INTERVIEW: Blessed Mhlanga
Chief Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni torched a storm when he graced and addressed the MDC congress in Gweru on Saturday. The chief criticised the Zanu PF government and Judiciary for failing the nation which, according to commentators, was hypocritical of the opposition party which criticised partisan involvement of chiefs in politics. NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Blessed Mhlanga caught up with MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume (JM), who spoke at length about the party’s plans to take to the streets to protest the deteriorating economic situation after its elective congress. Below are excerpts:
ND: We have seen the youth elections that happened and a bit of some complaints, what are the issues being raised?
JM: Well, they are not really issues, when someone immediately loses, one can raise one or two issues. What is heartening for us is that all those who lost congratulated those who won. If you go to Lovemore Chinoputsa’s Facebook page, he has already congratulated the winner, if you go to councillor Denford Ngadziore’s page, he has already congratulated the winner. This is what it should be, one might complain here and there, it is not a perfect system, but by and large the vote and the outcome reflected the voter’s wishes.
Like we said earlier on, there is no loser or winner in this thing. Some of the people who might not have made it, already have other positions in the party. Councillor Ngadziore is the secretary-general for Harare province; that does not go away and it is also an immerse responsibility on its own and this was going to be an additional responsibility on him and he was supposed to relinquish this other responsibility. So in the grand scheme of things, he has the huge responsibility.
ND: Do you expect this flow to continue as we go into the main elections where we have hot contestation?
JM: Yes, the stakes are higher, the feelings are higher, people burn up inside or outside, but this is as an election. We wish all of them the best of luck, those who have campaigned and those who need positions and like what the president (Nelson Chamisa) said, it is not about positions, it is about placing each other using a variety of methods.
The president, even after all is done, has been given power to adjust what he thinks members might have missed in terms of the vision of the party and what needs to be done for the party. So we are not in a panic mode, we are clear that the best person as seen by the delegates will sail through. If they miss something, the delegates have given the president the power through certain appointments of the national council and the national council will meet to approve some of those things. So we are going according to plan, according to how you expand on the leadership of the party.
ND: Let us turn to your membership, some have been sleeping in the open in this cold, does this speak to disorganisation?
JM: No! No! No! You know when you come to a congress the world over, the people sleep at the venue of the congress. Remember, what happens at the congress, the leadership is dissolved. If you think you have come to a congress to sleep in a hotel and sleep comfortably, you will find a different leadership having been put in place than what you thought.
At church meetings, people have all-night vigils, praying to God in the mountains, it does not mean they don’t have homes to sleep or hotel rooms, but the spirit of the Lord is supposed to come at that particular mountain.
If you are in the habit of leaving the blessed mountain and go and sleep elsewhere, then you will not get what you need. When we come to a congress, accommodation is the least of our worries. Food at the venue, being at the venue, it is only three days, people have to elect a new leadership. If you are away, you might find a new leadership elected.
ND: The issue of transport hikes as people came to the congress, how much did this eat into your pocket?
JM: Well, obviously, this hits our pockets, but you know the government of [President Emmerson] Mnangagwa and his governing deputies from hospitals or the intensive care unit — they pretend to govern the country in-between them being outpatients, you will expect that everything will collapse. Our members had anticipated, they had bought their fuel in time, we are happy to say that we are oversubscribed. That is the reason we are doing accreditation because we have people who just want to defend their project even though they know they are not delegates, they made it here. Out of love for their party, out of love for their president, they might end up wanting to participate in every programme.
ND: If I may take you back to yesterday, you had a huge endorsement from Chief Ndiweni, but you have been complaining that chiefs should not dabble in politics.
JM: We have not said chiefs should not be part of politics, we said chiefs should not be partisan. There is a difference because the chief is already a political organ in the Constitution and the political sphere, but it is protected by the Constitution where they are supposed to be neutral. In other words, they must be able to point out when a party is making the subjects suffer. They must be able to point out when the rulers are not ruling to the satisfaction of the people. They must be able to articulate the social ills and must attend any meeting without the tag of partisanship.
ND: His presence yesterday, what did it mean for the MDC?
