Nelson Chamisa, the MDC Alliance presidential candidate, has courted controversy over statements that he has made at political rallies and other public fora lately.
By BLESSED MHLANGA
The statements, including political assertions and promises, have earned him “the liar” tag that political observers say may have tarnished his name and could dent his presidential aspirations. MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora (DM), however, says Chamisa is not a liar at all and advises that people should learn to distinguish between lies and political banter, including political exaggerations that he says should be expected when people are campaigning. The Standard reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM) sat down with Mwonzora on Friday to discuss this issue and others to do with the party’s preparedness ahead of the forthcoming elections. Below are excerpts from the interview:
BM: Are you confident the coming elections will be free, fair and credible?
DM: It is possible to have free and credible elections in Zimbabwe. It is possible to implement the electoral reforms that we have been asking for, contrary to what people have been saying. These electoral reforms don’t require time. for example, you don’t require time to remove the military element within the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission [Zec]. It does not require a day to open up the media space and the democratic space. Further outstanding issues — include the audit of the voters’ roll, external audit of the voters’ roll — that does not require time at all. We are also calling for inclusive observation of the printing of the ballot paper, an end to the abuse of traditional institutions as well as the military. These demands are not difficult to fulfil at all. They simply require political will.
BM: Some people are saying some of your demands now sound like a broken record that you have been playing for a long time, but which you know and understand will not be fulfilled.
DM: We must never get tired of making genuine demands. The more we repeat this message, the more it will get into the thick skull of this junta. We should never give up. We have been persevering and it has been bearing fruit. It may have been slow, but it has been bearing fruit and I urge Zimbabweans to be patient and resilient.
BM: There are some who think that you are not ready for an election. What is your response?
DM: The numbers that we have been drawing at our rallies are there for everybody to see. We are clearly the party with the biggest following in this country at present. Although the MDC has split, it is facing a Zanu PF that has split into five formations. It spilt into NPP, ZimPF, UPP, NPF, Zimbabwe Peoples First, and Zapu. The most fragmented Zanu PF in history is what we are facing today. We are also facing a Zanu PF without a charismatic leader. He (President Emmerson Mnangagwa) does not have oratory skills. He does not seem to have the political mastery that [former president Robert] Mugabe did have. So we know that one-on-one, we are facing a very weak opponent.
BM: But in the past the MDC-T has said Mnangagwa was behind Mugabe’s electoral victories?
DM: The brutality that was perpetrated on the people in the past elections was clearly traceable to him as Mugabe’s deputy as well as people who today constitute the core of his establishment. But the difference between this election and the previous elections is the presence of the international community, Commonwealth, European Union, African Union and the Kofi Annan foundation. All these were not welcome in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
BM: Let’s talk about the oratory and eloquence skills that you were talking about. MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa has been accused of lying most of the time he uses his oratory skills. What do you say about this?
DM: The two are different, aren’t they? Let me go to the oratory skills of president Chamisa. He is a man of talent and there is no question about it. You put him in front of the people, his speaking abilities are good and he is not disrespectful of the crowd and his opponent. Now sometimes people confuse what you are calling lies and some political banter and political exaggerations that happen when you do campaigns which are meant to express a point. An example is sometimes given to its extremes and I think this is where people have been missing it. But let’s go to some of the key messages such as the promise to deliver spaghetti roads: I know that for Zimbabweans to imagine a transport system as elaborate as the system in London is something that is unimaginable. This is because Zimbabweans have set themselves very low standards and when you have someone who gives them a vision with such possibilities, people then think that it is not sensible. Yet it is actually sensible and doable; it is something that other nations have achieved and it is something that some people have actually done. On the issue of so-called spaghetti road networks, South Africans have actually built them and they are there for everyone to see just across the Limpopo. That is the description of the road system that Chamisa has for a future Zimbabwe. We are not thinking of Zimbabwe tomorrow, we are not thinking of Zimbabwe next year, we are thinking of Zimbabwe in the long-term.
BM: The recent MDC-T primary elections have been disputed by some of the losers who claim they were manipulated. Have these polls not weakened the party?
DM: No, they have not. This is because the MDC system has a safety valve. Any member who is aggrieved by the process has the right to appeal. Right now, this afternoon we are sitting to determine 154 appeals of members who feel for one reason or another that their rights have been infringed. They do have that right to appeal and we hope that when we sit and hear these appeals, we will come to justice. So the availability of an internal remedy makes our people feel more at home in the understanding that if they are not happy about anything they can approach the leadership and their appeals can be heard. Most importantly, once we see that there is electoral fraud, even in the primaries, we have made it a point that we disqualify the person who would’ve won. We have evidence of people who attempted to cheat in the elections, some people who tried vote-buying, some people who tried to intimidate opponents, some people who tried to steal CVs of their opponents. Once we have that evidence, we disqualify that person. This is different from what happened in Zanu PF where members complained about cheating and so on and the party did nothing about it. At MDC we always do something about it.
