Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political crisis has received the attention of regional political players and civil society, with many calling for Sadc and the African Union (AU) intervention. Envoys sent by South African President and AU chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa to meet President Emmerson Mnangagwa and other stakeholders last week failed to meet the opposition as planned. Zimbabwe Independent senior reporter Bridget Mananavire (BM) spoke to MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa (NC) on the national crisis, as well as problems in the MDC Alliance. Below are excerpts of the interview:
BM: South African envoys visited Zimbabwe last week and you did not get to meet them. What really happened and what reasons were given for the cancellation of meetings?
NC: As the MDC Alliance we welcomed efforts by President (Cyril) Ramaphosa when he sent special envoys to our country. It’s a clear recognition and acceptance of what we have been saying for a long time – that we have a deep political crisis in this country – manifesting itself in human rights violations, economic deterioration and serious poverty. This is having a domino-effect in the region. We cannot continue being the region’s problem child. We have to grow up, but we need our neighbours to help us solve our differences. We were expecting to meet with the envoys. Unfortunately that did not happen. But it’s also positive that it happened that way because it gave President Ramaphosa, South Africa and the envoys a first-hand account of the challenges we face in this country when we try to engage in good faith.
BM: If you were to speak to President Ramaphosa, how would you propose he conducts the consultation process?
NC: Years ago, when President Nelson Mandela was asked about problems in Zimbabwe, his answer was that there was a tragic failure of leadership. We ask to provide leadership. We do not want the region to fall into a situation where the words of President Mandela return to haunt us. We need our leaders to take strong leadership, especially over the problems in Zimbabwe, which have gone on for far too long and are impacting our neighbours in very negative ways. Our view is that Zimbabwe is too big a problem to be delegated. It requires those who want to help to take a hands-on approach. We like the fact that people around President Ramaphosa, including Ministers Naledi Pandor and Lindiwe Zulu, have made it clear that there is a political crisis in Zimbabwe. We also noted the words from ANC SG Ace Magashule pointing out the crisis here, for which he was attacked by Zanu PF’s Mr Chinamasa. This is a change of wind from the hesitation and reticence of the past. Everyone is fed up and when people are fed up, they act.
BM: What are your expectations from this process?
NC: Our expectations are the expectations of ordinary Zimbabweans. They want to lead normal lives. Many people do not want to spend their day-to-day lives thinking or speaking about politics. They want to get on with their lives. That’s what we want to see; our people being active economic actors. So we expect this process to lay the ground for us to walk into the path of economic progress. We are guided by long-term interests, not short-term gains. If we wanted that, we could have accepted the carrot stick that was being dangled in front of us after 2018. We rejected that because we appreciated that it was not the solution to our problems as a people.
Zimbabwe must return to legitimacy and democracy through a credible dialogue process aimed at unlocking the crisis in our country, stemming from a vicious cycle of contested elections since 2000. Zimbabwe is in a crisis and this crisis requires soft landing through an inclusive and genuine dialogue process aimed at negotiating and implementing a comprehensive political and economic reform agenda. I hope that all Zimbabweans will appreciate this.
BM: What is your comment on Sadc leaders not discussing the Zimbabwe crisis at the virtual summit this week?
NC: This was a Sadc AGM with an agenda long prepared. Our matter could only be brought in via the Sadc Organ Troika, which is yet to be briefed by South Africa. In addition, it would have been expecting too much for us to expect the then chairperson of the Organ Troika Mnangagwa to bring himself on the agenda. Mr Mnangagwa was the one who was supposed to put it there as the chairperson of Troika. Mr Mnangagwa could not have reported himself or have tried to press a case against himself. Now that Mr. Mnangagwa is no longer the chairperson of the Organ on Security and Peace, we remain hopeful that the new chairperson will consider the plight of the long suffering people of Zimbabwe and take active steps, as he is required by the Sadc treaty and protocols, and become seized with the fast deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe.
Although Zimbabwe was not included in the communique, it remains uncontested that the unfolding events in Zimbabwe were discussed. We know from past experiences that the Communique does not often contain all matters discussed.
Be that be as it may, we remain convinced that Sadc plays a significant role in addressing the Zimbabwean crisis. No sane or rational citizen can argue that the current state of affairs in the country is not a threat to the security and peace of the people of Zimbabwe, if not that of the Sadc region.
