The Full Unedited Interview with The Herald

Two days ago, The Herald approached me for an interview. Naturally, I was sceptical because I feared my comments would be distorted to suit a predetermined agenda.

Magaisa
Magaisa

I only agreed when I secured an assurance that we were doing it in good faith and that my comments would be reproduced as given by me. The reporter, Tichaona Zindoga presented himself well.

This interview is carried in Saturday’s issue of The Herald, albeit with a typically contrived headline and short introductory narrative.

The headline will surprise and probably apall some of you at first sight, but please, pay no attention to it and the brief narrative at the start – it’s the price that had to paid in order to air our views to the broader audience of The Herald. I fully anticipated and expected that this would happen and it was a risk I was prepared to take. I hope wise readers of the paper understand this.

More important, however, is the full interview, for which I commend them, because it is largely a fair representation of what was discussed. In this regard, they have been fair.

When I did the interview, I knew too well that I would not be able to control the headlines and the introductory narrative, but I accepted that risk, hoping that readers would focus more on the detail of the interview itself than the headlines constructed to suit a specific agenda.

The two questions and responses missing from version published in The Herald are no. 4 and no. 9, in which I comment about the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai and the potential of Joice Mujuru.

1. The MPOI/Afrobarometer survey on political attitudes, which you tried to unpack in an article on your blog, shows a majority preference for President Mugabe and poor, if consistent, showing for opposition. In your assessment, has the opposition reached its ceiling in Zimbabwe?

My message to the opposition in the wake of the Afrobarometer Survey has been that they should not be flippant in their response to its findings. Even if they have criticisms of the report and believe that it is not a true reflection of the people’s attitudes, my advice has been to adopt the “What if it is correct?” approach. In other words, even if you don’t believe it, assume that it might be right and find ways of addressing the issues that it raises.

More directly, I don’t think one could definitively say the opposition has reached its ceiling in Zimbabwe. Politics is dynamic and it is dangerous to pronounce the death of opposition politics on the basis of this survey. Nevertheless, it is common cause that the opposition has gone through some difficult times in the past two years. These challenges were more prominent last year and, at the time that the survey was conducted, in November 2014, the main opposition party, the MDC-T was dealing with a messy internal split, after some of its senior leaders broke away to form the MDC Renewal formation. There was a lot of confusion and uncertainty among the ranks and all these problems afflicting the opposition may have contributed to its poor showing in the survey.

However, since then, the MDC-T seems to have resolved the leadership and legitimacy dispute. The recent court decision regarding the expulsion of the 21 MPs appears to have settled the leadership question.

Nevertheless, the challenge for the party is to re-build trust and confidence among the people, beyond its traditional support base. Zimbabweans need to know that there is a stable leadership and that the party is not only performing its parliamentary function as the official opposition but is also getting itself ready for 2018.

2. What can you attribute this to if that is the case? If not, how do you see the opposition improving its fortunes?

I have already addressed most of the issues under the first question. Like I said, I don’t think the opposition parties have reached their ceiling yet. Let me be clear here: Zimbabwe needs a strong opposition because it is a necessary part of the checks and balances that are critical in a democracy. Zanu PF itself knows that a firm opposition is necessary. It is in Zimbabwe’s interests to have a stable opposition that performs its democratic mandate.

As for how the opposition can improve its fortunes, as I have already said, it needs to take a serious look at reports such as this Afrobarometer Survey and draw lessons on what can be done to improve.

But really, the most important issue, the elephant in the room for the opposition is unity among the numerous formations. The opposition needs to address this issue of fragmentation. There is too much fragmentation of opposition forces in Zimbabwe and this is unhelpful especially when dealing with a formidable opponent like Zanu PF, which is not only older and has considerably more experience but also has the advantages of incumbency. This is the question they have to deal with to bring a new dynamic to the Zimbabwean body politic. If they can unite, they will provide a more effective voice of opposition to the ruling party and rejuvenate morale among their supporters and Zimbabweans generally. It will excite people and bring a new vibe to Zimbabwean politics. The many different voices in opposition, each doing their own thing, trying to fight a formidable opponent like Zanu PF, do not inspire a great deal of confidence among the people. They have to find common ground.

3. The constant splits in the opposition MDC-T camp for example, what do you make of them?

People fight in families. There is no village without disputes of one form or another. But eventually, these disputes a re resolved. The MDC-T just needs to develop these systems of resolving conflicts within the party, so that you don’t always a situation where one is unhappy and the next thing he wants to form his own party. People forget that forng a political party is a heavy and difficult exercise. We are fortunate in Zimbabwe to have two broad and national parties in Zanu PF and the MDC-T. We are unlikely to have similar parties of the same size in the near future. People who just wake up to convene a press conference in the lobby of a hotel and announce that they have formed a political party do not really have a clue as to the enormity of the task of creating a truly national political organisation. It’s a huge, expensive and difficult exercise.

