MDC-T has had arguably more than its fair share of internal squabbling in recent days as a result of the prolonged absence of its founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. The post of acting-president has complicated the situation given that there are three vice-presidents in the party.
By Obey Manayiti
For the rest of last week vice-presidents Elias Mudzuri and Nelson Chamisa claimed to have been appointed to act by Tsvangirai.
Our reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) interviewed Elias Mudzuri (EM) who recently returned from South Africa where he met with the Tsvangirai family and allegedly Tsvangirai himself. Manayiti also spoke to Chamisa (NC) to get his side of the story. Below are the excerpts from the interviews:
OM: Can you please update us on your trip to South Africa. There are reports that you left for another set of coalition negotiations and a lot has been said about your trip. Can you unpack it for us?
EM: As you already know, the invitation was extended to virtually all opposition parties in Zimbabwe and in the region, including our alliance partners. That conference was meant to share experiences on building effective electoral and governing coalitions. When we in the MDC-T party decided to go, we internally had a meeting with Honourable Nelson Chamisa, Honourable Thokozani Khupe and Douglas Mwonzora. We all agreed that we should attend chiefly because we are in an alliance and it would be an opportune time to share with others. This was a day before we left and our flight was at 7 am the next morning. On the travelling day Chamisa started saying that he needed to check with other alliance partners and I said its okay and we were supposed to go. The next thing we heard was that we were up to a sinister agenda going to Cape Town for something different like meeting with G40 elements. Anyway, I ended up cutting short that meeting in Cape Town because I was summoned by the president (Tsvangirai) to go to Johannesburg as a matter of urgency.
OM: So you didn’t attend the meeting?
EM: I virtually didn’t. I went to South Africa on Wednesday and on Thursday I was called back to meet president Tsvangirai.
OM: What’s your take on the MDC Alliance? There are reports that you are trying to sabotage the alliance.
EM: How can I sabotage the MDC Alliance? It is part of what was agreed at our last congress. We must be practical and deliver the elections. We must be practical as politicians to the extent that whatever we do must benefit the people. It’s unfortunate that people want to see me as something else and I have been going to the alliance rallies.
OM: Are you satisfied with the number of seats given to you as a party?
EM: It’s not about being satisfied. I am not the one who must be satisfied and as far as I know I have my seat. We have to look at a winning situation. It is not about the number of seats you are getting but it is about whether you win the seat and make us win.
OM: In its current form, do you think the alliance is workable?
EM: It is workable because the agreement is clear on what should be done. You have to deliver in the provinces and the districts.
OM: Back to your South African trip, your rival camp is claiming you never met Tsvangirai but you stage-managed the meeting and conducted interviews by the hospital fence.
EM: I don’t normally want to go into debates with my colleagues when it comes to these issues. Was he there? Tsvangirai’s son said he [Tsvangirai] saw me and who is he [Chamisa] to dispute it? I didn’t go there on my own, I was invited to go and see him and if I am invited to a briefing, then why should I refuse because I am only an appointed person? I am not the president, I had to go there and why should I lie, what do I benefit by lying? Who do you think lied between me and him who was in Harare?
OM: Can you tell us his [Tsvangirai] state of health?
EM: I cannot discuss his state of health please, that is not acceptable. It’s a private issue and I can only discuss party issues. That is not fair to ask me about his state of health and if you were the one would you want that?
OM: I brought up that question because some people are saying Tsvangirai is not even able to speak at the moment and they are saying based on that, no meeting took place.
EM: I will go back to you and say if he is not speaking how did Luke (Tamborinyoka) speak to him when he was in Harare? Why should I lie when he appointed me and if I was called to say he wants to see me and talk to me, was Chamisa there? The previous week Chamisa went to see him and he was not allowed to see him. Maybe he refused, I don’t know. When I went there I didn’t even know where the hospital is, so when you ask me these questions it is like I created this trip. I was summoned and Chamisa now from Harare has become God and he can see everything that is happening. He was at a rally in Chitungwiza saying he saw the president, so who is capable of lying now between him and me? What is his interest in continuously analysing the trip that I took?
OM: So you mean Chamisa didn’t see the president?
EM: His (Tsvangirai’s) children mentioned that no one has seen him and that is what they told me. They are the people who keep his phones and that place is secure and you only get there with relatives.
OM: There are issues with the letter you released whilst in South Africa. Others are saying it is fake and has a doctored signature?
EM: I had gone to see him and why are you going to the letter anymore? The argument of what it is at the moment is neither here nor there. Chamisa is the same man who is saying Tsvangirai is not talking and that same person appointed him and how did he communicate with the president when he was not talking? I am just puzzled by this whole thing. I am a professional and I don’t think it is fair to continue analysing something that I think is silly.
OM: There are people here, including some within the youth assembly who are threatening to block you from getting to Harvest House and executing your duties as the acting- president. What can you say about this?
EM: They have not told me that but I am not deterred. I am only acting and I am doing what president Tsvangirai asked me to do. If they want to block me I don’t know what they are doing. They are blocking Tsvangirai’s wish and we will cross that bridge when we get there. If they say Tsvangirai chete chete and want to block me, are they still talking about Tsvangirai?
