A picture of MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and former Finance minister Tendai Biti marching together in Harare during a National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) demonstration against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) ignited interest.
the big interview BY OBEY MANAYITI
Tsvangirai and Biti parted ways after MDC-T’s disastrous performance in the 2013 elections.
Nera is a grouping of local opposition parties that are fighting for electoral reforms.
Biti now leads the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), but MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora (DM) told our reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) that doors are open for his predecessor to return to the biggest opposition party in the country.
Mwonzora also spoke about Nera’s stance that ZEC must be disbanded for resisting electoral reforms, the proposed opposition coalition and MDC-T’s internal problems. Below are excerpts of the interview.
OM: There are reports that Biti might be on his way back to the MDC-T, any truth to that?
DM: Biti is welcome to the party. Everyone who left the party is welcome to come back and if he wants to come tomorrow, we will welcome him tomorrow. If he wants to come today he is welcome, so are all those who left, they are welcome.
The president [Tsvangirai] announced that everybody must come back home and after all, it makes political sense for him as an individual to join others.
He has fantastic brains and he has obvious talents. It is clearly evident that it is cold out there for those who left and they are welcome to come back.
OM: What is your relationship with ZimPF interim leader, Didymus Mutasa?
DM: It is not antagonistic at all. He attends most of the activities that we do, so we have a good respectful relationship with him, just like with other opposition leaders.
He has not done anything to us as an opposition leader that we are fighting about so it’s a good relationship.
OM: How far have you gone with talks to establish an opposition coalition?
DM: I am afraid that we have not really concluded anything serious. This is because some of the potential coalition partners are going through a period of turbulence.
The National People’s Party (NPP) for example, is a potential coalition partner and we need to give it time for it to settle and to be more stable than it currently is.
All political parties go through this type of turbulence and once that turbulence settles, we will be able to engage better because right now they are distracted.
They have divided attention and they are looking at their congress and they are looking at the internal dis-cohesion that is there.
We want the dust to settle and we want them to stabilise. We are sure they will stabilise and we wish them the best of luck. We are also studying some of the potential coalition partners.
The temptation by most Zimbabweans is to think that the coalition is between political parties. We are looking at other groupings as well.
We are looking at war veterans for example; it is a group that we are talking to, as well as civil society. Our coalition is going to involve political parties and civil society as well.
OM: Which parties are involved?
DM: We have not concluded coalition talks as yet, but I can tell you that so far, the MDC-T is talking seriously with about two political parties and two other groupings, so there are four major groupings the MDC-T is talking with.
OM: Who are the negotiators?
DM: Well, the negotiators are there. It is the political leadership and the technical staff. When we come to the actual execution of the negotiations, it will be the formal structures for example the secretary-general will be there, the members of the presidium will be there, whether it is the president himself or his deputies or the national chairperson.
But right now people who are active are deputy national chairman Morgen Komichi and he is very active, especially in building networks. He has done fantastically well. Other members are doing task per task.
OM: What has Nera achieved so far in trying to force ZEC to implement electoral reforms?
DM: The first thing is that it was Nera which caused ZEC to embark on electoral reforms. As a result of the pressure from Nera, ZEC invited experts from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to identify areas of reforms.
They identified voter registration, voter education and technical capacitation of ZEC as well as regular stakeholder meetings.
ZEC then established a political parties platform where Nera’s numerous demands were met. The first was the demand for a new voters’ roll, second was the demand for a biometric voter registration (BVR) system and third was that it should be done by UNDP.
All this was done until now that the government had reneged.
What was also important is that Nera was able to bring together political parties of various opinions.
The truth of the matter is that Nera is the only political grouping that is visible in this country.
We were able to bring to the fore the exact reforms that we wanted and then we produced the Nera document.
We have managed so far to present a petition to ZEC and we are working on ways of disbanding ZEC.
We are no longer talking of reforming ZEC, we want it disbanded and we want an independent electoral management body appointed by Sadc [Southern African Development Community], AU [African Union] and the UN [United Nations].
OM: Do you think you will be successful in this endeavour?
DM: Yes, we will because we are able to tackle ZEC on three fronts which are political, the legal where we will take ZEC to court, challenge it and win then lastly is to deal with it through diplomacy and advocacy.
Together with other political groupings, we have managed to establish a platform for all opposition parties which met on Thursday. We are looking into having more of these meetings.
OM: NPP leader Joice Mujuru has not been attending these meetings. Has she given you any reasons?
DM: She is not completely absent. She is represented in the technical working group by Wellington Mubaiwa who always comes.
