Following the recent MDC-T led mass demonstration, there has been a lot of talk about the relevance of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, whose political orbituary many had already written.
The surprise resurgence of the former ZCTU leader’s popularity resulted in many expressions of hope by political observers and analysts.
The sea of red shirts that flowed in the streets of the capital on Thursday April 14 was captured in both local and international media and despite tepid denial, Zanu PF too appeared jolted from an apparent slumber. The Standard this week made a date with Tsvangirai to get his personal perspective of how his party is faring, prospects of an opposition coalition and what the future of Zimbabwe holds in the eyes of the MDC.
Blessed Mhlanga (BM) of The Standard met with Tsvangirai (MT) and had the following interview:
BM: The MDC-T has in the past tried to stage protests against the government, but most of the demonstrations were poorly subscribed, with some opining that Zimbabweans were a cowardly and docile lot. However, on April 14 you successfully organised what turned out to be a massive march. Do you see events of that day as signalling a turning point?
MT: The MDC has never organised a demonstration. I don’t recall any, but I can tell you this was a significant event because people supported it overwhelmingly through their own frustration and disillusionment. We did not organise, but simply called for a demonstration and people heeded the call.
People cannot remain silent. So, I want to say, we were humbly honoured by the people’s support.
BM: Why did you choose to lead the march yourself this time around? Was it in response to accusations that you have often left your supporters to face police brutality on their own?
MT: [Pointing at a collage of pictures where he is participating in demonstrations] I have never set people against the police on their own while I was in comfort zone. I am not that type of a leader. I always lead from the front and I always take the initiative that as leaders we must bear the brunt of whatever brutal response the State may have. Even if in this event the police had been set on us, we would have been the victims of that response together with the people.
BM: After that large turnout, some political analysts said this had shown other opposition leaders such as Joice Mujuru that it is you who has the numbers to lead any proposed coalition. Is that what it is?
MT: The message on the placards were very, very clear. They had nothing to do with People First.
In fact, I must say people in the opposition are not our enemies. We believe the target of the demonstration was Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe’s failure to provide leadership. It was also to demand that the missing $15 billion be accounted for; that Zanu PF accounts for the massive unemployment, massive poverty and a whole host of the government’s acts of neglect. So, the event had nothing to do with Mai Mujuru or anybody else in the opposition.
BM: President Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba’s take from the demonstration was that you appeared frail and couldn’t march with your supporters because of health issues. What is your comment about his assertion?
MT: I think that Charamba must realise that he cannot compare me with his boss. If Mugabe is frail, it doesn’t mean that Tsvangirai is frail as well. I am healthy and I don’t have any health problems. In fact [during the march] it was my wife who was hanging onto me because she was wearing shoes which made her require some balance from me. But the long and short of it is that I don’t have any health problems.
BM: After the successful demonstration, what is next in plan for MDC-T in its response to the deteriorating economic situation in the country?
MT: The demonstration was just one of the events. We are going to have a roll out of such events.
This was just a provincial expression and we will go to other provinces and as I speak, other provinces are busy planning to call for other events of that nature. But we want these events to culminate into a national expression and to bring to the attention of Mugabe that the people of Zimbabwe are sick and tired of their twiddling with fingers while the country is burning.
BM: You have been accused of basing your campaigns on the “Mugabe must go” mantra without offering any solutions to the crisis in the country. Do you have solutions?
MT: We can’t be an alternative — a party that has been in existence for almost 16 years without solutions. Over the last 16 years we have developed alternative policies, we are a social democratic party, we are not a nationalist party.
We have developed Agenda for Real Transformation (ART) we have the Jobs, Upliftment, Capital Investment and Environment (Juice), which were policies that were designed as alternative policies to Zanu PF’s mismanagement and besides, when we went into the inclusive government we were able to demonstrate our governance capacity. We have the alternative programmes that can be put in place to reverse the declines that this country has experienced.
BM: What is your response to government policy failures that have brought this country to its knees?
MT: Just as one example, I want to make a commitment myself that within three years of the MDC taking over, we should be filling those grain silos with food. We need to invest and encourage serious production on our farms even if it means involving ourselves in infrastructure development and irrigation. That is what should be the focus in terms of national food security.
BM: Tell us how your party has managed to survive for the past 16 years, because we have seen many others come and go.
MT: We have always been a grassroots and people-based party despite some of the accusations that we are driven by an outside agenda. We have demonstrated that we are a party that is supported by Zimbabweans and based on the wishes of the people of this country. It is clear, therefore, that you can’t destroy a party that has the people’s support.