My theory is that post-2013, there was a lot of frustration and fatigue in the party. I had worked very closely with all these people and I know how much we were all hopeful that we would form the next government and I also know how there was serious trauma after what happened on July 31. People do not talk about it often but it was a traumatic experience, and it still is for many people. This frustration and fatigue, I think also led people to ask questions and to think that it was necessary to explore new channels. After July 31, people did not know what to do. They looked at what had happened in shock and asked, what else do we have to do to win power that we have not done before?

But even if the questions that were being asked were important, I had my misgivings over the manner in which those who asked handled it. I think there was a lot of haste and impatience, at a time when calm reflection was required. But oft-times, it is hard to restrain the force of ambition. I still hope that people across the divide will find common ground and that they will work together again. They are better together and I still have a lot of respect for colleagues on both sides. We endured a lot together and those ties don’t just melt away like that.

4. Could the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai, in particular, his continued leadership, have contributed to the stagnation or lack of dynamism in the opposition?

It is very easy to lump blame on one person and to say he is the problem. I take the view that leadership is a collective responsibility. I’m old-fashioned that way. Indeed, my understanding of the MDC-T is that leadership is collective and no decisions are made by one person without consulting the different committees of the party.

In fact, when I worked with Mr Tsvangirai, there were moments when I hoped that he could override the committees and make decisions which we, as advisors, thought were sound. But the MDC works through a democratic committee system and everything goes through those committees. Tsvangirai could go there with a view, as advised, but he would sometimes not be able to carry that view and he would have to defer to the majority in the committee. That was frustrating, especially when you thought the majority was wrong. But that wasn’t Tsvangirai’s fault. So I don’t think that the challenges that the opposition has suffered can be put down to one man. But of course this is not to absolve him as well. As the leader of the party he takes ultimate responsibility, for its credits and its debits.

At the end of the day, the leadership of the party is in the hands of the party members. They have consistently backed him. Even at the last Congress, they backed him, which means he must still be right for the party. I’m sure if they believe that he is no longer serving their interests, they will tell him.

5. You worked in the former PM’s office. What are the regrets you may have had leaving the same advisory office?

It was an honour and privilege for me to work with Mr Tsvangirai and colleagues in the MDC. I responded to an invitation because, for me, it was service not to an individual or to a party but to my country. I had first come to advise on the constitution-making process and I will always cherish that experience and the opportunity that I had to contribute to the writing of the supreme law of the land. When the then Prime Minister later invited me to come and assist him in his office, I took it as another opportunity to serve my country and I did so faithfully. Even if you ask counterparts from Zanu PF that I worked with, they will tell you that I did my work faithfully and to the best of my ability, without the constraints of party politics. But the idea was not that I would be doing that forever.

Unfortunately, in November 2013, I suffered an illness that caused me to spend a few weeks in hospital. Therefore I had to attend to my health first. Thank God and the remarkable men and women of medicine, I have done well. I am still on medication, but thank God, I feel much better. Some friends said I worked myself too hard. Probably! It was hard work, but I enjoyed every bit of it. Do I have any regrets? None whatsoever! I believe that if you are not grateful for what you get, God will not give you more in future! Not many people get the chances that I have had and I am immensely humbled to have been chosen to do it. I do hope one day, when I am in tip-top condition, I will be able to serve my country again. But as you can see, through my blog and other media, I continue to play my role in the realm of ideas, because ideas are important and a nation built on good ideas is a solid nation.

6. Between strategy and policy, which do you think is Tsvangirai’s undoing?

I don’t think Tsvangirai’s undoing has been a lack of strategy or policy, but the fact that he has been fighting a strong opponent who has the backing of the state and its considerable apparatus. If strategy is an issue, then it is that the MDC has yet to find the formula to unlock Zanu PF’s grip on political power through the state. Zanu PF has been in power for a long time and it has entrenched itself so that when you look at it, you would think the state is Zanu PF and Zanu PF is the state. This is difficult to separate and to defeat. The MDC has not found the formula to breach this and this has been a key impediment in the path towards power. The MDC almost got there in 2008 but again they found the might of the state too hard and impossible to overcome.

7. Do you think boycotting elections is a good policy decision by MDC-T?

In politics, the principle of majority rule has to be respected and boycotting elections is a decision that was taken by the party’s Congress in October 2014. For that reason, it deserves respect. They have given out their reasons for that decision. The only point I would say is that no rule in politics is immutable and for that reason, the election boycott decision should never be regarded as immutable. You have to be dynamic. If you have immutable rules, you become predictable and easy for your opponents.

