Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MT) is preparing for yet another duel with President Robert Mugabe in the 2018 elections, which could be the last time the 93-year-old ruler runs for the top office.
According to the Constitution, Mugabe cannot run for another term if he wins next year.
Zimbabwe’s only ruler since independence 37 years ago has already hit the campaign trail, addressing two rallies in Mashonaland East and Manicaland.
Observers say the opposition has been caught napping as it continues to haggle over the leadership of the proposed coalition against Mugabe.
However, Tsvangirai, whom many expect to lead the coalition, but is facing a challenge from former vice-president Joice Mujuru is unfazed. Tsvangirai (MT) last week spoke to our reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM) and he insisted that he was ready to face Mugabe.
Tsvangirai also spoke about his own succession plan in the MDC-T amid calls for leadership renewal in the opposition. He had a message for those that might be eyeing his post: Tsvangirai is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
BM: Please update us on the coalition talks; are you still confident as you were three months ago when you signed memoranda (MOUs) with Mujuru and MDC leader Welshman Ncube?
MT: The alliance building is a process that requires patience, trust and confidence. It is not an event. I believe signing the bilateral MOUs was to give the process the confidence necessary to push it forward.
We were very much aware that after signing the MOUs there was going to be an intense process of substantive negotiations because on negotiations it is a give and take and those processes sometimes take time. I am confident and we are committed to this process, there is no wavering. It is something that the national sentiment demands and deserves. People have to be motivated by an opposition which in practical terms is united and not fragmented.
That is something we need to cure, but you can’t cure it through the media. You can only cure it through serious observation of the MOU.
BM: There are reports that some in the MDC-T are against the coalition. How are you addressing such contradictions?
MT: Well, I was given a mandate by the highest decision-making body of the party to pursue this and I am doing it in line with that mandate. I have not deviated from it. If there are people in the party that have their own personal views, that’s natural in a mass organisation like ours.
There are so many different motivations why people take different views, but once a collective decision has been taken, we pursue it to the logical end.
BM: There have been reports that one of your vice-presidents Thokozani Khupe, at that high level of the party is against the coalition.
MT: I don’t know whether you can say my vice-president has categorically said she is not interested in coalitions.
I am sure she has clarified that position very, very clearly. I don’t see how an individual view should prevail when a party has taken a position.
BM: Mujuru has publicly stated that she wants to lead the coalition. Do you see this as a threat to the negotiations?
MT: No not at all. She has expressed her interest and besides the MOU clearly states that we don’t negotiate in public. We don’t undermine the confidence building through public statements that may undermine the real objective.
As far as I am concerned, I still stick to the position of the MOU and that is my principle. I don’t negotiate in public. If there are views that are expressed by individual political parties, we will seat down and tackle those.
BM: So by making those public statements that she wants to lead the coalition, is she not undermining the confidence and trust you are talking about?
MT: I don’t know to what extent that has undermined or strengthened the position, all I know is that these are strategic matters. They are contained in our MOU and I stick to that as a principle.
BM: In the event that the coalition does take shape, would you accept a situation where someone else other than you is chosen to lead the coalition?
MT: Now you are going to strategic issues and strategic challenges. You cannot expect me to categorically make a statement on that.
This is a unique coalition in itself because you are talking of a coalition before elections.
In most of the cases, coalitions are built after the election which is much easier because you are able to tell the strength of each party.
But in our case, in order to motivate the population that change is possible we need to close ranks and converge.
It is unhealthy to continue with the competition in the opposition ranks.
BM: Do you have any timeline for the coalition to be in place?
MT: Obviously as a party, we would like to give it a certain timeframe or timeline, but we don’t have a specific date. I am sure that when we go to our national executive, we will be able to outline that we hope should have been wrapped up by a given time.
BM: Are you not running out of time, considering that Mugabe is already rolling out his campaign?
MT: We believe that rallies are just a show. In this case Zanu PF is frog-marching people to its rallies. How do you determine your support by closing schools, closing shops. That is not how you do it, you go and work in the communities. That is what the MDC has been doing. We have been working in the communities. We have been working in all the sectors and believe that our work is bearing fruit.
BM: You have been at the helm of the MDC since its formation in 1999. Do you have any succession plan?
MT: Why should I reveal a succession plan when I am serving as the president of the MDC until the next congress? So why should we be talking about a succession when I am serving? If it is a hope or wish that there should be a succession plan, that will come within the context of the constitution that will come from the party.
BM: Is it not advisable for leaders to have a succession plan to indicate who is next in line?
MT: Have you ever heard of (former British prime minister) Tony Blair having a succession plan? (British Prime Minister) Theresa May having a succession plan? (United States president Donald) Trump having a succession plan?
Why don’t you wait for the processes that leads to a change of leadership to take its course?
I know where you are coming from. You are so preoccupied with Mugabe’s overstaying his welcome that you don’t believe that the MDC can change leadership. The MDC is there as a constitutional body and it will change leadership when it is set and that happens at congresses.
BM: There are reports that youth in the MDC are clamouring for younger leadership. Do you feel threatened by the likes of Nelson Chamisa?
MT: Why Nelson Chamisa? Why a particular individual? The people will choose their leaders and I am surprised that you say the youth in the party are clamouring for change of leadership in the party. I have not heard of that.