BM: Two years before the crucial 2018 elections, the opposition is yet to take concrete steps towards forming a coalition or election pact. Do you think if the parties were to come together now, they would form a formidable opposition to Mugabe and Zanu PF, come elections?
MT: The question of coalitions is neither here nor there. We know that there are people who are putting the coalition discussions first, but we believe that what is important is to fight for good electoral conditions. It will not help to have 10-15 parties uniting but going into elections under conditions which will provide the same result. It will not be helpful if we have not fought to level the electoral playing field, otherwise we will just be uniting to fight under the same conditions. That’s why for us the priority is conditions first and positions later.
BM: Will you accept a coalition with a leader who is not yourself?
MT: Look, let’s not speculate. Should the coalition ever take place, that will be the time when the question of leadership and positions will be discussed. I am saying here that it is too presumptuous to put in place a position-oriented coalition rather than a process-oriented coalition.
At the end of the day, it’s an elite party, we don’t want an elite party; we want a party that is supported by the people, which they are confident will deliver the change that they need.
BM: You have said that you won the 2002 and the 2008 elections but you were denied your victory. do you think that even if you win the 2018 elections, you would be allowed to take over leadership?
MT: Isn’t it a paradox that we all purport to be engaging in democratic elections yet the person who has won the mandate of the people is prevented from taking over power? Unless the institutions of government accept the constitutional responsibility that he who wins takes the leadership of the country, we will continue to have that problem.
I hope this time around the elections will be free and fair and that we will have a result which the people will have confidence in.
BM: Will you go into an election in 2018 if the conditions remain the same?
MT: Well, let me make this categorically clear. We are committed to an election; we are committed to participating in an election; we have, however, said that for the past 10 or so years, the elections have been rigged, the election management is not level and it has been proven. In 2008 we won an election but there was no transfer of power, so those are indications of the Executive interfering in the running of elections.
So we are going into an election but we are saying we don’t want to continue going into elections which are disputed, that are illegitimate because it undermines the international confidence in the country and by the very same token, keep investors away. So we are saying for the first time we want to make sure that electoral conditions are acceptable to all players. That is a level playing field from where the outcome is not disputed.
BM: And if Zanu PF and the current government does not yield to these demands?
MT: Well, they have to make a choice between doing what the people and the law say or burying their hands in the sand.
BM: Do you think they care?
MT: Well, they say they fought for the liberation of the people, so why should they not care? If a Head of State and Government does not care about the citizens of his country, who then is going to care about them? If the people support him, why is he suppressing them?
BM: Do you have any regrets on how you have led the party for the past 16 years – the splits that have riddled the MDC?
MT: I must say that one would have liked a situation where no one left the party, but it’s a personal choice by those who have left to form their parties, but guess what, the MDC has recovered and has resurged further even from the so-called splits. In 2005 we had to regroup, redefine a path which actually strengthened the MDC.
In 2013 another similar split happened but what has happened is that the party has resurged and that to me is a strong grassroots endorsement that the party is much more important than individuals. But one would have hoped that those who started from the trenches would still have been there, rather than to abandon the thrust of the people’s project.
BM: Your councillors have been accused of failing residents. Do you think you have failed in service delivery at local authority level?
MT: I don’t think that is a fair assessment. yes, we have different performances by different councils. I think among the key council deliverables is water, housing and sanitation and all that has been significantly provided. However, there have been councils like Chitungwiza which have been accused of corruption and we have had to deal with them emphatically — stressing that we don’t tolerate corruption.
Let me just give a background and say in 2013, Ignatious Chombo wrote off all outstanding debts, to the tune of almost half a billion dollars. this was money that was supposed to be used by councils to deliver services to the people. That has affected councils’ capacity to build up the necessary resources to deliver the services that you are talking about.
What we have now seen is a violation of the constitution by the minister trying to run councils as if he is running his own backyard. What you will see is a situation where the councils are standing on the principle that they have a right to run these councils, but we have a central government which is busy undermining the councils and stopping them from delivering services.
BM: Going to your personal life, with hindsight, do you have any regrets?
MT: You know what; every human being must experience ups and downs in their life, so one probably has to reflect and say perhaps I should not have done such and such a thing. So life is a whole journey of experiences and we mature because of the experience we will have gone through. Yes, there are some things that one would say I should not have done, but it is a path to wisdom and maturity.