Interview: Whither Biti and MDC Renewal?

Following the decision to defy a party directive not to seek re-election by some MDC Renewal members recently recalled from parliament, last week’s defection back to the MDC-T by some Bulawayo councillors and the cloud surrounding Tendai Biti in the party, chief reporter Nkosana Dlamini (ND) rang up the group’s national chair Samuel Sipepa Nkomo (SN) to hear the current position on these and other issues.


Below is a transcript of the interview;

ND: How far have you gone in transforming yourselves into a strong political force after separating with Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC?

SN: I think we have tried and are still trying. We don’t expect to build Rome in a day. We have structures in all the provinces. We have district structures in 80 percent of Zimbabwe. Our advantage is that we didn’t start from scratch. We had a structures meeting in Bulawayo last week and we were encouraged by the fact that 1,500 people attended. So those are indicators that we are really growing.

ND: What is the current status of your relationship with Professor Welshman Ncube’s MDC?

SN: What we have done when we were going through this problem which resulted in our expulsion from parliament is we actually talked to our colleagues and said we just want to suspend the implementation of the programme for now. But the programme remains; just the timing of it. We then said we wanted to go through a congress before we actually consummate our relationship of reunification. So, yes we have an agreement and the agreement still stands except that for now we want to do certain housekeeping issues after what we went through.

ND: Going back to the period from your Mandel training centre meeting last year right up to now, is there anything that you can say ‘we did this wrong’?

SN: Well after the Mandel meeting, l have not yet seen anything that we have done wrong save to say that resources have not been our best friend. If we had resources, most of our plans would have been implemented. Yes, we do get activity here and there but for now we are only a year old since Mandel. And so l cannot say that there are certain things that we wish we had done differently. I think for now we have done reasonably well within a short space of time.

ND: You took off on a seemingly high note and for a moment Tsvangirai seemed so vulnerable with indications that more MDC-T politicians were preparing to cross the floor to join you. But one now gets the feeling that, that spirit has somewhat gone away. Do you share that feeling?

SN: Well, the majority of the people that we have in our national council, national executive and the management committee all came from Tsvangirai’s outfit and we have so many that have joined us and l want to tell you with clarity and conviction that there is nobody who has actually left Tsvangirai who would actually go back with a free heart. But l can tell you that the actions after Mandel and after our expulsion have actually indicated to us that people are angry about what has transpired. So if the spirit has gone down, l think that it is in tandem with what is happening in the country. Politics is not now the in-thing. Things are slowing down in politics.

ND: Critics say you overestimated your popularity as the MDC group in favour of leadership change in the party. Honestly looking at it, was this not a gamble way too risky?

SN: I would not say so but l think that if we were wrong, Tsvangirai would not have rushed to hold a congress earlier than 2016. I think that change is in the air not only in MDC Tsvangirai but even in Zanu PF. So, l think that we were right but we over-budgeted for our success. I think that we must just remain focussed.

ND: What do you mean by over-budgeted?

SN: I am simply responding to what you were saying. You are the one who said that we overestimated our popularity. To me it’s nothing to do with popularity. It is to do with principle. It’s either you are doing the right thing or the wrong thing.

ND: Do you still insist you are the legitimate MDC or you have given up that contest?

SN: No, but let’s face it. If you go to Welshman Ncube’s MDC they are saying they are the authentic, legitimate one and Tsvangirai is saying the same, Job Sikhala’s outfit used to say the same thing. So it’s pointless for me to say to you we are the ones and those ones are not the ones because whatever we do we have taken our separate ways.

ND: So which is which here, are you still trading as MDC-T or you are now a totally different outfit?

SN: We are MDC Renewal and if there is going to be any change in the name, it is going to be at our congress. That’s why we want to have this congress before we finally do the reunification with Professor Ncube’s outfit.

ND: Zimbabweans did not know of an outfit that was called MDC Renewal with MPs in parliament. In that case, would you still see the Speaker’s decision to expel you as wrong?

