Mugove Tafirenyika 11 November 2018
HARARE – MDC leader Nelson Chamisa believes that the country’s economic
situation will remain dire until a solution is found to the legitimacy
question that he is currently pursuing. In this wide-ranging interview
with the Daily News on Sunday’s Mugove Tafirenyika, Chamisa speaks on
these and other issues.
Q: The economy is bleeding amid runaway inflation and sky-rocketing prices
of basic goods. What needs to be done?
A: The economy functions on the basis of trust and confidence. These two
are a feature of stable politics. Our crisis in Zimbabwe is a crisis of
governance and leadership.
Zimbabwe went to an election on July 30, the people voted, the people
decided overwhelmingly but there was a reversal and negation of the
people. The people’s victory was ousted and this plunged the country into
the current crisis.
So, the economic crisis you are seeing is a result of the political crisis
because economics flourishes in good political environments. The economy
wilts and withers under bad politics and governance. The solution lies in
inspiring confidence and respect of the will of the people, to return to
political legitimacy, to honour what the people voted for and to respect
the outcome of the election. We must have sound politics and zero
tolerance to corruption.
Q: Is there political will to do that?
A: It is clear there is no political will to do that but because there is
no political will on the part of our colleagues in Zanu PF also means
there is no capacity to resolve the economic challenges the country is
Zimbabwe – our nation – is deeply divided, it requires a unity of purpose;
it requires collective effort by all Zimbabweans to resolve our
challenges. Each generation has an obligation and a duty to define its
problems and be able to fashion solutions to those challenges.
This is why we have produced a five-point plan which is a path to
stability and transformation. One, the need to return to legitimacy, two
we need a comprehensive reform agenda around electoral reforms, political
reforms, media reforms, constitutional and legal reforms. The judiciary
also needs to be reformed.
Q: There is a very strong sentiment among Zimbabweans that there is need
for you to work with President Emmerson Mnangagwa to navigate this crisis.
Is that feasible?
A: Look, people are very cautious about the government of national unity
(GNU) that does not address fundamental issues. I am not for an elite pact
or unity of the top without the unity of the base, the unity of the
people. This country is deeply-divided.
It requires a nationalistic and patriotic leadership beyond narrow
partisan agendas to move it forward. That does not necessarily refer to a
GNU but an immediate meeting of the minds on key national issues.
We must all agree on what the national question is. And once we resolve
what that national question is, let us then say what is our national
solution. We cannot address the problems we are faced with; a narrow
partisan perspective cannot be the answer to our problems. We also must
talk about nation building and peace building, national healing and
Q: There are also reports that church leaders are burning the midnight
candle to get you guys to find each other. What role are they playing?
A: I think the best thing is to ask the churches you are referring to. All
I know is that there are bishops who have come to hear our perspective and
we have given that perspective. There have not been any contacts with
Mnangagwa. We made efforts before the elections because we knew that our
country required us to work together as Zimbabweans.
When I say working together I must hasten to say that this is not about a
unity government. It entails people being able to agree on the national
issues. Right now, there is no agreement on the national issues. There is
no agreement on what the common problem is. The key institutions in the
country must agree on that then we take the country forward.
Q: How do you react to governments’ response to recent protests by the
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions over the deteriorating economic crisis?
A: Look, you must also know that the establishment acts illegally in
trying to avoid and crush demonstrations.
Instruments of terror and force are temporary, they cannot be sustained.
People have the right to demonstrate, people have the right to express
themselves and because they have that right, nobody has the power to stop
them, including the government.
In terms of our Constitution, section 59, people have the right to
demonstrate. The treatment of labour leaders, for example, was very
unfortunate. It tells you how the 38 years of power have corrupted my
colleague Mnangagwa. It is totally uncalled for.
Why should we have that in power abuse it to suppress the legitimate
expression of the voiceless and the powerless?
Why should one be uncomfortable with people who are demonstrating
peacefully? You must have problems with people violently demonstrating
either through arms of war or other means but these are peaceful people.
Q: The MDC controls the majority of local authorities. What can we expect
from them outside the usual complaints of corruption?
A: We thank the people of Zimbabwe for entrusting us with the important
role of being the stewards of cities and towns. For the record, we have
over 28 cities and towns that we are leading and we have said there is
going to be five fundamental issues in those cities.