The political situation in Zimbabwe constitutes a clear and present danger, not just to the security and peace of the people of Zimbabwe, but also to the region’s peace and security. An economically and politically burning Zimbabwe sets ablaze its neighbours, with its smoke choking the entire Sadc region. We will continue to exhort and urge Sadc to be truly a southern African people’s union and not a trade union of leaders’ blind solidarity. The concept of interference in the internal affairs of a country is an archaic and old-fashioned concept which has no place in the modern world, in which nations or parties to various international treaties on various forms of human rights co-exist. It is the favourite shield of dictators desirous of murdering, abducting, abusing, wrongfully imprisoning and generally violating the rights of citizens. In our view, the international community has set up adequate international mechanisms to intervene in situations which threaten not just regional and international security and peace, but also internal security and peace. We need to go further than Sadc Treaty and protocols to realise that Sadc has a right, in fact, an obligation to intervene in Zimbabwe when the internal situation in the country is deemed to constitute a threat to the security and peace of the region.
BM: Do you have plans to meet or engage the AU chairperson and South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa or his envoys in the near future?
NC: We are always in constant touch with various leaders and heads of state on the continent. We are always open to engagement. Our door is always open and we also knock on every door, as long as it helps to make the lives of the great and wonderful people of Zimbabwe better. The Covid-19 pandemic has restricted travel and physical engagements, but we continue to engage with counterparts in virtual spaces. We are in regular communication with key stakeholders. We have had a plethora of diplomatic visits and continent-wide advocacy to share our perspectives on various matters. We are always available to engage with regional leaders and or their envoys on matters of mutual interest. We have done this and will continue to do so.
With the solidarity and support of the international community at large, it is vital for Africa to author and script solutions to its own challenges. The future and destiny of Africa is in the hands of Africans.
BM: Now that there is intervention from regional players, does it mean a solution is in sight to end the country’s decades of socio-economic and political crises?
NC: We welcome the active interest being shown by our neighbours in the region. It shows that slowly but surely, our cries as a people are being heard. For far too long, and especially after 2013, the plight of Zimbabweans has been ignored or overlooked. But it has dawned on many others that the problems have continued. With the intervention of regional actors, we hope the crisis is being given the seriousness it has long deserved. We welcome these efforts and pledge to work with everyone to make sure we improve the lives of our people. The solution to our problems lies here with us.
The role of our regional brothers and sisters is to assist us to help ourselves. At the end of the day, it is the commitment of National leaders that should decide the destiny of our great country. I pray and hope that Mr Mnangagwa will have the same commitment as I have, to find a lasting solution to our areas of dispute. We must move away from their current denialism and Ostrich mentality. Since 2000, it has all been about the Zimbabwean crisis.
Our crisis is decades long. It remains our fervent hope we comprehensively and decisively deal with the key national questions, so that we move to the important issues of providing hope, stability, dignity, prosperity and positive transformation in the lives of the people of Zimbabwe. Ours is a great country, with great people and fantastic resources, but we have been the sick nation in Africa. It is so embarrassing that the Zimbabwean crisis has frequently been on the Sadc agenda and it is high time it is decisively dealt with. None but Ourselves!
BM: Is the MDC A open to any kind of GNU, if it is put on the table for discussion by the AU or Sadc?
NC: This is a good question, but you will understand, hopefully, that we will be getting ahead of ourselves. As the MDC Alliance, we want a lasting solution to our challenges and that means ensuring comprehensive reforms of our political system, so that future elections are held without controversies and our economic system is set on a path that delivers for the people. How we get to that are technical issues, but technical issues do not stand in the way of these big objectives.
We will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Once beaten twice shy. We are a lot wiser now. In our Return to Legitimacy, Openness and Democracy (RELOAD) document, we propose a five-step solution to resolving our challenges. We must all agree on the nature of the crisis; the comprehensive reforms to be undertaken, with key timelines and clear benchmarks; a programme of national and international re-engagement, peace-building, nation-building, national healing and an emergency economic rescue programme with a humanitarian support plan. We are committed to a process and an outcome that resolves the Zimbabwean fundamental political crisis and symptomatic economic collapse. We must put a full stop to the vicious cycle of disputed and rigged elections. Successive elections have been tempered with in ways that are contestable and would undermine the true will of the people. The most patent subversions have occurred in 2008 and 2018 respectively. We want free and fair elections untainted by violence and electoral fraud.