BM: For younger leadership to be in powerful positions.
MT: Younger leadership, well that may be a wish, but they know the process that we go to congress and elect a leader and nothing can stop them.
BM: Will your 2018 election campaign be different from previous ones? Do you think the ‘Mugabe must go mantra’ still has currency?
MT: They say in politics if you do the same things over and over again you can’t expect change. We have adjusted our strategy and you cannot expect me to reveal our strategy. What I know is we have already put in place mechanisms that will deliver victory.
You see, it may be an interesting line but it’s not my preoccupation to say Mugabe must go as a mantra. We are not just here to say Mugabe must go.
How about if he dies, what do we do? We are saying that Mugabe has built an authoritarian system that needs to be transformed.
That’s the fundamental issue; it’s not about him as a person, it’s about him institutionalising of repression of all these other things that have affected the country that is the most important thing. So the Mugabe must go mantra is not the preoccupation of the MDC.
BM: You recently endorsed the Chinese company picked by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to supply biometric voting registration (BVR) kits. Where did you get the confidence to endorse the Laxton Group?
MT: How else would I have spoken? This is a company that was short-listed by the United Nations. It has participated in other African elections. So who are we to doubt their integrity?
If there is going to be any manipulation of the vote, surely it cannot be attributed to that company. It was along those lines that I thought they should be given a chance.
BM: You have been engaging Zec over your demands for electoral reforms. Has there been any movement in that regard?
MT: We still believe that it’s very important to articulate that certain reforms are fundamental for free and fair elections. We recently had a conference in Nyanga where Zec asked us to give our input. We have made our input and made our own observations. One of the critical observations is that Zec must act independently.
It must not only act, but must be seen to be acting independently. We also told them that the encroachment of the executive into the election management issues is unacceptable.
Yes, we will continue to push for reforms that affect the outcome of the elections. We will continue to push for them.
BM: What would be MDC-T’s campaign message come 2013?
MT: Wait until we have crafted the message, but obviously it is around democratic change, it is around giving a direction, it is about changing the governance culture; so you wait until the catch phrase has been made.
BM: What can we expect from an MDC government?
MT: The MDC has a plan. You know in Gweru I tried to articulate the plan but people ignored the plan. They want to know about who is fighting who. Let me just take you through, in our view there are five critical areas of focus for the MDC.
l Is to change the governance culture of the last four decades; this governance culture of corruption, nepotism, elitism the sycophants of the personality cults, the lack of distinction between the party and government. We cannot continue in that direction. That has to be transformed.
l You can’t talk of transformation without an economy. our albatross has become the economy, which economy is dependent on a recovery path which has failed.
We need to define a new economic narrative which then exploits the various positive areas of the country and define a new economic paradigm.
The biggest handicap of our economy is lack of productivity. It is a lack of productivity which has failed us. So, an economic narrative defines a new direction for the country.
l We need to look at the social intervention; we are a social democratic party. There is no way we can avoid intervening in social sectors, your health, your education, housing, social welfare, your sanitation and all that.
Those areas are very important for an MDC government, especially given the powers we are going to give the local authorities. a lot of them will have to focus on those areas.
l Infrastructure. It goes without saying that without a viable infrastructure there is no way you can talk of an economy. Look at our roads, our railways; they have collapsed. look at energy. what else, water supply?
Infrastructure is important for a modern day economic thrust.
l We can’t have an isolated economy. It is the isolation that has stifled foreign direct investment in this country. We need to build an international economy which is linked up to the international community. We are very clear on what needs to be done.
BM: In the event that there are no electoral reforms, will you still participate in next year’s elections?
MT: I have heard that. Saying that reforms are not coming, but the question is that you have a choice; stability or legitimacy and Zanu PF has to make a choice. Do they want stability? do they want illegitimacy? The consequences of illegitimacy are all there.
The distractions that have happened in this country are there for all to see. So Zanu PF has to make a choice about whether this country can move forward or backwards.
BM: But will the MDC-T contest the elections?
MT: Well, we will go into an election. We are preparing for elections there is no doubt about it, the fact that we are demanding certain reforms does not mean that we are boycotting elections. We have never boycotted elections.
BM: Should you lose the election will you consider resigning?
MT: You are saying should I lose, now what about if I win? The fundamental issue is that it must be an election considered free, fair and credible. Those are the conditions under which even losers have to accept defeat but also the winners must accept magnanimity and offer the others to move forward again.
BM: Do you think the infighting in Zanu PF will help the opposition next year?
MT: Well, I am sure that the infighting in Zanu PF, the elite implosion in Zanu PF gives the opposition so many opportunities. There is no cohesion, and there is no response to the economic crisis so we have to proffer an alternative.
BM: Recently Mugabe said he welcomes your coalition and would want to beat you as a coalition. What is your reaction to that?
MT: I have beaten Mugabe before without a coalition. This is where the mistake is. He thinks he won the 2013 elections, not talking about the 2008 elections. We beat him so it is not a question of beating me, it is not about personalities. This election is not about Mugabe and Tsvangirai; this is about serving the people.
The people are desperate and the election must not be a contestation of personalities, it must be about finding solutions to the problems we are facing.