SN: Zimbabweans know us as MDC Renewal but we still are MDC-T. T does not stand for Tsvangirai. We are MDC Team. So Renewal is what Zimbabweans want to identify us with. It’s not in any registered form anywhere.

ND: How does it feel to be out of parliament?

SN: You know things do happen in one’s life. You are out today, you are back tomorrow. I don’t think that it’s a question of feeling because if it was a feeling l would have prevented it. But it’s a matter of fact; we are out of parliament. But all this gives us an opportunity to organise our party properly and strengthen ourselves. So l think one way it was not good but the other way, well that’s what fate has brought us to and l think we have accepted that.

ND: Collectively you can strengthen yourselves and say let’s move on but what is the feeling among individual former MPs of the party who find themselves out of parliament?

SN: Well, l can tell you that it starts off as shock and you begin to accept that this is reality and you begin to find your way. I can’t pretend that it didn’t hit hard; it did. You know Nkosana it’s also a question of loss of income. And so it’s not an easy thing. But for now l think the majority, if not 95 percent of them are really settled on this and l think they are moving on.

ND: Three of your former MPs who were expelled along with you have since filed for re-election as independents, do they have your party’s approval?

SK: No there are only two that were with us who have filed as independents. And they do not have our approval at all because as a party we decided that we will not take part in any election for as long as there are no reforms in place.

ND: From those two members that you mention and last week’s defection back to Tsvangirai of some of your councillors in Bulawayo, do you think there is some form of disillusionment among some of your members behaving that way?

SN: Well, l don’t think it’s disillusionment. Honourable Mhlanga who has decided to contest in Bulawayo just feels that he can win that seat back. We have explained to him that to us it’s not about winning it. It’s about a principled decision that we made as a party which must be followed. Coming to the three councillors, they tell us that they are afraid that they can be recalled by the MDC-T and the fact was ‘we just want to protect our position and we will kind of go to them, speak to them so that they will give us a guarantee that they will not recall us’. These fellows are doing it out of fear, not out of love.

ND: Do you see them as mercenaries now that they are motivated by protecting their individual interests?

SN: Honestly, l think you need to direct that question to them. For me they are colleagues that l have worked with and we have advised them that we don’t think they will be recalled like we have but they maintain that they are protecting their position.

ND: There is uncertainty over Tendai Biti’s continued presence after he was recently linked to a lengthy move to the United States; once again what is the real position around Biti?

SN: I am not so sure why this question is not being settled. Tendai Biti is attending an institute for four weeks. He did attend that in December-January last year and he is attending it again for the second time. He is out there for four weeks. He is the secretary general of the party and he is coming back this week and when he has come back this week, what other questions are you going to ask?

ND: Biti is seen as kingpin of the Renewal project and losing him at this stage would mean your project would somewhat lose traction. Do you share that view?

SN: Biti is but one of the members of the Renewal Team and so every member of the party is free to join or unjoin. But we accept that Biti is a powerful person. He is there in the Renewal Team and we appreciate his leadership but if, for any reason, he decides to leave, well, what can you do? The party will still go ahead. To say that if he was not there, we will lose traction, l don’t think so. I think we could perhaps just stumble one or two days but then we will still find our way and get through to where we want to go.

ND: My last question Mr Nkomo, you as MDC Renewal have maintained you are going to work with all democratic forces moving forward. How do you explain your absence in joint press conferences that have been held by Tsvangirai, Simba Makoni and Professor Lovemore Madhuku?

SN: First of all, we were not advised on time by Simba Makoni. For us, we still have a feeling that democratic forces for now exclude Tsvangirai because we don’t believe he is a democrat. We believe he is violent; he sponsors violence which is the reason why we left him. So if Makoni is going to use Tsvangirai as a front, we cannot have somebody who is violent, who does not follow his constitution to be a front. So if Makoni wants that, we cannot be part of that.

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