BM: Do you foresee Zanu PF considering a National Transitional Authority (NTA) and which players should constitute the NTA and why?
NC: The NTA is a proposition that has been on the table from some actors in Zimbabwe. Like all other propositions, it needs careful consideration, but as with the last question, we would be getting ahead of ourselves if we start discussing that here. I believe if there is room to discuss it with appropriate parties, it will be discussed. Zimbabwe’s challenges require all of us to play a role. Zanu PF has a role to play. The nature and specific form of the NTA should be part of the dialogue progress, which dialogue we restate should be convened by a mutually agreed convener, with the process being scaffold and underwritten by the international community.
BM: Is it really practical that a party in power can agree to such an arrangement that takes away its power?
NC: What is practical is to find a solution that improves the lives of our people. There is nothing more practical than that. My view is power is not held for its sake; power is an instrument that can be harnessed for the greater good. So, if colleagues are on the same wavelength, it is not about how much power you are giving away, but what you are using it for. There are many people with little power in their spaces, but are making a great difference to the lives of others. But there are also some people with a great deal who are causing misery to millions with that power. Power is useless if it is not being used for the greater good. Power without the people’s support and confidence is meaningless. In any case, it is not about power games anymore. It is about a credible process for a return to legitimacy, which all Zimbabweans have confidence in and which can bring back the collective dignity of all the citizens. It is a matter of life and death. Our dignity is at stake. Our well-being is at stake. The essence of our liberation struggle is at stake. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to rescue our beloved country and bequeath it to future generations as a jewel.
BM: There are various dialogue initiatives that are being led by a number of civic organisations and churches through the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, has there been any formal engagement on the need for dialogue between MDC Alliance and Zanu PF or have you been approached to participate in an all-stakeholders discussion?
NC: I am aware that well-meaning Zimbabweans are genuinely concerned with the situation in our country. As such, various initiatives are being pursued to find a lasting solution. We have been engaged in some of them. Indeed, we appreciate the efforts by the church.
BM: How is the MDC Alliance going to harness or ride on the current protests and movements in Zimbabwe?
NC: MDC Alliance is a people’s party and a citizen-driven project. We are the people and we the people shall be our own liberators. We, the people shall govern. The MDC Aliance remains the largest alternative voice and political actor. We stand ready to provide leadership to our country through a superior national policy proposition anchored on our SMART policy agenda.
The MDC has been in the trenches for more than 29 years now. We have had our highs and lows. We are proud of the fact that we have stayed the course. We like it when we see people taking responsibility for the struggle in their spaces. The consciousness has grown in recent years. Social media has provided a new and useful space of organisation, expression and articulation of voices. #ZimbabweanLivesMatter has shown the great potential there is when people are dedicated and purposeful. We are encouraged. It is not about us harnessing or riding on the wave of protests, but all of us complementing each other to achieve a better society. We continue to collaborate with others and to work in solidarity to reach our goal. We are dealing with a tough authoritarian government and we have learnt over the years that we cannot expose ourselves too easily. We have to be formless, like water. It would be unstrategic for us to divulge our work and how we are organising.
BM: The environment in the country seems ripe for a revolution and yet it appears there is no one willing to lead from the front. This is a concern that has been raised by the public that the opposition is weak and unwilling to lead from the front. What are your views regarding this?
NC: Critics and cynics are part of the leadership journey in a national democratic revolution. Peacemaking is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary it is a sign of strength, magnanimity, prudent and statesmanship. Revolutions are processes that have shaped the course of history. But revolutions have no timetable. They are not announced in advance and no sitting regime waits for a revolution that has been pre-announced. Revolutions are a popular expression of the people. We have been in this attritional war for democracy for more than 20 years as a party and for longer as a people. We are here because we have been led and because we are leading. We understand this administration more now than we did 20 years ago. The methods that we used before may no longer be appropriate. We have had to adapt our ways. We cannot judge ourselves, but we have been consistent. The groundswell of opinion around the world now is primarily echoing the message we have consistently sent out that this administration lacks legitimacy and without a restored legitimacy, we are going nowhere. We have not arrived here by accident. It is because some of us have remained steadfast in pushing this message.
