstances and, because of that, some of them might not make a decision based on principle.
NS: Should a sizeable number of MPs refuse to toe the party line to disengage, what are the available options for the MDC-Alliance leadership insofar as ensuring that these members are brought to the same page as the rest of their colleagues in the party?
DC: I would not have that answer off the top of my fingertips. But allow me to respond and say, to me, this is a clear attempt by Mnangagwa to enforce a de facto one-party state in Zimbabwe. It’s clear from the non-payment of monies due to us under the Political Parties Finance Act, it’s clear from the connivance with the Speaker of Parliament, it’s clear from Mwonzora’s actions that Zanu PF wants to weaken and destroy the MDC-Alliance under the leadership of Nelson Chamisa.
It’s clear from the actions of the police who were called in to deal with the issues of trying to get access to the party headquarters (by Mwonzora) that that is their intention. And anyone who does not see this as a brazen attempt by Mnangagwa, with Khupe and Mwonzora in tow, to re-create a one- party state in Zimbabwe is simply not in touch with reality. Given that, my assumption is that they will do everything in their power to threaten our MPs to go against the party they represent, that is the MDC-Alliance.
They are trying to get access to our assets. They are busy trying to ensure that the money meant for the party (ZW$7,5 million under the Political Parties Finance Act), which we also intend to use to pay our workers, does not get to us. It is all in furtherance of that attempt by Mnangagwa to weaken us and, in the process, institute his one-party state agenda.
I have to state that if we are not inclined to taking up arms and to a violent route of stopping Mnangagwa from instituting his one-party state agenda, we then have one option available to us, which is to go back to the drawing board and establish means and ways in which we can strengthen ourselves to take Mnangagwa head-on and stop him from doing what he intends to do.
NS: Some people have argued that the name MDC can now be safely tucked away in the annals of history. They believe that with all that has been happening to the brand, it is time to park it and come up with a new identity that does not have the excess baggage. And they argue that the party still has enough time to build its image and support base under a new name ahead of the 2023 elections. What would be your view with regard to this sentiment?
DC: Well, I think that debate is raging. We need to apply a business branding approach to it. In business, corporates like Coca-Cola use billions of dollars in branding. So the question is whether, on balance, the MDC is a positive brand or a negative brand. I think that is an open question that I cannot answer. All I can say is that the MDC brand is a positive one in the sense that it is well-known. Everyone knows the brand because of its association. It is a negative brand because it has been associated with splits and factions for all these years.
There is also a question to say, in 2018, Nelson Chamisa got more votes on his own than all his MPs. So you can then ask what was wrong with the MPs and the brand MDC which made them fail to get all those votes to match those that Chamisa, as a brand on his own, managed to get. There is no doubt that Nelson Chamisa is a powerful brand that you can then take and institutionalise.
NS: On another note, the MDC formations have been at each other’s throats fighting over company assets. As the party treasurer, what can you say are the properties that belong to the party at the moment?
DC: When the MDC was formed, it was agreed that we needed to stay away from individualising party property. In saying that, there are quite a number of immovable party properties that are still there. It is only that they are not registered under the name MDC.
NS: Last year, there were reports that there was money that had disappeared from the coffers of the MDC under your very watch. Has there been any movement with regard to tracing and recovering the money?
DC: I have issued press statements on several occasions where I have explained that there was no money that had disappeared. We made a decision to have our books audited as a party. That decision had nothing to do with the money that is said to have disappeared. It was an internal arrangement to put our things in order. I also said that I had put in place systems that made it impossible for money to be abused.It is unfortunate that I do not have any evidence of any money being abused as alleged.