Opposition leader Robert Chapman says he decided to run for president in election set for later this year after getting frustrated by the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy and the state of opposition politics.
Chapman (RC), who is the presidential candidate for the newly formed Democratic Union of Zimbabwe (DUZ), told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that their research showed that there was a significant number of voters that did not believe in the established political parties.
He chronicled his journey from being a businessman based abroad to leader of DUZ, which is seeking to challenge dominant political parties such as Zanu PF and the Citizens Coalition for Change.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Robert Howard Chapman, presidential candidate for the Democratic Union of Zimbabwe, welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.
RC: Thank you for having me. I am very humbled to be here.
TN: Why are you doing this?
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RC: Hahaha. Right to the point?
TN: Before you do that Robert, I am going to be candid with our viewers who are out there, that as I sit here I am not inclined to vote in 2023 because I am not persuaded by the options that we have at the present moment.
So, I am hoping that after this conversation, you are either going to make me want to go and vote, and vote for you, or I am going to stay home and do nothing.
This is because right now the choices we have are not a choice.
TN: So, Robert back to my question, why are you doing this crazy thing?
RC: You know it is an interesting question, and first let me say thank you for having me.
I watch your show, you have interviewed a lot of big names I am very privileged and honoured to be here, and thank you for having me.
You know that question is a very big question, but actually you have sort of answered it.
We looked at data. Let me start with the where we are now, and sort of go back a little bit, and then start from the beginning.
Right now, there are more people that feel the same way you feel about the options that exist, the direction of the country, will there be real change, and if there is, will the people really stick to what they say they are going to do?
Do they maintain integrity when they get into public office?
That group, essentially it's called voter apathy, of people that have sort of thrown their hands up and said you know I think I am just going to keep my life private, and of those circles that seem to be more polarised, more toxic, we exist for that group.
There is convincing to be done, but I do not believe and we do not believe that it takes a lot to do so, because the evidence around us in our community, in our society, is showing us that it is not working, has not been working and we do not really have faith in that the candidates that exist today can really deliver that change because some of them have been in for a long time.
Going back to how this really started, I grew up in Chinohyi.
I grew up in a very poor upbringing, very difficult upbringing, and I was very fortunate to be pulled out of education and just like most Zimbabweans and other Zimbabwean families that live overseas.
I was able to do that, I was pulled out, in fact all of us in our generation, and my family we were all pulled out of the country by extended relatives from our Zimbabwean family, to either study at university or when you finished here you are able to try and get a job to try and make things better.
So I got to be able to see that, but work ethic was always been in my blood and me and my upbringing.
So, I went to those societies I was able to quickly succeed and progress.
As I started coming back to Zimbabwe, particularly around the 2014 time-frame, I did not really see much of an improvement at all, in fact things were really deteriorating.
Around 2016/2017 I started trying to approach the progressive part of our country from the private sector standpoint, you know how could we do some projects, could we get some businesses off the ground?
What would that look like?
Was the environment there? Even if it was tricky, as a Zimbabwean I felt I had advantage over maybe other foreign potential investors.
You know I could call an uncle, I could call an aunt, I could make something happen locally.
It just was not working, and the more frustrated I got, the more questions I started asking, and it came back to this issue of politics was not right, the environment was not right, there was corruption.
You could not trust what was taking place you could not even trust if you started business, that you would still keep it.
You could not trust putting money in a bank.
TN: Any specific project, Robert that you have worked on that you tried to invest in Zimbabwe that did not work?
Any specific ones? This is so that people have stuff to put their fingers on?
RC: Yes, in fact several, there are so many of them that we brought.
In fact, we actually created a sort of a two-page portfolio where we came and met with several entities.
One, is we looked at university students housing, specifically at Chinhoyi University as being the first option.
We even did the designs for it and presented it.
One of the reasons that did not work is our youth do not have jobs, so if we were to put them in accommodation how would they pay?
How would we be able to get a return on the investment?
The management of that facility is one, could we tie it to grades if the place was vandalised, or parties were going on?
That dynamic, including a public sector entity, not necessarily Chinhoyi University, but the governing entity was where the trick was for us and getting that done.
We looked at solar energy.
TN: So it did not get done?
RC: No we could not get it done.
TN: Somebody stood in the way?
TN: What exactly happened? Do you remember?
RC: I do. I want to be very diplomatic.
TN: Come on, give it to us. You are a presidential candidate.
RC: I am. There were some things some things asked of us that we just could not agree to in order to get that done.
Then the other side was energy.
We actually came in and said we can put together a project.
We really went as far as we could to get a solar project off the ground.
Our first project was going to be 100 megawatts, and you cannot discuss economic development without addressing energy shortages.
TN: And that did not happen because?
RC: It did not happen because they did not have the ability to repay.
So, during that time is right when the currency flipped, when they changed overnight, we went from US dollar to RTGS, and that deal just fell apart.
It was very difficult to convince our developers and our banks to finance that programme considering that our credit rating as a nation at the time was the second lowest credit rating in the world, after Venezuela, and we have never been to war.