BM: How much help do you think foreign countries can offer Zimbabwe without crossing the line of interfering with its sovereignty?
NC: No country is an island, certainly not in this day and age when things that happen in one country impact others significantly. Therefore, while sovereignty matters, the lives of citizens matter even more. Gone are the days when sovereignty was used to mask injustices and cruelty upon the citizens. There is, for example, the doctrine of responsibility to protect, essentially that when there are egregious human rights violations in one country, such as genocide or crimes against humanity, other countries may intervene to protect citizens. This should have happened in the Rwandan Genocide or Gukurahundi here in the 1980s. If it happened today, certainly there would be ample justification for going around the sovereignty argument. Still, even at risk level when the state commits torture and kills citizens and it is systematic, these are crimes against humanity. We look to our neighbours to assist us avert this disaster; to mitigate the risk before it gets worse.
BM: There are western countries that government has accused of interfering in Zimbabwe’s internal politics and sponsoring the MDC Aliance agenda for change, what is your comment on this?
NC: Our Zanu PF counterparts never take responsibility for anything. They prefer to find scapegoats at every turn. There is always someone or something to blame. If it’s not Western countries, it’s someone else. So we don’t lose sleep over these accusations. The evidence of our political capital is on the ground; the millions of men and women who support the cause we represent. Zanu PF would not survive a year without state support. We are surviving, despite the odds because of the political capital that is derived from the people. Our agenda is homegrown. Look at the issue of land compensation. They accused us of championing Western interests when we were advising on the land reform model, now they are at the forefront compensating the white farmers who lost their properties. Can you imagine what the state propaganda machine would be saying if we were calling for this compensation? But that’s Zanu PF for you. It sees the log in others’ eyes and none in their own.
BM: What nature of relationship do you have with President Emmerson Mngangagwa?
NC: I regard him as a fellow citizen. He is a political competitor whom we squarely overwhelmed in 2018. I am a simple but proud African from rural Gutu with a compelling transformation and modernisation dream for our country. I was raised under African traditions and culture. This culture entails that I acknowledge elders and Mr Mnangagwa is one of them. However, I have significant political differences with him as to the path and direction this country should take. These differences form the basis of what we all call the Zimbabwean crisis today. We have not had much interaction over the last three years. But when we were together in Parliament our conduct was based on professionalism and cordiality expected of persons of our station. But I cannot say we have exchanged Christmas cards, no.
BM: Do you have a plan to take back control of the party from the Thokozani Khupe-led MDC-T led, which took over Morgan Tsvangirai House, legislators and senators in Parliament?
NC: We can’t take back what we already control. We are with the people. We are the people. We are headquartered in the hearts and minds of the people, in the villages, farms, suburbs and townships of our country. In the 2018 general elections MDC-T participated and got about 40 000 votes and MDC Alliance participated and got more than two million votes. Let us be clear about this. MDC Alliance and MDC-T are two distinct and different political parties, just like Zanu PF and Zanu Ndoga. Would Zanu PF allow Zanu Ndonga to take over the Zanu PF HQ and its legislators in Parliament, with the assistance of organs of the state? The daylight robbery, theft and honeymoon are short-lived and temporary. As regards the unprecedented and unlawful actions against MDC Alliance, these matters as you are aware are still before the courts and will be determined in the fullness of time. There is a reason why you and I are talking right now. It is because I and my colleagues in the MDC Alliance are still in charge of the biggest party in the country. If it was different and those who had written us off in March were right, we would be irrelevant by now. But we sat back and said someone has disturbed the pond, but everything will settle in due course. The water will find its way and the debris will settle on the floor. We are comfortable. A party is the people. It is not defined by buildings. For a house to be a home, it needs people. So we are not worried at all because our people are very clear. They know that Zanu PF wants to completely destroy the MDC Alliance and it has used some among our former number to achieve that objective. As democrats, we have respect for the courts of law, but we also understand that, ultimately, political questions are settled in the court of the people. I think it is quite clear now where the people’s loyalty lies and we are humbled by the trust and confidence they continue to show in us.