BM: But we have seen senior officials in the party pulling out of the primaries, people like Jessie Majome and yet you say that you have working safety valves?
DM: Yes, we do have such valves because we are actually in the process of dialoguing with Majome. The problem was that she raised her complaint and left before the complaint could be dealt with yet we were willing to deal with the complaint. Right now the chairman’s office is actually engaging Majome and we hope that the dialogue will yield something positive.
BM : But she says she doesn’t know anything about that engagement.
DM: Well, the chairman’s office is actually dealing with that, and I am not so sure if that is correct to say that she says she does not know about the engagement. If she is right that she doesn’t know about it, then she will soon get to know about it.
BM: There have been sentiments that there is some sense of entitlement within the MDC-T parliamentarians who feel that they cannot be challenged in their constituencies. Are there such MPs?
DM: A number of our MPs were defeated in the primary elections, mostly in Harare. We have very high-profile figures who did not make it in the primaries. We opened up this contest to every member of the party. You do not have special rights in the party simply by virtue of being a parliamentarian. You have the same rights as every other member, especially when it comes to selection for the next parliament. They (incumbent MPs) do have superior rights while they are sitting in parliament before we declare the primary elections open. So it’s a pity if anybody has a feeling of entitlement which they should not have.
BM: Let’s talk about resources: Zanu PF has been splashing on huge campaign billboards and banners, can you match that?
DM: Well, we cannot match them resource-wise because they are the government. They have access to resources including national resources. Their president campaigns on the back of the national resource — state resources. He uses a state helicopter, state fuel, state cars and so on and so do his ministers. But we do not need to match them resource for resource. In fact, we only need a quarter of what they have in order to mount a credible fight. Yes, we do not have enough money because our money comes from the government and they give us as and when they feel like and they abuse their power over us. But we have other methods of getting around that disability as the MDC.
BM: What is the real beef between Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe?
DM: It is a regrettable development, I should confess. It is unnecessary and we are trying to have dialogue between the two leaders. We hope that each one of them finds the wisdom of working together and we are confident that each one of them looks at the greater good of the Zimbabwean people. So the efforts that we are making of engaging them hopefully will help.
Going to court, I will tell you as a lawyer of 26 years of experience, that going to court should always be the last thing that people do. A court yields a winner and a loser, but dialogue yields a winner and a winner — so we are going to encourage dialogue.
BM: On the issue of the audit of the voters’ roll, Zec says they are using inspection as an external method to audit the voters’ roll. Does this provide for what you are calling for?
DM: Zec has always said that and [Zec chairperson] Justice Priscilla Chigumba in particular, talks like a person who is not a judge when it comes to that. She says that our law does not provide for external audit yet that ought not to be the reasoning. The reasoning must be that our law does not disallow the external audit; the law says in broad terms that Zec must do everything that makes the election system credible and satisfactory. External audit is one of those things, so the misinterpretation with Zec is that the law must specifically demand that. But this is reasonable, this is international practice, that is number one. the second one is that Zec has not provided us with a provisional voters’ roll. We did request for it and they didn’t give us and they are now saying they published it on their website yesterday and that which is on the website does not comply with the law. It must be electronic, and must be analysable. The one that is on the website is a provisional one and is not analysable. They want to give us the final voters’ roll after nomination, yet we need the voters’ roll now in order to campaign because this campaign is now polling station-based. So we now need to know who is where and then we target those people. We also want to know who is capable of nominating a candidate because a candidate must be nominated by registered voters, but without the voters’ roll there is no way we are able to know.
BM: The MDC-T seems wary about the strength and support base of some of the candidates coming from other MDC Alliance partners.
DM: We have noticed that some of the Alliance partners have provided very weak candidates who do not have a following. We have brought that to their attention and we need candidates that are popular with the people and that suggestion does not jeopardise the alliance at all. It is an alliance predicated on truth telling, fair assessment on who is the best and that is what we are doing
BM: Will this not jeopardise the interests as well as the confidence of other alliance partners as some may question how you measured the weakness of their candidates?
DM: We use the principle of sovereignty of the people. After everything is said and done, it is the people on the ground who have to decide, otherwise this alliance becomes an elite pact. We don’t want it to be an elite pact, we want it to be something organic.
BM: Where are you standing yourself?
DM: Well, I am going to be a senator for Manicaland province. I initially wanted to be a senator for Harare province, but opted for Manicaland and I am going to win.