Morgan Tsvangirai on Question Time

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is the guest on Question Time and joined SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma to answer questions sent in by listeners. The no holds barred interview touched on the outstanding issues in the GPA, his decision to replace Roy Bennett, political violence, the MDC’s perceived lack of power in the coalition, prospects for uniting the two MDC factions, empowerment debate, his views on gay rights, media and electoral reforms, his new book and one of the most aske

Roy Bennet
Roy Bennet

Lance Guma: Good evening Zimbabwe and thank you for joining me on this special edition of Question Time. My guest today is Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Thank you for joining me Prime Minister.

Morgan Tsvangirai: Thank you very much Lance.

Guma: In four months time it will be three years of a unity government with Zanu PF; several issues still remain outstanding but it does appear the parties have lost the appetite to resolve them. Can we conclude that you are now in election mode and sticking GPA issues have been temporarily shelved?

Tsvangirai: No, I think far from it. We still pursue the issues as outlined in the Global Political Agreement. Let me say that yes, there’s been reluctance on the part of Zanu PF to implement all the issues of the GPA as directed by Sadc and as stated by the international community but to Zanu PF they think that any reform is a regime change agenda.

I don’t know which regime they are talking about but as far as I am concerned, we are still pushing, we still want the full implementation of the Global Political Agreement. However, I must say that yes, there is election talk in spite of the deficit on the implementation. Everyone thinks that the only way to resolve these matters is to go to an election.

Guma: Several of our listeners want us to ask you whether, because there does seem to be a perception that the Sadc mediation has run out of steam, we not hearing a lot about Lindiwe Zulu’s team in and out of Harare.

Tsvangirai: No, what you have to understand is that although South Africa and President Zuma are facilitators, it doesn’t mean necessarily that they don’t have their own issues to deal with.

So yes, Zimbabwe may at some stage not appear a priority because of their own internal matters but it doesn’t mean necessarily that they’ve taken a back seat and a blind eye to what is taking place because you remember that for South Africa, Zimbabwe is not a foreign policy issue, it is a domestic issue.

Guma: Several of the outstanding issues will have a bearing on the ability of the country to conduct free and fair elections – a credible voters’ roll, eliminating political violence and having independent broadcasters will be some of the key issues that need addressing.

We have questions on the Broadcasting Authority – it’s already conducting interviews for two commercial radio stations despite the board itself being illegally constituted. The last time we reported on this issue, you as the principals in government had agreed to appoint a new board. What happened?

Tsvangirai: Well we have directed Minister Shamu to make sure that that board is constituted and you know that eventually you can’t have a legitimate BAZ board unless it is regularized and we will continue to push for that. It would appear, that even judging by some of the state media reports, one would see the continued hate speech, vilification, which means that there is some degree of defiance on the part of the ministry of Information.

Whether that is an individual minister trying to be defiant or they have the quiet support of president Mugabe I don’t know, but we will continue to push and expose this reluctance on the part of a particular ministry fulfilling what the Global Political Agreement has said.

Guma: You spoke about this issue in parliament today, in the first ever Prime Minister’s question time and a lot of our listeners are also of the view that this board, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe board is already set on giving licences to people like the Zimpaper’s Talk Radio. Do you share similar worries that this is what will happen?

Tsvangirai: Well what we need Lance is multiple voices not multiple voices of similar outlook. We need different voices and different channels to cater for different voices and you see the thing is that we all have to understand that it doesn’t matter, we have to keep on pushing, doesn’t matter, but there is a degree of thinking that they can serve Zanu PF by having the same voices with the same message.

Guma: One of the major standoffs in the coalition government involved the appointment of Roy Bennett as your deputy agriculture minister; you stuck by him for over two years, do you think as suggested by others your recent appointment of Seiso Moyo to the position has given victory to Robert Mugabe while undermining the MDC?

Tsvangirai: No, it has not given him anything. Roy Bennett has been assigned other responsibilities, it is not the part of the MDC to divulge how it deploys its candidates so it doesn’t mean necessarily that we have given up in demanding, we’re just filling a vacancy. Even if we had to appoint him, he was not going to occupy that position because he was not coming back to Zimbabwe, so it would still have created a vacancy in the Senate.