OM: Do you foresee the party uniting before the elections?
EM: That is my business which the president has assigned me to make sure that we work together. If you want to have a leader, as they claim that they are anointed….there will be a process to choose someone to replace Tsvangirai if he chooses not to stand as a candidate. So, all these things are deliberate machinations to circumvent the natural process that should come from the family, a family of the MDC-T. There is no need for all these claims of what they call endorsements. At present I have no brief that there is a vacancy.
OM: What is your take to calls of an extra-ordinary congress to put this matter to rest?
EM: How do you go to an extra-ordinary congress when the incumbent has not resigned? He is still the MDC Alliance candidate and if he is still there, how do we go for a congress? When the time comes that is the process that we should take.
OM: Some are saying Tsvangirai’s family has no business in the party affairs. What can you say about this?
EM: It is their father who matters.
OM: Can you tell us about the party’s position now on the acting-president. What is really happening?
NC: The president is the one who appoints and disappoints. The same way VP Khupe was at some point appointed to act as the president and as announced by the president to the world and the same way VP Mudzuri was appointed to act and the same spokesperson announced to the world. That is the same way that I had myself being appointed, particularly looking at the fact that Mudzuri was in Cape Town together with VP Khupe. I was the only one left in Zimbabwe and it became natural that the vacuum be filled. Nobody can appoint themselves.
OM: So you are the acting-president?
NC: I am very thankful to the president for giving me this opportunity to exercise a fiduciary duty and caretaker responsibility as we await the president to return. It is time for us to unite within the party and even beyond to get every Zimbabwean to have a platform and an opportunity to make Zimbabwe a shining star and jewel of the world. The party is intact; the structures are solid, the organs are dynamic and active and we are running campaigns. We want president Tsvangirai to come back and take charge on the final mile to a new Zimbabwe with a robust institution.
OM: Who is going to be in charge of the party?
NC: I want to thank vice-president Mudzuri who has been acting before I was assigned this important task. We are a disciplined democratic organisation governed by procedures and rules as espoused in our constitution and party statutes and that is what guides us. Just to clear the air, I am convening a meeting that is going to be held in the next few days to make sure that the organisation is on course. We want to eliminate any noise in the cockpit. We must clear off any dust on the road to a new Zimbabwe.
OM: Do you think, as it stands now, your party has the capacity to win elections considering all what is happening now?
NC: MDC-T is very solid and formidable, very strong and it will romp to victory anytime and anywhere in this country. We are unstoppable. Don’t mistake cockpit turbulence for the dissonance of the day. The base is solid and we will romp to victory. We are raring to go and so far we have had bumper crowds at our rallies and we have a whole lot of programmes of action. We have completed our policy document which is ready to be unleashed and we are working on the candidates so that in the next few weeks we are done on candidates. We are pushing for reforms which are essential for free and fair elections. We have an active crop of parliamentarians and I addressed them two days ago. I also addressed the provincial structures.
OM: What can you say to those who say you are imposing yourself as the party leader?
NC: I didn’t appoint myself. I worked with president Tsvangirai for the past 18 years. He is my mentor and my role model. His attributes are service and sacrifice and I got myself into politics not because of the desire for power or love for money because I could attain these elsewhere. My calling on vocation is about the lives of others and the desire to see Zimbabwe flourishing. We are a great country and this is why I am available to serve in this acting capacity.
OM: Do you think people will take you seriously when all this is happening?
NC: At this crucial moment we cannot afford to play games with the lives of the people. Every serious leader must take a moment to pause and reflect and just check how the healthcare has decayed, how the people are dying, how the roads are dead, how accidents are taking people’s lives and how hunger is ravaging the populace with no savings in the banks. Look at the indignity of standing in the bank queues where there is no cash. All those things require urgent attention. I will serve in my acting capacity, fully aware that I must summon the wisdom of God the Almighty and also on the basis of what my mentor (Tsvangirai) taught me. I am so loyal and I have been so loyal that if he were to say I should take a back seat and clean windows I would have done exactly that because I believe the duty to serve is not about the position you occupy, but the conviction you carry. I have set the party into reset button for election preparedness, for alternative policy articulation for a new Zimbabwe.
OM: How is this going to be solved? Do you have mechanisms to solve this matter?
NC: Where there is clutter, disorder and dissonance, the constitution has a self-healing mechanism, it has a self-corrective platform through the organs of the party. All I know is that the darkest hour always comes before dawn, each time you are about to make a breakthrough you encounter your hardest moment. Each time you are about to enter Canaan there is always a Red Sea and River Jordan to be crossed, but the good news is that we are crossing. We have had 37 years of missed opportunities and neglected advantages and we now deserve the next five years to correct the 37 years of mistakes and we can’t afford to allow the 37 years of failure to be given yet another five years.
OM: What’s your relationship with Mudzuri and Khupe?
NC: VP Mudzuri is my brother, VP Khupe is my sister and we are a family and a great family of democrats, a party of excellence. When we have issues we always find each other with love.