Having been close to the scene of action in the July 31 elections, I understand and have sympathy for the party’s decision to boycott, although I also believe that the decision was two years too late. That decision would have made more sense in 2013, when it was clear that we were going into a rushed election without reforms.

Further, I also believe that when you take a position such as a boycott, it makes sense only if you have a back-up plan. You have to say, you are boycotting but you are also doing A, B, C, D, to ensure that your demands for reforms are met. Otherwise you will remain in a perpetual state of boycott. Or if you eventually change your mind after many boycotts, people will say, but why did you waste all those opportunities boycotting elections? Knowing Zanu PF, I think it’s hoping for too much to expect it to ignite reforms simply because of a boycott without more. You have to apply pressure and to do more to bring about the needed reforms.

8. Do you think the MDC-T is genuine in calling for electoral reforms after failing to implement the same under the GNU?

Looking back, failing to have electoral reforms during the GNU era was a big failing but having been close to the action I know they tried but they were facing a well-drilled and stubborn system. When the GNU came, I was one of its biggest supporters because I believed it was an opportunity for the opposition to bring some influence into government and to promote reforms from within the system. But the opposition remained the opposition. They were always outsiders, like distant relatives at a wealthy cousin’s wedding. It was a difficult experience, partly because the Global Political Agreement was not very well negotiated and it left Zanu PF with a lot more power than the results of the 2008 elections allowed. The result was that constrained by the protocol of office and comforted by the luxuries of office, the MDC was not able to use its vantage position to influence many reforms. It is very hard, now that they are out of government, to see how these reforms can be achieved to full satisfaction.

9. The expulsion from Zanu-PF of former VP Joice Mujuru has long been speculated to provide the elixir to local politics. She has not given out much herself. Do you think she has the gravitas and what could be her game plan?

A private poll that we had in 2013 showed that Joice Mujuru would be a bigger competitor to Morgan Tsvangirai in a free and fair election, so yes, she is not to be underestimated. She has been wise to keep her plans a closely guarded secret because in politics, you must always keep your opponents guessing. You cannot be too predictable or talk too much before you have a solid base. It would be unwise for anyone to downplay her potential. She has suffered in recent months and she has had to get used to life outside the comforts of power. Remember she had been in government since 1980, so this was a shock and she has had to recover from it all. I suspect she will make her presence felt in due course, most probably as part of a broader coalition.

10. What are the chances of an alliance between Mujuru and Tsvangirai and what would be the implications of that on the political landscape of the country?

That cannot be ruled out. Both have critical constituencies and both command respect in their respect zones of influence. But they might realise that they are better together. In 2008, I called for a coalition between Simba Makoni and Morgan Tsvangirai, because I believed each would give the other something they did not have. But to do that some sacrifices needed to be made. At the time people did not pay attention. Some even castigated me and said I was wrong in my assessment. However, 5 years later, in 2013, Tsvangirai and Makoni formed a coalition, the very same coalition that I had suggested 5 years earlier. But by 2013, it was 5 years too late. So if wisdom prevails, Mujuru, Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders must realise that they are better together. Only that way would Zanu PF feel some pressure.

11. Two former heavies in Zanu-PF Messrs Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa have been vocal in the press. Do you think they may amount to much politically in their Zanu-PF after life and what do you think they may do; join the opposition?

Both men are liberation stalwarts whose contribution to Zimbabwe’s independence should not be trashed. I always have respect for the men and women who participated in the liberation struggle. But they also made some grave mistakes. They were part of the same system that they are now castigating, so when they speak it sounds like a case of sour grapes. All these things that they are castigating now, we have castigated them before. It’s not new. But it is good for the opposition that some of their former adversaries now see things their way.

But we shouldn’t forget that both are also part of the old generation. I think it’s time for a new generation of Zimbabwean politicians and government functionaries, the generation of you and I, Tichaona. In other countries it is the young people who are driving their countries. This is what we should be focusing on. The older guys can help us with their wisdom, but we should be there at the forefront and taking greater responsibility for our country. We cannot stand by and remain commentators forever.

12. Lastly, your take on the future and prospects of opposition politics in the short to medium term?

Like I said, the future of politics in Zimbabwe is us – you and I, our generation. I particularly do not like the whole notion of “youths” in politics. It’s like a category that confines young people to the periphery of leadership.

As for the opposition specifically, I think there is need for stability in leadership but the current leaders need to put their heads together and explore a broad coalition. The people are not happy with a fragmented opposition because they know that Zanu PF is formidable and a divided opposition will always struggle against it.

But after all is said and done, every Zimbabwean should appreciate the importance of a strong opposition. It is a necessary part of our fledgling democracy.

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