JM: What it means is that traditional leaders are beginning to realise that there is a political reality in the country. There is Zanu PF, there is MDC and there are many other political parties in the country. If they want their people to live well, they must be able to talk with and tell those political parties what needs to be done in the best interest of the subjects. If you note Chief Ndiweni’s presentation was not about the political party, it was about the suffering, education, water for the subjects and they are suffering because of Zanu PF. So for him to point out where and why the people are suffering, is not being partisan. What the Constitution prohibits is partisan politics.
ND: Going forward, the party president was talking about engaging more chiefs, what is the strategy?
JM: We need to demystify the coming of Chief Ndiweni and Chief Maduna. It is demystifying the role of chiefs, and they are not dumbs, dumbs who just sit there while their people are killed; who just sit there when their people are hungry; who just sit there when their people are not being educated – they must deal with societal problems.
If the MDC is doing wrong they must tell us, if Zanu PF is doing wrong they must tell it. What they can’t do is to be blindly partisan and we are going to have traditional leaders, in fact, we have them that have different degrees of courage as it were.
ND: Yesterday, your president spoke about fighting fire after congress and that you will be taking action, what action will you be taking?
JM: We have section 59 of the Constitution that allows us to demonstrate peacefully, it was put there for a reason and all State institutions must allow, that includes the police, the army and the Judiciary, must allow people to express themselves in a peaceful manner.
ND: But in the past you have not been allowed.
JM: Yes, that is the reason we are emphasising that it is section 59 which allows us to demonstrate and that no one, the police, the army and the Judiciary (should block them).
These demonstrations are not being done to benefit the demonstrators, they are being done to benefit the families of the police, the families of members of the Judiciary.
ND: What are you going to do in the event that you are denied?
JM: These are called inalienable rights, one fights for them, they are not deniable. We will exercise them despite what anyone thinks. That is why they are being called inalienable rights in the Constitution. You cannot take away my rights to be alive, to move and to associate. You can only pretend to restrict it. You can try to shoot me from doing it, but there is no way you can say you have prevented us from exercising our rights.
ND: You have been accused of inciting violence in past demonstrations, is that what you stand for?
JM: Look at the person who is accusing us of violence, you are talking about people who did genocide, you are talking about people who killed 30 people for the preservation of power; you are talking about people who destroyed houses. You are talking about people who have an organ of national healing to talk about people they have killed; who is violent here? How do you kill people and say they are inciting violence, did they mean that we are inciting them to kill us? We are inciting them to torture us?
How did they get incited to kill people because the violence in Zimbabwe comes from them and them alone? They have the monopoly of violence and we have the monopoly of peace. We have exercised the monopoly against them.
ND: We have seen the RTGS dollar taking a knock against the US$, what measure can be done to solve the situation, what are you going to do as a political party?
JM: We are going to launch a policy called Reload coming out of this congress, we are going to get that authority to launch that policy. We might launch it here. We might launch it soon after the congress. But what we have got, we need to do simple things for this economy. The economy is like a tortoise which is upside down, it cannot right itself, the government has failed. It is not a question of whether the government has failed, but it is a question of who and how are we able to rescue it from where it is. We need to draft a framework that brings confidence to the economy, stops corruption, stops government expenditure, stops rampant corruption in the parastatals, brings trust to the banks, pays the farmers their money, pays the miners their money, pays the miners in US$ and pays the civil servants and everyone else in hard currency.
Once we do that we begin to have real commerce in the country and then we begin to have real dialogue and then we re-engage with the international community because we need massive funding in this country to be able to come out of these economic problems and one of the issues is that it is no longer sustainable to have a Zanu PF government, a Mnangagwa government going forward. We need to find a way of political dialogue that brings about a transitional authority to get to elections that bring credibility and legitimacy.
ND: Lastly, are you confident that you are going to remain the spokesperson of the party after this congress?
JM: I am confident that I will remain in the party, I am confident that whatever task I get, it will be in the best interest of the party and that I will execute it as efficiently as I have executed this one. I cannot be stuck in one post, if I am stuck in one post, yes I will do it. If I get another, I will do it to the best of my ability.