At one time Former Finance minister Simba Makoni (SM) was considered to be among the front-runners in the race to succeed President Robert Mugabe before he ran out of patience and abandoned the ruling Zanu PF party in 2008.
At the time, he expressed frustration at Mugabe’s refusal to pass on the baton and said many in Zanu PF were going to follow him into opposition politics.
However, only former Home Affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa joined Makoni as he campaigned against Mugabe in the hotly-contested polls the same year. Judging from Mugabe’s recent statements, the 92-year-old leader has still not forgiven the former Sadc executive secretary and believes the late army commander Solomon Mujuru was behind Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) movement.
Our reporter Richard Chidza (RC) on Friday caught up with Makoni and he opened up on life outside Zanu PF, Mugabe’s claims against Mujuru and his passion for a united opposition to challenge the ruling party in the next polls.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
RC: Can you update us on the status of MKD. When are you going to have a substantive leadership?
SM: We are building the party up. yes, we would like to have substantive leadership at all levels, but as you know, political parties are people-based. We are still building our structures and the hope and expectation is that this will culminate in a national convention which will establish a substantive national leadership.
RC: Are there any timelines set for these processes to be completed?
SM: At the moment we have no timelines that have been set.
RC: Mugabe has in the past accused the late Solomon Mujuru of using you and MKD to destabilise Zanu PF. What is your reaction to that?
SM: Mugabe is completely consumed by conspiracies and sees conspiracies everywhere. There are many people in Zanu PF who have wanted change for a long time.
I worked with many other people to effect change first from within and when I realised it was not possible to do that, I left.
I am now trying to institute change from outside. I was not sent by anybody and I have said this before. I am nobody’s agent and I am nobody’s tool.
RC: What do you think about Zanu PF’s plans to have Mugabe as its candidate in 2018 aged 94?
SM: It is sad and nonsensical. Sad because every one of the people in Zanu PF acknowledges that Robert Mugabe is past his sell-by date.
That he has ruined this country, but unfortunately they do not have the courage to live their convictions and so they blindly follow the crumbs, knowing deep inside them that they are yearning for change.
RC: Do you think they are also blindly following him for personal gain?
SM: Partly, maybe mainly, but most importantly, because they are afraid of life outside Zanu PF and out of power.
They cannot account for their wealth and everything else that they have amassed over the years. They cannot also account for the things they have done and continue to do.
RC: What is your view about government’s failure to pay civil servants their June salaries and its implications on the country’s stability? Did these things happen during your time as Finance minister?
SM: Government never failed to pay all its employees, and we did not have preferences or a league table as to who was supposed to be paid first. We paid everyone on the same day, as and when their salaries were due. I do not know about the security threat but to some extent, yes, because Mugabe and Zanu PF have created this differentiation.
The moment they failed to satisfy the needs of the security people they created a security threat, but there is a security threat in not being able to pay public servants whether they are cleaners, permanent secretaries or military generals.
These people must fend for their families and there is a danger if they were to abandon their posts, which could lead to the collapse of the State. That is a very palpable threat.
RC: You are one of the opposition politicians at the forefront of the Coalition of Democrats (Code) unveiled recently. What do you seek to achieve with this coalition?
SM: Our people need time to understand the Code agreement. There are three main platforms, first the structure and organisation platform.
What Code is made up of; the organs, governing council, assembly of delegates, the steering committees and the values we are proposing for leadership in Zimbabwe, whether one is part of Code or not.
I think it is valuable for people to inform themselves. We also have the framework for a programme of action defined by the objectives.
This is not just about electoral cooperation; it’s not about working together on or during elections.
It is about working together to bring about change in the way Zimbabwe is governed, ranging from removing fear to unity, harmony, reconciliation and forgiveness, to economic recovery and upliftment, social services, frameworks that cover all areas of human endeavour in Zimbabwe. There are five of us who signed and we are hoping more will come on board. We are committing ourselves towards this.
RC: Will you consider working with former vice-president Joice Mujuru ahead of the 2018 elections?
SM: Yes, I am ready to work with her and others. I am communicating with all leaders in politics, the church, business and civil society. I spend a lot of time meeting people.
I have met Mrs Mujuru and [former Prime Minister Morgan] Tsvangirai several times and [will] continue to do so.
I do not want to make this personal because this is what I find resonating with the yearnings of people of Zimbabwe who would want to see their leaders working together.
The current situation of splinter groups is not doing our cause for change any good.
RC: Do you think the coalition will succeed without the so-called bigger opposition parties?
SM: I think they [bigger parties] are better placed to answer that. All I can say is that extension of invitation for cooperation is a constant factor.
That is why I said I personally invest a lot of time in talking to other leaders. You will be aware that there are two cooperation platforms in the opposition movement, Code and the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera).
My yearning is that those processes converge and that we go beyond converging among political leaders; that the circle widens to include civil society, professional and business leaders so that we have a truly grand coalition of change inclusive of all areas.
RC: Do you think this would be possible before the 2018 elections?
SM: It would be very good if we achieve it ahead of that election. I want to underline though that at least from my perspective that the yearning for cooperation is not just about going into an election.
It’s about dealing with today’s problems affecting the people of Zimbabwe. It is about dealing with bond notes, shortages, dwindling jobs, banning of imports and low productivity.
Our cooperation must respond to the problems facing Zimbabweans every day.
RC: Talking about shortages and bond notes, as former Finance minister, what are the solutions available to government?
SM: The solutions are not immediate; they are not short-term. I feel sorry for our leaders when they try to convince our people that there is a quick-fix solution.
The ultimate solution to our problems lies in restoring production, so that maize farmers can produce 2,5 million tonnes again, tobacco farmers can produce 200 million kilogrammes, and cotton farmers can produce 350 000kg again. And we can go through all the numbers into mining, that gold miners can produce 27 tonnes, we peaked at that. When we start to produce surplus to export, then we will not need multi-currencies. The answer is there, but it is not short-term.
Please let nobody take people for granted or lie. I feel sad that Mugabe, [Finance minister] Patrick Chinamasa and [Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor] John Mangudya are trying to convince people that with a $200 million loan from Afreximbank they can solve the problems of decades of entrenched collapse. It’s disingenuous, it’s dishonest.
RC: So bond notes are not the solution?
SM: Not at all.
RC: Do you understand them?
SM: Well, a little bit but not yet because even Mangudya and Chinamasa have not yet explained how it is going to work.
Basically, they are going to put up a piece of paper which to me is not dissimilar to bearer’s cheques, that they say is backed by a $200 million facility from Afreximbank.
But if you have $3,5 billion in circulation, then what is $200 million? It is really a drop in the ocean.
So, I do not understand them because they are yet to explain. I do not know if it is because they also do not understand the issue. The bottom line is bond notes are no solution to the hardships our people are going through.