What is needed in Zimbabwe is a Communist Party that will assist and teach a multi-class organization like the MDC how to mobilize and organize people. These are the controversial views of human rights lawyer Nqobizitha Mlilo, who for years worked in the MDC regional office in South Africa. Mlilo spoke to SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma and says he believes the MDC has failed to ‘Africanize’ its democratic discourse and allowed the ZANU PF propaganda that they are western puppets, to hold sway on the African continent. Until they overcome this the MDC can win elections but will never secure a transfer of power from ZANU PF.
Interview Broadcast 20 May 2010
Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to this edition of Behind the Headlines. This week we have taken a short break from our five part series talking to the various MDC ambassadors scattered all over the world and we are bringing this week a very interesting perspective from human rights lawyer Nqobizitha Mlilo who is currently based in South Africa. A lot of you will know him for his involvement with the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai and he spent quite some time at the South African regional office of the MDC – that’s Nqobizitha Mlilo joining us on Behind the Headlines. Thank you for sparing this time to join us.
Nqobizitha Mlilo: Thank you Lance for having me on your programme.
Guma: Well starting point – you wrote a very interesting article ‘In Search of a Lasting Solution for Zimbabwe’, in which you made a few, shall we say, controversial suggestions – I’ll start with the first one. You argue in this article that Zimbabwe is in need of a communist party. Explain that for us.
Mlilo: Well Lance the reality of the matter is that the people of Zimbabwe led by their Movement, the Movement for Democratic Change has waged a very difficult struggle against the despotic regime of ZANU PF and we must remember that the history of the formation of the MDC describes the MDC as a multi-class organisation and invariably a multi-class organisation has inherent contradictions because it is an organisation in which different classes are in a struggle and invariably at various stages in the development of that struggle, one class dominates the other and I’m suggesting that, because inherently the Zimbabwean struggle is a struggle for the working class, you need a communist party to be able to continue to steer the MDC and keep it rooted in the aspirations of the ordinary people in Zimbabwe who inspired the formation of the MDC in the first place.
Guma: So is this a communist party as competition or a communist party as an alliance partner?
Mlilo: A communist party can never be in a competition with anyone. The responsibility of a communist party is always a responsibility to the working class and some of the working class people that form part and parcel of the MDC are invariably beneficiaries of an overall democratic project of Zimbabwe. So this communist party will in essence be a party that helps to educate the MDC and teach the MDC matters relating to organisation, education and mobilisation.
You will remember the history of South Africa in which the Communist Party of South Africa, then known as the South African, today now known as the South African Communist Party helped the ANC to shape its policies and shape its direction and manner in which it waged the struggle against apartheid. But the relationship between a communist party in Zimbabwe and the MDC would be a relationship in which the communist party materially assists the MDC in making sure that it remains true to the aspirations of working people in Zimbabwe.
Guma: OK now I’m sure the reason why you are advancing these sort of arguments and I’ll refer to your article, the one entitled ‘In Search of a Lasting Solution for Zimbabwe’, you argue that the MDC needs to Africanise the democratic discourse in Zimbabwe because you feel at an African level or within the African context, they have failed to articulate themselves as a party rooted in Zimbabwean politics and have failed to counter the propaganda of them being labelled by ZANU PF as western stooges.
Mlilo: Well Lance, it’s always a problem that will be faced by post-colonial political formations, more so a post-colonial formation fighting one of the most protracted dictatorships on the African continent, ZANU PF. So some of the failures of the MDC are failures of history as it were that their position in history, or the position of the MDC in history makes it impossible or makes it difficult for the MDC to be able to fight some of that propaganda.
You’ll know that the MDC has done a lot of work on the African continent; it’s done a lot as well in its speeches and in its projection of what they want for the people of Zimbabwe. It has done a lot in trying to convince Zimbabweans that it is the only alternative for a future and a better Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans have been materially convinced of that. The problem comes where, it seems in Zimbabwe what you now need as Tendai (Biti) describes the mid-wife of Zimbabwe’s politics, seems to be SADC and the African Union as a whole so therefore it seems the struggle has now already moved from the terrain of Zimbabwe to a terrain in which the MDC would need to convince every other African state or every other African that it represents the aspirations of Africa in general and the Zimbabwean people in particular.