She was represented by Messrs Didymus Mutasa, Munacho Mutezo and Kudakwashe Bhasikiti before they parted ways.
She has indicated that she will bring NPP members. Regarding herself, yes, she has not attended Nera functions like other principals, but she was represented.
Why she didn’t, we don’t know, but right now the official explanation we got from their officials is that they are busy dealing with their congress and we hope after that they will be able to engage more and more.
OM: Do you think government will give in to your demands?
DM: This government doesn’t give in easily and, therefore, we must push it. Although this government is cruel, arrogant, insensitive, it is not impossible.
It has been defeated before, we defeated it in 2008 and we defeated it on the Constitution.
All we need to do is to think harder than we are doing now and to be more united than we currently are so we want to unite the opposition, civic society and every one. Once we do that, this government is movable.
OM: What if government refuses to implement those reforms, are you going to participate in next year’s elections?
DM: We will cross the bridge when we come to it. Right now what I can tell you is that MDC-T is preparing for the 2018 elections and it has elaborate plans, some which are not yet implemented and some which are already implemented, for example the MDC-T is on a very interesting recruitment programme which is ward based.
As you may know, our president has been engaging traditional leaders in rural areas and other stakeholders, so yes, we are preparing for elections.
OM: We have seen reports that your party is failing to pay its workers. What is the position?
DM: Well, the party is in a similar situation as any other organisation in this country. We know that Zanu PF is failing to pay its workers, even when it is in government.
We know that the ZBC is failing to pay its workers, the NRZ has a problem with paying its workers so the MDC-T is no exception save that the situation with MDC-T is much better.
We have managed to clear 45% of the arrears that we owed our workers and the last date to pay our workers was yesterday [Thursday] and they were paid.
We still owe about 55% of their arrears and we have put a payment plan and we are clearing at the rate of 15%.
Relatively speaking, the MDC-T is in a better financial position and we were able to pay our workers on time, but one of the reasons why it has been difficult to meet our workers’ bills at a time we should meet them is because our only source of money is the government grant which was being withheld by the government and as a result, we were also unable to satisfy our obligations. Once the money came we paid our workers.
OM: We have seen a worrying situation where most of your former MPs have fallen on hard times.
As a party do you have a plan for those who are finding it difficult to cope after losing their seats?
DM: There are two types of MPs that we must deal with. The first one is the MP who left Parliament not because of any disciplinary issue and those of course we are sympathetic to because the money at Parliament is not enough.
Zimbabwean MPs are among the least paid in the world and I certainly know that Zimbabwean MPs earn less than a sixth the Kenyan MPs earn for example, therefore, there is no cushion for MPs, especially those without other professions are struggling.
I personally struggled for a while after coming from Parliament until I stabilised my legal firm so I am one of the fortunate ones, but some may not be as lucky.
Some who were businesspeople by the time they tried to resuscitate their businesses, the economic climate had gone bad and they were unable to recover.
We are sympathetic to those. However, there are some who we recalled from Parliament.
I should say that the recalling was a very clear strategy on the part of MDC-T because it dealt with issues of indiscipline and also it destroyed the myth that some people had begun to build for themselves that they had a huge following and were using Parliament as their platform. We simply had to remove that platform.
OM: Do you think MPs’ salaries must be reviewed upwards?
DM: Yes, I think the salaries of the MPs must be reviewed upwards in view of the very important work that they do.
In various constituencies, the legislators also act as burial societies, they have a welfare function that they do.
Sometimes from their own resources and that is wrong although it is unavoidable. This is the culture that is there, so I can think of two areas where the MPs’ remuneration has to be dealt with.
First of all, the provision in the law that one cannot get a pension unless they have served for two terms is wrong. Most MPs serve one term and they will not be entitled to pension.
That must be removed and secondly their allowances must come on time. I know they get fuel allowances which never come and I was in the 7th Parliament and some of the allowances were paid in 2015. This is just wrong. The salaries are bad and they must be reviewed.
OM: There are reports of bad blood between Tsvangirai and one of his deputies Thokozani Khupe. Can you shed light on the issue?
DM: I am close to both leaders and I speak to them almost on a daily basis. I interact with them, either president Tsvangirai alone or deputy president alone or when the two of them are together.
I want to tell you that there is no bad blood at all between the two.
Of course there are times when leaders argue about things, they can argue about appointments, but whenever they argue about anything, that argument has not been dysfunctional and it is an argument that one would expect so there is no bad blood at all.