Pressure mounted on President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance Nelson Chamisa last week to engage in dialogue to solve the country’s worsening economic and political crisis.
Chamisa ignored an invitation by Mnangagwa to attend last week’s dialogue with other July 30, 2018 presidential election candidates as he insisted on a neutral mediator.
The president also failed to attend a breakfast meeting organised by churches last Thursday to initiate dialogue between Zanu PF and the opposition, but Chamisa attended.
MDC Alliance spokesperson Jacob Mafume (JM) told our senior reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) in an exclusive interview that Chamisa was still interested in dialogue that would lead to “legitimacy” following last year’s disputed elections.
He revealed that one of the MDC Alliance’s objectives in engagingthe in talks was to ensure the establishment of a transitional authority that would oversee reforms before fresh elections are held.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
OM: What is your assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe since the July 2018 elections? Are there any positives you can pick out from the post-Robert Mugabe era?
JM: I do not see any. The people do not see any. If anything, life has changed for the worse. Mugabe was a nominal civilian leader, now you can see soldiers and feel military presence all over civilian spaces.
On the economic side, it is even getting worse. The workers’ salaries have been eroded six times.
The civil servants are back to earning less than $100 if you use the black market.
Inflation is shooting up and the domestic debt increased in 2018 faster than any other year.
There are shortages of bread, cooking oil and fuel. The democratic space is closing and corruption is blatant and openly practised while some stage-managed episodes are being acted to appear as if they are fighting graft.
The trials of civilians who were caught in the confusion of last week are faster than those for corruption. There is martial law, de facto that is.
OM: What is your reaction to criticism that your party has been sabotaging Mnangagwa’s presidency because you are power-hungry?
JM: The hunger we have is for a better Zimbabwe. We have hunger for better pay for the workers. We have hunger for better schools.
We have hunger for better hospitals. We represent the interests of the people of Zimbabwe. When the interests are not being served, we say it without fear or favour and we become hungry. Where is the sabotage?
How can we do that? They are doing harm to themselves without our help .
They announced a 2% tax on their own. They kept the bond note on their own. They have brought back inflation on their own. Where do we come in?
OM: Did the MDC Alliance anticipate the kind of reaction from the security forces to the recent protests where 17 people were reportedly killed, 78 left with gunshot wounds and over a thousand arrested for looting?
JM: We did not plan this action so we had no basis to anticipate anything. This was a labour action by ZCTU after an announcement of fuel price increases.
The reaction of the state is a security assessment gone horribly wrong.
They are now moving all over Africa trying to justify a clampdown such as this on workers.
The countries they go to have labour issues and have had worse actions than this, but they never unleash the army.
OM: Does the MDC Alliance take responsibility for the violence and looting that characterised the demonstration since the government is claiming that it has intelligence showing your party was behind the mayhem?
JM: The MDC did not plan these actions. The actions we plan we notify in advance as we have done in the past. Government always blames everything on the MDC. If it does not rain it’s the MDC. If it rains too much it’s the MDC. They kill, harm and arrest our supporters.
The women and children are made to watch as their fathers are brutalised and taken away from homes.
It is, however, necessary to make the point that the people of Zimbabwe including Zanu PF members protested against the rising cost of living and terrible decisions of the government.
OM: Why did the MDC Alliance not condemn the looting and violence that accompanied the protests? Was your silence not an endorsement of what happened?
JM: We encouraged people to be peaceful. We are the victims of violence not only on our properties, but bodies.
We were clear that those who committed crimes must be brought to justice, but must be afforded due process. How can we be silent when the people who burnt the buses and killed people in Budiriro and even found in possession of guns are known Zanu PF people?
What we saw was a targeting of innocent MDC members and leaders. The courts have created prisoners of conscience in their haste.
OM: What is your reaction to government’s claims that Zimbabweans abused social media during the protests and that the internet shutdown was necessary to deal with a threat to state security?
JM: Two wrongs cannot make a right. It is draconian and unacceptable. Taking away constitutional rights cannot be determined by the side of the bed you wake up on.
The constitution regulates how rights can be limited.
That was not done. This is why the court ruled against the Zanu PF government in the Misa-Zimbabwe case (on the shutting down of the internet).
In fact, government must pay compensation to people who lost business during the internet shutdown.
OM: The government maintains that civil society groups and the opposition are exaggerating the number of people killed and women allegedly raped by soldiers during the clampdown. What is your reaction to those claims?
JM: Even a single person must never have been killed for protesting. How can death be exaggerated? In any case, the people who passed away have been revealed — the funerals were streamed by citizens. The MDC leadership attended real funerals of people who were killed. Anyone who wants to trivialise the numbers is ruthless.
In any case, the reports are not only coming from the opposition and civil society organisations, but the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission made factual findings. The same after August 1. The remorse is never there or apparent .It’s like if you get killed it’s your fault .
OM: Since last year’s elections you have been calling for dialogue with Mnangagwa but last week you refused to take part in meetings meant to lay the framework for the talks and your critics say it was an indication that you don’t know what you want. What is your reaction to such an assertion?
JM: We went to the churches dialogue, which had the church as the convenor. We are very clear on what we want.
Anyone who pretends not to understand why we will not be convened by a biased player is doing so for mischievous reasons.
Those who attended the meeting will tell you that Mnangagwa was more concerned about being recognised by political parties and also help him fight sanctions.
Dialogue should be led by a neutral person and held in a conducive environment.
OM: In your view what should be the outcome of any dialogue between Mnangagwa and Chamisa? Do you want to be part of his government?
JM: For us it’s not about power-sharing. It’s about the need to create a life for the people. It’s about how to we bring an end to the suffering of the people.
That is what can make the party happy. That is what will make my president happy — it has to lead to reforms politically and economically.
Dialogue should result in the adoption of a roadmap to legitimacy following last year’s shameful elections.
If there is agreement on the above, there must be an implementation mechanism, which in the MDC’s view is an national transitional authority.
OM: What will it take for you to concede defeat to Mnangagwa in last year’s elections?
JM: That question is for Zanu PF, not us. When and how will they accept the people’s verdict? We won the election. It will take us contesting him in a free and fair election whose results are traceable. If he had won the previous one, we would have been the first ones to congratulate him.
OM: What is your reaction to criticism that you are exerting all your energies in challenging Mnangagwa’s election victory at the expense of building your own party?
JM: We have a solid party, a civilian party. Zanu PF is surviving by running to the army every time.
We have a strong party, which got 2,6 million votes. It’s not coincidental that someone writes a misleading report that we are a security threat. That is to justify the state coming in to deal with our civilian structures.
OM: Have you managed to address the internal fights in the MDC Alliance that became pronounced during last year’s elections and what are you doing to ensure that the party is not derailed by such conflicts in the future?
JM: Do not mistake a robust party with infighting. We have leaders and followers with opinions, which might differ privately or publicly but that’s what diversity is all about. Democratic organisations thrive on diverse views [and] will not deploy soldiers to kill dissenting views.
Normal diversity of views cannot be magnified to refer to divisions. We have a party. It’s a big tent.
OM: When will the MDC Alliance hold its congress and is Chamisa prepared to concede defeat if not elected the party’s substantive party leader?
JM: The MDC has been holding its congress whenever it is due, that position has not changed the dates are going to be published in newspapers of national circulation by those responsible for that.
The party belongs to its members. Our constitution is clear as to when it should be held. We will make any decision to make within the confines of the constitution.