It appears to me that you can have elections in Zimbabwe everyday, it will not change anything because what you need to ensure a transfer of power does not seem to be a statistical vote on the part of Zimbabweans because that we have seen since 2000. Since 2000, statistically the MDC has been able to win elections, what has been missing has been the transfer of power and this mid-wife for the transfer of power is the African continent and to the extent that the African continent has not accepted as it were or has not been as warm as it should be to the MDC, I don’t foresee any transfer of power. So that’s why I’m saying the emphasis needs to be on convincing the African continent that the MDC indeed shares, which it does, the aspirations of those that went to fight against colonialism in Zimbabwe and indeed across the African continent.
Guma: Are we not giving too much credibility to the African continent in terms of the democratic values on the whole continent because it has rather been a case of birds of a feather, or birds of the same feather, flocking together in terms of the fact that, dictators scattered all over the continent have naturally been inclined to support each other, so is that not the problem?
Mlilo: Well it might be the problem but it does not change anything Lance. The reality of the matter is that the Zimbabwean struggle, you need African continent, SADC and the AU to be the mid-wife of this democracy. I submit respectfully Lance, that you can have elections in Zimbabwe every day; you’ll get the same results. What you will not get is a transfer of power to the extent the African continent has not used its muscle collectively to usher in a new dispensation, whatever the character of that new dispensation.
So whatever the faults of the African continent, call them dictators, call them whatever names we, you so wish, the reality of the matter is that you still need the African continent to be the mid-wife of a beginning of a new Zimbabwe. The ushering in for example of the Global Political Agreement, it is by and large a product of Africa. Whatever the flaws of the Global Political Agreement may be, what comes out quite clearly is that you need the African continent to be able to change the direction in which the country will take. So if the direction which the country has to take is a democratic direction, the only way to do that is to have the African continent on board whatever their character may be.
Guma: You further argue that those who have power and sway in the southern African region and indeed the whole continent as a whole will excuse the excesses of ZANU PF under the pretext of revolutionary violence and necessity in defence of African land from imperialist stooges. Do you think by and large, this has been the problem?
Mlilo: Yes this has been the problem by and large. There’s no doubt that if one looks at the history of the formation of the MDC and the political credentials of Morgan Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti, Nelson Chamisa, Lucia Matibenga and then the list goes on. Brian Kagoro, Deprose Muchena and all those people, there’s no doubt that these people have been progressive, there’s no doubt that they share the values that are African, there’s no doubt that they wish to see the completion of their ideals for the struggle against colonialism but there has been a propaganda that has been meted out by ZANU PF, so consistently and so crudely in a very sophisticated way which sought to project the MDC as some clone of western imperialism.
So whatever the MDC suggests and whatever victories the MDC scores statistically on an election, the response by ZANU PF through the military and through the militia has always been violent and that violence, in discourses with various people in various African organisations, they will tell you that no, ZANU PF is a revolutionary organisation which is engaged in some violence which is justifiable because the revolution is under threat from imperialist clones in the MDC.
So unless the MDC can be able to wash itself of this characterisation, I’m getting back to the point that unless the African continent accepts the MDC as a genuinely, genuinely home grown political party which shares the aspirations of Julius Nyerere and all those heroes of the African continent, Jomo Kenyatta and so forth, I do not see how a democratic Zimbabwe can be manifest.
Guma: And how does the MDC do that? How do they assure their African counterparts on the continent that they are a home grown political party that has all these ideals that you are talking about?
Mlilo: Well I think we have to create bi-lateral relationships, between the MDC and the Communist Party of South Africa, the South African Communist Party, the ANC, COSATU and create a relationship with former liberation movements across the African continent. You remember that in Tanzania only a few weeks ago, Robert Mugabe was with other leaders of former liberation movements and I’m aware of resolutions of the ANC and the South African Communist Party to the effect that they need to regroup former liberation movements and have a discussion basically about the direction of the continent.
The MDC needs to be found at the table of these discussions and project itself as an organisation that simply wants to carry on with the struggle which these gallant organisations waged against colonialism. So in the mobilisation of former liberation movements, the MDC has to characterise itself or has to be party to these discussions and this will be a beginning of a way of re-branding as it were.
Guma: The problem Mr Mlilo is none of these liberation movements that have transformed themselves into political parties have ever given up power voluntarily and the whole continent is a very good example of that.