Guma: Last week I spoke with Pishai Mucharauya your Member of Parliament for Makoni South and he was describing how Zanu PF mobs disrupted the public hearing in Marondera on the Electoral Amendment Bill. Now these disruptions have been widespread and it seems there’s a determination to frustrate the process. What do you see as a way forward because clearly people are being blocked from airing their views?

Tsvangirai: Well I mean it’s not a perfect society, it’s not a perfect situation. I mean we have always said that Zanu PF’s character of violence, intimidation, coercion, it’s not something they will wake up one morning and try to discuss, it’s part of their culture but it doesn’t mean necessarily that our people must also not be determined to make their views be heard.

Guma: One of the reasons we are told Zanu PF is disrupting the public hearings on the Electoral Amendment Bill is that they do not want the Diaspora to be allowed to vote. What is the status of this issue? We have a lot of listeners in the Diaspora wanting to ask you are you fighting for this to be made possible?

Tsvangirai: Well we have fought over this issue of Diaspora votes; you know that the excuse that Zanu PF is making is that ‘we have no access to England and America, therefore how do we campaign within the Diaspora vote?’ But we say in Southern Africa there is also Diaspora people to whom you have access. So we have assigned the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to come out with, where it is possible, to give this right. Every Zimbabwean you know that constitutionally, you can’t disenfranchise any Zimbabwean for whatever reason.

Guma: There has been much talk about the credibility of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, although the commissioners themselves might appear credible, there’s great concern the Secretariat who do the actual administration, is staffed with CIO, army and police operatives whose allegiance to Zanu PF is well documented. Are there any chances of getting a new Secretariat before the next elections?

Tsvangirai: Well I’m sure that’s up to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to see that they discharge their job professionally. If there are CIO people, if there are army people, it’s up to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to identify those people and make sure that you have professional people in those bodies.

But also I think that in terms of the Electoral Amendment, one of the powers that has been designated to the Chief Elections Officer who is part of the Secretariat, we definitely cannot have an officer announcing results and managing everything when there is already a chairman of the Electoral Commission with that responsibility.

So those are some of the integral challenges of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in order to discharge its professional job.

Guma: Zanu PF is accusing you of employing delaying tactics and claiming you are not ready for elections. Based on the constitutional exercise and other things that need to be implemented, when do you see elections being held? A lot of people are asking this question.

Tsvangirai: Oh, Zanu PF to accuse us of delaying tactics – there’s no money. You need money for the Electoral Commission, let money be available, let the money for diamonds go into the Electoral Commission; let money go into a voters’ roll, let money go into preparing for an All Stakeholders Conference for the constitution, let money go to the referendum. We are not being the impediment.

These are practical, realistic impediments to the whole process and it cannot be blamed on the MDC just because the Minister of Finance he doesn’t dish out money like confetti.

Guma: There was a lot of euphoria surrounding your victory in March 2008 in the presidential elections; a growing feeling that the loser (Mugabe) of that election seems to be setting the agenda, do you feel that frustration also?

Tsvangirai: No he’s not setting any agenda, that’s why he had to negotiate. He went for ten months without appointing a cabinet, he heard that he can’t run a government without us and if we had just deliberately said we will not be part of it, what would have happened to the people and the country?

The country was looking at the precipice and we had to intervene so that we could save whatever little was there and time has proven that we were right. There is no way Zanu PF or Mugabe can set the agenda when the agenda is set by cabinet which is the government led programme.

Guma: I suppose people will point to some of the outstanding issues and his refusal for example to swear in Roy Bennett and other issues and say…

Tsvangirai: Ah it’s just stubbornness inherent in president Mugabe and sometimes you just have to say let’s maintain our eye on the ball which is if we can get to an election and give the people of Zimbabwe an opportunity to elect their government, that is the only goal.

And for the last two and a half years it has not been easy, we have also had to experience these frustrations but small victories are not the big goal, small victories yes they may appear satisfactory but in the long term what should be satisfactory is that have we achieved the change we have been fighting for over the last ten years?

Guma: Much has been said about the need for unity between the two MDC factions. I’m sure it’s a subject that has been raised with you several times; you even have a new book where you talk about this and the role former South African president Thabo Mbeki played. Given all that has transpired, what are the prospects for uniting the two MDCs?