BM: You made some changes in the party a few months ago, including appointing Fadzayi Mahere as the spokesperson of the party, how do you review these changes?
NC: I believe in the principle that a good leader surrounds himself or herself with capable people. Some even say great leadership is deploying your best talent to positions that they are suited for. When I made those changes, it was after thorough consultation and I am satisfied that as a collective, we made the right decisions. I do not have to say much on this because the evidence speaks for itself. I can only urge members of my team, both new and old, to continue the sterling work they are doing . . . We keep energising the base and revamping this glorious movement and renovating the people’s party. We keep making the necessary changes to renew and sharpen our effectiveness. In a modern party such as the MDC Alliance, change is fashionable.
BM: There have been concerns raised that MDC Alliance is turning out to be a mini-Zanu PF, where you have a very powerful leader, who, without consultation, single-handedly appoints people to senior positions, what is your view on this?
NC: I have learnt that when you are in a position of leadership, everyone has an opinion on you, but most of it is based on gossip or speculation. There are no decisions that I make without consultation. I do so because I believe in the collective. You cannot lead alone. But leaders have to decide, to lead; when decisions must be made, I’m not afraid to make them. I would be abdicating my duty if I didn’t do that. I work with many people, some whom may prefer to stay in the background because they are more effective there. The MDC Alliance continues to be resilient because we are a robust, democratic and inclusive institution.
MDC Alliance and Zanu PF are like night and day. MDC Alliance is the way to the future. In MDC Alliance, the party of excellence, leaders are elected at congress and appointed through the relevant organs. The democratic exercise of that constitutional power is the oxygen of any democracy. The provisions of the constitution in this regard have been followed to the latter and spirit.
BM: What can you say about the current crackdown on the opposition, journalists, civil society and human rights activists?
NC: It is now common knowledge that in Hopewell Chin’ono, Jacob Ngarivhume and Godfrey Kurauone, we have a new set of political prisoners in Zimbabwe. We do not forget Last Maingehama and Tungai Madzokere, our cadres who have been political prisoners for several years now. All prisoners of conscience and political prisoners must be released immediately. That’s why I echo the call #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. It is a call that recognises the heavy-handed and callous nature of the administration. There was no need for the crackdown. People should be free to express themselves peacefully . . . I actually believe the administration shot itself in the foot and has made things worse when it could have taken a proportionate response. You read the vile statement which was directed at the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference by the government. You saw the personal and insulting attack on Archbishop Robert Ndlovu, which was centered around his ethnicity. Removing top lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa as Chon’ono’s lawyer is a new low. I do not think even Ian Smith at the height of the madness of the time ever did this; choosing lawyers for political detainees. I didn’t think the authorities in Harare would sink any lower, but they continue to defy my estimation.
BM: Does MDC Alliance have a grand plan?
NC: We have a plan. We have always had a plan. Just this 2020, we had Agenda 2020 statement, articulation our plan for the year in which we did a focussed and a plan that would pivot on five big fights, the fight for legitimacy, the fight against corruption, the fight for livelihoods, dignity and better life, fight for fundamental rights, freedoms and security of persons and fight for constitutionalism. We have shared some of our policy documents, but beyond that, we are working with a team on readiness to govern, so that whenever we are called, we will be ready to serve the people of Zimbabwe with distinction and exceptional excellence.
A combined read of our RELOAD strategy document, our PRICE electoral and political reform blueprint and our SMART policy and economic blue print will inform you of our grand plan for moving the country from where it is now to where it should be for the benefit of all its citizens and those who live in it. In addition, the MDC Alliance is now organised differently from the defunct MDC. We are now organised as a mass centric party. Every member of the party, including the President, is now a member of a particular branch. Power and organisation now resides in and with the grassroots.
BM: How are you pushing for electoral and other political reforms ahead of 2023 elections?
NC: Just watch this space. As MDC Alliance, we have come up with our own electoral reforms draft bill detailing the reforms that we submit are so fundamental for the credibility of our elections. Electoral reforms are a must. We must have a truly independent electoral body. The diaspora vote is imperative. The real time management and announcement of the election results must be instituted.