Mlilo: Well in history there’s never been a situation in which a dictatorship gives power voluntarily. Marx says the history of all classes, the history of all hither is a history of class struggle. The MDC has committed itself to peaceful, non-violent means of struggle and it has said that they will win state power by means that are peaceful. In other words, the Party has made its bed and therefore it will have to sleep on it. So to the extent the MDC continues to punt the mantra of peaceful democratic change it will of necessity mean, that the struggle will be long.
Guma: The MDC in Zimbabwe is fighting against State machinery that effectively controls the entire broadcast spectrum, dominates the print media, controls the police, the army, the air force, the prisons and all other State security organs, are they not handicapped in what they are able to achieve?
Mlilo: Well the material conditions Lance clearly indicate that the MDC has its back against the wall and that’s why I’m saying some of the failures of the MDC are failures of the historical positioning of the MDC, its position in history, that perhaps society, our Zimbabwean society is still at a stage where the ground has not really matured for an outright revolution. But the reality of the matter is that the MDC will have to initiate processes that ensure that within the given circumstances it has to win the confidence of the African continent.
It has already won the confidence of the Zimbabwean people, therefore that kind of propaganda within Zimbabwe is neither here nor there because Zimbabweans are already convinced that their future belongs in the MDC. The battle lies elsewhere. The battle lies in creating a rapport with SADC, a rapport with the AU and ensuring that the MDC is recognised, seen as a genuinely home grown political party.
My submission is that the battle no longer lies within the boundaries of Zimbabwe, the battle lies within the boundaries of convincing African citizens and convincing African governments that the MDC is a genuinely home grown political party. Within Zimbabwe the MDC has done everything correctly and it has won the confidence of the people of Zimbabwe. What is needed is to win the confidence of those outside Zimbabwe within the African continent.
Guma: My final question for you Mr Mlilo and it’s taking you up on that point, some will say your theory or your way of doing things, mortgages our fate as Zimbabweans into the hands of foreigners. Why is it not possible for Zimbabweans to determine their own fate in terms of the internal politics, the internal dynamics in the country and choose a leadership of their choice? Why does it have to rely on what other African countries think?
Mlilo: No, no, no, no Lance. Look the reality is that Zimbabweans have been very clear and decisive about what they want. They have made a position very clear that they want the MDC, they want Morgan Tsvangirai as their president and this position has been consistent since 2000. But what has also been consistent since 2000 is that there has not been a transfer of power and the reason why there has not been a transfer of power is that the African continent has not seen the MDC as a genuinely home grown political party.
So it is not mortgaging the Zimbabwean struggle, it’s simply accepting the political reality of the situation. Remember a struggle has basically two important legs and pillars to stand on – the internal struggle and the international struggle. You can win the internal struggle but to the extent have not won the international struggle; you’ll still not have a democratic Zimbabwe. You can win the international struggle and to the extent you have not won the internal struggle, you’ll not have a democratic Zimbabwe.
So having finished the agenda of the internal struggle the only thing that is now left is to convince the African continent that, and I don’t see that as mortgaging the Zimbabwean struggle, it is simply saying as Zimbabweans, we have done everything that we can peacefully and democratically within Zimbabwe, now we simply require the African continent to deliver this new baby that Zimbabwe has won.
And secondly, the MDC so far accepts the responsibility of the African continent, that is why if they have any quibble in this inclusive government, the first thing that is said is that we must refer this dispute to SADC. And I don’t want to believe that the MDC by referring disputes to SADC is necessarily saying that we are mortgaging the Zimbabwean struggle.
The reality Lance is that Zimbabweans have done absolutely everything they can to have a democratic Zimbabwe, the MDC has led a very difficult struggle and has won the confidence of the people of Zimbabwe against very difficult odds. The only struggle that is now left, is the struggle to convince the minds and hearts of Africa’s citizens and Africa’s governments that the MDC represents the collective benefit of the African continent.
Guma: That’s Nqobizitha Mlilo, a human rights lawyer based in South Africa. He’s worked for several years within the MDC, at the regional office in South Africa. Mr Mlilo, thank you very much for joining us on the programme.
Mlilo: Thank you very much Lance. It’s not yet uhuru.
SW Radio Africa