We are going to adopt a zero tolerance to corruption attitude; we will
emphasise strongly on accountability and transparency. That is why we have
set up a standalone hotline at the party headquarters and in the various
cities in the provinces for purposes of whistle-blowing if there are any
councillors that are misbehaving.
So, corruption is one thing we must be able to deal with because it is
alien to us while it is part of the Zanu PF DNA. It is foreign to us, we
do not accept it in our midst. That foreigner is not a welcome one. Our
emphasis is on our smart policies, smart delivery of service.
Service delivery is very important so we have a very high standard that we
are emphasising on. The third issue is the participation of residents in
decision-making, respecting their associations, budget consultations that
involve ordinary residents, town hall meetings to feedback on progress is
Number four, we are also emphasising the issue of building strong cities
in towns not just in terms of infrastructure but also in terms of twinning
programmes to get best practices from across the globe. So that our people
are given the honour and respect they deserve.
Last but not least, is also the principle of devolution. The biggest
problem is that we have local authorities that are not autonomous and
independent in decision-making. There is consistent and constant
interference by the central government through the local government
ministry to the detriment of service delivery and judicious decision
In particular, we have seen how town clerks are an appendage of a
political party and they become a prohibiting factor in dealing with
Corruption in local authorities is at the software level, the technical
level, the employee level. The councillors cannot be corrupt but because
the software is corrupted it makes it difficult to deal with it. We have
said we must deal with those issues.
We have said we need political reforms to remove excesses and imperial
powers of the minister. You don’t need those because the Constitution is
alive to the principle of devolution.
We must give the local authorities the chance to succeed or fail
independently because they are the local people. We are also saying going
forward we want restoration of executive mayors but they also must be
accountable to the people.
We need to have a right of recall by residents on councillors, mayors and
even MPs who are not performing but there has to be a mechanism in place
so that we don’t have people who sleep on the wheel, people who are hands
in instead of hands on the job they will have been given.
Q: A lot has been happening in the party since you took over as president
including the reintegration of Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube back into
the MDC. What is the state of the party right now?
A: We are rebranding the party; we are revitalising and repositioning it
as the dominant party in the country. There is no doubt we are the first
in terms of size, in terms of reach, in terms of appeal and we want to
maintain that position.
But for us to be able to do that we are taking the party to the original
and even bigger. This was the vision of our founding president. I am
simply walking his talk. We are taking the party back to the strong roots
in terms of our social base, the working class and also students and the
youths and war veterans.
We are revitalising the party from a structural point of view, culture,
infrastructures, values and ideologies going even to the extent of
changing strategies, rejuvenating our thrust and emphasising to go into
the rural areas, engage war veterans to galvanise the women voice.
In fact, we are having some big debate around the need to discontinue the
dichotomy of men’s wing and women’s wing in the party. We need equal
positions in the mainstream because this thing of saying women’s wing has
a sense of marginalisation and treatment of women as a charity case and
We have started with the integration, rejuvenating our internal democratic
process, broadening our institutions in terms of internal processes around
primary elections, congress, deployment of cadres and leaders into the
various zones of autonomy, Parliament, training our leaders to build their
capacities and working on the party’s organisational strengths.
Q: Talking about internal processes, there have been allegations that you
are avoiding congress and that you do not want to be challenged. When is
congress coming? Are we going to see you being challenged?
A: It is very clear in the Constitution that congress in our party is held
after every five years that is 2019. We have already begun processes
leading to that congress and I am glad to say that we want this
organisation to continue as a multi-generational party, the fusion of the
old and the new, the past and the future, women, men, the working class.
We have a vision to develop this party into a modern 21st century
developmental party, that done not only have the capacity to win an
election but also to deliver to the people, respecting citizens,
consulting, being nonviolent.
One thing that I have said I don’t want to see in this organisation are
tendencies of corruption, State-party conflation, violence as a way of
transacting political business, we don’t want that culture.
Look, it is very important for internal process to be supported by the
constitution and the people. Being challenged, I must emphasise, is not a
weakness, it is actually strength because we need competitive politics in
our structures. We are democrats and democracy entails the freedom of the
people to choose.
In our party leaders do not choose them, leaders are chosen, they are
deployed, they are nominated by the structures, the lower organs.
So, I am not the one who decides in as much as I am the leader it does not
mean that I must dictate to them who should be contesting or is not to be.
My duty is to encourage competition because it strengthens the
organisation. It is an important ingredient of democratic politics.
Q: Are you going to retain three VPs seeing that they came about as a way
of managing Tsvangirai’s health?
