INTERVIEW: BLESSED MHLANGA
ZIMBABWE turns 39 tomorrow and NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Blessed Mhlanga caught up with the opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa (NC) to discuss the importance of the day vis-a-vis the current economic and political situation in the country and how Zimbabwe can move from its stasis. Below are the excepts:
ND: Zimbabwe turns 39 tomorrow, what are the achievements and milestones that we have travelled over the years?
NC: We are turning 40 next year, it’s time to take stock of the benefits of the liberation struggle to say: how far have we come in fulfilling the gains of the liberation struggle. The liberation struggle was about the will of the people, one-man, one-vote, it was about sovereignty, land. How far have we gone in addressing those fundamental questions? We continue to have disputed elections. In 2018, the elections were disputed on account of deprivation of the will of the people; that shows you and that confirms that we have achieved nothing in terms of ethos of the liberation struggle.
On the land issue, we have not genuinely empowered our people and you see now there continues to be problems around fundamental issues of title. The land issue continues to be a hanging question. The third issue has do to with prosperity and opportunities for the people of Zimbabwe. We are the saddest people in the world, we score least on the index of happy people in the world, because of government’s illegitimacy, governance deficit, because of the absence of comprehensive reforms, institutionally, constitutionally, economically and politically these fundamental reforms are lacking. If you look at our laws we continue to have trails of repression from the Rhodesian times. Look at how people continue to have a police force which is questionable, typical of the Selous Scouts.
We still have deep-seated divisions, you can’t have independence when we have divisions around tribes, when you have unhealed wounds around past challenges, around Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina, erosion of pensions; all those things are wounds on the hearts and minds of people of Zimbabwe. Independence must mean something, Independence can’t be paper independence, it can’t be rhetoric. It has to be independence in the means of production, independence in the economy, in the ownership of the means of production; those issues have not been addressed.
ND: In the foregoing, are you saying there is nothing to celebrate?
NC: I am pointing to the challenges of having independence without independence and we go to April 18 it is a very important day on the calendar of our country because it is a reminder of our sacrifices as a people. It’s a reminder of our struggles, collectively, a reminder of common denominator points. Under normal circumstances, you would have Independence Day being a non-partisan day, being an inclusive day, being a day you don’t think about political parties. You think about Zimbabwe, your only home not a political party, but we find ourselves dividing the nation into ladders, into enclaves of partisan politics into numerators, instead of a denominator belonging to mother Zimbabwe, to that which unites us which is far more important than that which may divide us. So, yes, we must go back and say: what does independence mean to us?
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Mr (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa is right now talking about phantom and false dialogue with people he is agreeing with. We have a fundamental disagreement on his legitimacy, around how elections were held. We must close that chapter, but we don’t close that chapter by running away from it.
ND: What then is the way forward for Zimbabwe?
NC: For us to go forward, we must go back to genuine political dialogue about the issues affecting our country. We will not be able to resolve the issues affecting our country until we have been able to resolve the fundamental issues, which is the issue of disputed political discourses and a disputed mandate. Mr Mnangagwa’s mandate is disputed, not by Chamisa, but by the people of Zimbabwe, the people who voted and were cheated, that must be addressed.
ND: The present government has hinted that it will move on without you and answer the fundamental questions of socio-economic and political crises while you watch from the sidelines?
NC: Tackle the issues of national building, issues of peace-building, issues of legitimacy and until such issues are solved we will not be able to find a common answer to our economic challenges, to our economic questions, any answers (Finance minister) Mthuli Ncube and whoever you may try to come up with, will actually be an unsustainable answer and a fake answer because it’s not attacking the real issues affecting Zimbabwe.
ND: Zanu PF says they brought independence through the liberation struggle and they are the owners – is this their baby?
NC: They want to distort history and rewrite it in their own terms, in their own persuasion, but clearly the struggle of the liberation of our country was not a sole effort. It was not a partisan effort, it was not a political effort, and it was a people’s effort. The liberation struggle was and still remains a people’s project. Nobody should appropriate themselves the liberation of this country, this country belongs to its owners and authors being the people under the auspices of the almighty God and nobody is supposed to appropriate the sole proprietorship of our country. We fought as a people, yes, we used different vehicles, Zanu was one of them, Zapu was another and any other vehicle, that vehicle can’t become the destination. The destination was a liberated Zimbabwe.