Tsvangirai: To me it is not the unity of leaders, it is a unity of the people of Zimbabwe. I was in Nkayi and of course the villagers there were saying please Mr. Tsvangirai can you unite all the parties? Yes, I said yes we can unite all parties, we can unite on an objective, we can’t unite on personality, because we can’t negotiate egos of personalities.

As far as I know the people in Nkayi and the people in Buhera or Chimanimani know that the real change has to come from all of us working as a one. But if there are individuals who think that as individuals, we have to satisfy their egos, definitely it’s going to be problematic but my attitude is very, very progressive, my attitude is that the people of Zimbabwe who are fighting for change must unite.

Guma: The empowerment debate in Zimbabwe over the last few months has taken centre stage with Zanu PF being accused of electioneering using that. You came out to criticize the way the empowerment plans are being implemented and you even spoke about it in parliament today. Do you not feel that they are laying a trap for you where they will portray you as anti-empowerment?

Tsvangirai: What is empowerment? Is empowerment destroying the few jobs we have got? Or is it empowerment to try and have a policy which creates more jobs rather than sharing a small cake? Empowerment means that more people have got money in their pockets not a pie in the sky where you are given a share in a community trust where you don’t even see the money.

What is important for our country at the moment and the challenge we face everywhere I go is that multitudes and multitudes of Zimbabwean young people who are educated are unemployed. That is the biggest challenge we have got.

And in order to deal with the question of joblessness and desperation amongst our young people, what we need is to attract more investment, to make more jobs and uplift the standard of living of the people. You cannot have a few, just ten per cent saying that we are empowered when 90 per cent is disempowered.

Guma: Your recent position on gay rights has generated a lot of debate and some say represents a major u-turn on your part. Any reason for this and do you think, are you not opening yourself to political point scoring?

Tsvangirai: My attitude towards gay rights has never changed. I’m not gay and therefore I don’t prescribe anyone’s sexual preferences. What you should understand is that this is a diversion, the real issue is that the people of Zimbabwe are writing a constitution and that it is the people of Zimbabwe who are going to define what society they would like.

Including the fact yekuti (that) if the majority don’t like gays, they will not reflect it in their constitution, but it’s up to Zimbabweans, it cannot be written just to satisfy one individual just because at one stage in their life they’ve been traumatized.

So one has to say that the issue of gay rights is a diversion, an elitist project to avoid the poor people who are around the country who don’t have anything. So let’s concentrate, let’s not try to bring to the forefront an issue which is definitely inconsequential.

Guma: Two more questions to go – your new book, At The Deep End, has generated quite a lot of interest. I see the state media are picking sections of it and interpreting it the way they want, accusing you of trying to seize power and obviously there’re a few other critical issues that you address in there – the split in the MDC and other issues – what was the motivation behind publishing it now?

Tsvangirai: Well that is a narrative, that is a post-liberation narrative in which I have a role and I was giving that narrative. Twenty years of my life in that post liberation struggle, is what is reflected in the book. If anyone has got any factual disputes with what I have written, surely they have their own right to write their own books? The more the merrier.

This is the story of Morgan Tsvangirai as part of the democratic struggle but also I had to stop at the inauguration because there is a new phase of the transition and I’m going to write again my experiences working with Zanu PF in the transition. And of course the fact that some people may pick and choose, that’s their choice but as far as I’m concerned that’s the story.

Guma: The final question I have for you Prime Minister and it was one of the most popular questions from our listeners believe it or not, a lot of interest in your personal life. People wanting us to ask you whether there are any wedding bells on the horizon as being speculated in the media?

Tsvangirai: People just speculate about my personal life. You know the thing is when the time comes, people will be informed and there’s no need to be anxious about it. I’m a grandfather so why get into anxiety about a grandfather? There are more young people who have their own wedding bells that you should be more interested in than in a grandfather who is too preoccupied with issues of state (laughs) to even divulge his own personal relationships.

Guma: Well we have one report already saying you are getting married in December. Is that true?

Tsvangirai: Oh well, well, no, no, I’ll inform you when it is time, okay?

Guma: Well Zimbabwe that’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai joining us on this special edition of Question Time. Prime Minister thank you so much for your time.

Tsvangirai: Thanks Lance.

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– SW Rado Africa News

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