A: Let me just correct you. The whole issue of three VPs was a result of
congress. It was not because of health of the president. Part of the
changes we are contemplating entail organisational, constitutional and
The party is constantly strengthening itself through its organs and I
would not be able to say what congress will decide.
There is a difference between a political party and government structure.
In the party we do what we want in government we believe in a mean and
lean government. No more 15 ministers in terms of cabinet and one vice
president in terms of the constitution.
Q: You are called by various nicknames, including Cobra, Nero, Wamba dia
Wamba, Olympus. Where did they come from?
A: What people call you is not necessarily who you are. I am actually
surprised. I don’t even know about them so I don’t know why I have so many
of them. Of course, when you are in leadership you assume certain
dimensions that people will want to associate with you. I wish to focus
We had a workshop some time with Tsvangirai we were asked to contribute to
the discussion we were having and I then made the point that when it comes
to national focus and direction I am one person who does not pay
allegiance to anyone.
I don’t pay particular attention to personalities and I don’t mind if you
are my friend, brother, colleague or whoever, I treat you as a comrade and
when i treat you as a comrade, I don’t pay regards to salutations and
other relationships. I’m like a snake, cobra. A cobra doesn’t mind that
you are calling it Mr Cobra, it will still bite you. So, from that day I
then realised that people began to call me Mr Cobra.
Q: But who really are you? People would want to know who this man who has
become so popular as to win over two million votes in first his attempt at
A: I am a Zimbabwean born in some district in Masvingo, in a district by
the name Gutu where I spent the better part of my life. I was born and
educated in this country except for a little bit of education I got from
America at Stanford University.
Basically, I am 100 percent local content. I am very proud of my rural
home, I think that is my roots. All the honour and respect should go
Q: Did you envisage becoming a politician as you grew up?
A: Well I have always wanted to be a servant of the people and in that
process of choosing to serve others a discovered that I earned myself the
tag of a politician. I have seen that the label comes with all sorts of
bad condemnation like politics is dirty. It is not politics that is dirty,
it is the people in politics that are dirty hence we need to chlorinate
and disinfect our politics and get it rid of that dirt.
I started as a student activist and of course that is when I was invited
by Tsvangirai in terms of labour to lead the formation of the MDC. That is
why the party is difficult to destroy, it is a people’s project, it is
God’s project so it is an idea whose time has come and cannot be stopped
by splits and any other such seasonal problems.
Q: People draw similarities between you and the late Learnmore Jongwe and
former president Robert Mugabe owing to your eloquence. Are you their
A: You must know that we have been very close friend and we shared
everything proud moments, sorry moments as colleagues in the struggle. Our
objective and dreams and aspirations for a great Zimbabwe bound us
together. I am not sure in terms o who was a student of who because we met
So perhaps we had a cross pollination of certain tendencies and attributes
by association. I take that as a complement to be elevated to that level
of Jongwe because he was a giant. I feel humbled. About Mugabe, I don’t
know because they say at times I am too heavy-handed when dealing with
some issues. Of course, on corruption I am ruthless. I am a very unkind
and have a very firm hand. I don’t tolerate that. I have always wanted
transparency, so yes, the attribute I must acknowledge is the positive
tenacity of Mugabe and being principle in his thinking, right or wrong.
Those are good attributes but there are also bad ones.
I hope to take the good ones and leave the bad ones because I don’t want
to be associated with. I must say however I am thankful for his vote. He
voted for me, of course, it was a secret but he made it a public secret
that he would vote or me over his former ally Mnangagwa. To me, that is a
source of encouragement to say we can be able to get support from such
people. I know some will say that is not a good endorsement but in
leadership you don’t choose who to inspire so I am very humbled.
Q: What do you do when you have time with your family?
A: Well when we have time, because we are always busy with the MDC and the
Zimbabwean families, so I don’t know which family you are referring to
because I have those families as well, I find time with them. I have my
family of Zimbabweans, MDC family and Chamisa family. When I am with the
Chamisa family, we are basically a family of prayer so we spend a lot of
time in worship and when we do choose to do social things, I am a
villager. I love rural life so I usually retreat to my rural homestead.
Q: It has been nice talking to you. What is do want to say to your
Zimbabwean family as a parting shot?
A: We are winning we are almost there. Good things don’t come without a
fight. Of course, it is hard but we are almost there. Struggles are never
a bed of roses, it is never easy, and the bed of roses sometimes comes
from the bed of thorns.