ND: They (Zanu PF) have been custodians of this liberation struggle over the years, have they taken good care of it?
NC: Zanu played a role, Zipra played a role, Zanla forces played a role and that role must be acknowledged, but it does not mean that they are the only ones who have a legitimate right to the liberation legacy and its custody. If anything, we all fought together as a people. We now have certain greedy and selfish characters who are hijacking the liberation struggle for their own benefit.
The liberation struggle was never about an individual owning multiple cars, multiple farms, houses and swimming pools, even if you can only swim in one. It was never about that, it was never about the trinkets and trappings of power, it was never about shefuism which we see today, it was about the decency of the people. But you can see that those ideas have been trampled upon, those ethos are no longer on the table that’s why you find that people are no longer thinking about ordinary livelihoods of all Zimbabweans in rural and urban areas, but they are now thinking about their own positions; careerism and opportunism have become the order of the day.
People are always thinking about how to line their pockets; instead of hands-on, they now have hands-in, in terms of looting and corruption. Look at the Zinara (Zimbabwe National Road Administration audit) report, it’s stinking to high heaven, look at the Hwange report it’s also stinking to high heaven. Who is being fingered there? The big guys, the shot callers, but have you even found any fat cat being jailed for corruption, no, they just do catch and release.
ND: You spoke about cleansing the past, Gukurahundi in particular, President Mnangagwa is moving to address this issue. In your view is this not a positive move?
NC: The first thing is for him to apologise because he was also a participant. He was part of government, he must apologise to the people of Zimbabwe in order to claim responsibility. Leadership revolves around two issues, responsibility and accountability, you can’t be in leadership if you are not accountable and you are not responsible. Owning up and apologising deeply not just with the lips, but with the lips of your heart and not your mouth, with all full conclusion, there must be acknowledgment of what happened. Beyond that we must have a bottom-up healing process, truth-telling for real reconciliation, not top-down approach. Let us have traditional leaders, community leaders, and the church playing a pivotal role in truth telling so that we have restorative justice. Then we also need to stop the same atrocities and perpetrating the same crimes that were done. Look at what happened in August 2018, look at what happened in January this year, we must repair it.
ND: Does the MDC have the capacity to deal with these issues you are talking about?
NC: We have maximum and ultimate capacity because we have the mandate of the people, you can’t ask a dirty hand to wash itself.
ND: Is this about a mandate from the people or political will and capability?
NC: The political will yes, already the political will we have, and that’s why I am not talking about the mandate. The people trust us, the people have confidence in our leadership, which has been the biggest problem of my brother ED. People have no confidence in him, they have no trust in him, and confidence can’t be manufactured.
ND: The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission closed the 2018 electoral cycle meaning that to them the 2018 general elections are over, but you keep singing legitimacy; what are your chances of achieving a redress?
NC: They themselves, their mandate is disputed, they failed to handle elections to the satisfaction of Zimbabweans, so it doesn’t matter what they say, they have no credibility, they are a discredited lot. Their hands are dripping with accusations. To them they closed it long back, but it does not close it for the people of Zimbabwe. They know that their credentials are questionable.
ND: Will Zimbabwe have to wait for another five years to realise what you say are the ideals of independence, that’s if you win in 2023?
NC: Why wait for five years? We must deal with the July 30, 2018 elections so that the issues of legitimacy are dealt with, so that parliamentary reforms are dealt with.
ND: How do you propose to do that nearly a year after the elections?
NC: Political dialogue, we say it and we are going to say it again, we are going to resort to other constitutional avenues and platforms around our right to express ourselves until what we believe to be the legitimate request is acceded to.
ND: But Zanu PF is marching on and does not appear to be listening to your calls.
NC: Zanu PF is not Zimbabwe, they may be stubborn, but that’s why democracy is there, that’s why Constitutions are there, that’s why people are there to deal with these issues. They may choose to be stubborn, but we will tame their stubbornness.
ND: So what action are you taking, or you are concentrating on your party’s congress?
NC: We are always in action, I don’t know what kind of action you are referring to, but we are a party in action; we are a party of action. In fact, we are a definition of action in whatever we do. So look, struggles have no timetable, struggles are always determined by circumstances, it depends on what the situation demands and circumstances dictate.