In fact, I remember the banker said you are better off opening up a coffee shop in Afghanistan than trying to get a project of this size financed in Zimbabwe.
I believe they were also being sued by another energy company in Johannesburg for lack of payment.
So if you build a project that size, you wanted some sort of guarantee that there was going to be payment and they just could not issue it, they could not initially guarantee.
So we said let us table this, we will come back.
Due to that frustration from the private sector, I engaged in some conversations with some colleagues that understood what was happening and they said the politics is not right. So the question was what do we do?
And 2018 was right around the corner, so we said let us wait and see what happens in 2018.
You talk to some folks, they said this thing is definitely going to opposition, this thing is moving in the direction of opposition, and we could see it in 2018, there was huge momentum, the parties had got together, kept the alliance intact and they were moving with (Nelson) Chamisa at the tip of the spear.
So that did not happen.
Whatever took place, that some polling stations were not protected, the election was essentially stolen, or that was the argument the election was stolen.
I was not there, so I cannot really say.
When we started to see what unfolded after 2018 we started to see issues around V11’s and the court case that was taking place, we started to see separation inside the opposition, and then I started to realise if we do not form something here we are not going to be left with an opposition.
We started to see the same things coming back over the last 10-15 years unravelling right in front of us, almost history repeating itself.
There was name calling, there was labelling, there was this person's this, this person's that, and we started to see the separation of opposition.
I started asking some key folks how do we put this together, how does this work? With the intent of me not being the face of it.
The idea was do we find the right candidate and we can help them stand this up, someone with tremendous political muscle, we know the climate of politics here?
Someone who is willing to go through that.
Essentially the V formation, the bird at the front that takes the pressure.
As we started moving through that transition we found ourselves here.
The first thing we did, I think it was around April 2021, we consulted some well-respected individuals in politics and said how do we frame this?
They said you need three things, you need a constitution, you need a code of conduct, and you got to know who you are so people can relate to you, and those are the first three things...
TN: How long have you been running now? How long have you existed as an entity that wants to win a presidential election?
RC: As an entity I believe we registered officially around April/May 2022, as an official entity with Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission), last year 2022, but we had started the process in the background of putting together teams, and looking at what the ground looked like, working through data because obviously I am mixed race, I have lived overseas for some time, even though I have been coming back and forth very frequently.
We looked at data to say would it be favourable if I ran, would people accept that?
Then the second side of it was to also look and say was there a window for us to participate...
TN: What did the data tell you on both of those two scores?
RC: It showed that we would be accepted, that from a Zimbabwe standpoint being mixed race, my father's white, my mother's black, and so looking at that, people would be very accepting.
There was an opportunity of acceptance, and then the bigger tell-tale sign was this data was prior to the formation of the CCC, showed that there was huge voter apathy, in fact that group was larger than each of the parties individually.
So, we knew if we did not even tap into the followers of the other parties, just moving into the centre, our message would relate with the larger audience than the extremists on each side.
TN: Robert have you not left this thing too late?
RC: Great question, no. I think it is right on time.
We actually had planned on launching right around, or announcing I should say, right around the August 2022 time-frame, and we did not.
There were some scandals taking place in the opposition, and we wanted that to ride out a little bit.
So, our timing I think is perfect.
I think we would have rescued some people from scandals if we had come out in that time frame.
I am glad we did, because right when we went to the press conference is right when this debacle of the US$40 000, and the US$300,000 the US$500,000 gifts or loans whatever they want to call this, had now gone into Parliament.
The crazy thing was it was on both sides of the aisle.
So, when you are talking to people and they talk about corruption, and now they (the opposition) are talking saying they are the alternative, I do not think they are.
They were now eating at the same table, eating the same cake.
It was an opportunity right there to really stand above and, really stand with the people and say there is no way I can take that, because this country has suffered.
As I travel around the country it is the number one issue, corruption.
TN: So, you are so confident that this thing is ripe for the taking? That you think the remaining 6-9 months will do it?
RC: Yes absolutely, I believe it will.
Again, we work through data, and we work through the folks on the ground.
Five weeks, and I think for some of us that have had the opportunity to go into other markets and live in different areas, five days is a lifetime.
Five weeks is a lifetime. Gosh imagine what you could do with five months.
So, for us with the right planning, if you think of sort of like whether you are looking at the pomodoro effect, or the 80/20 rule, our goal is not to focus on the 80% to get 20% of results.
Ours is to do 20% of the work extremely well to get 80% of the result.
So instead of building these big giant sorts of dreams and really going this far, we are focused on very key issues that relate to the people on the ground, that they cannot even argue, that are happening in their mind or in their communities, and really showing them that we can really drive change.
We believe that if people want to be registered to vote, which is one thing which I am going to encourage you to, because you are in that category, and there is nothing wrong with being in that category that says I do not see a candidate.
What I will ask you to do is take the opportunity to register to vote, have an open mind, and watch what we are doing, listen to what we are saying, look at our actions and then decide.
If you decide Robert's not the right candidate, or the MP that is being fielded by DUZ, or my councillors being fielded by Democratic Union of Zimbabwe are not the candidates, then yes that means we have not done a good job of presenting to you an opportunity.