The MDC-T led by Thokozani Khupe is one of the opposition parties that have embraced calls for dialogue by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, which is meant to address the country’s political and economic crisis.
Abednico Bhebhe (AB), the party’s chairperson, told our senior reporter Nqobani Ndlovu (NN) that their participation in the talks was in the best interests of the nation and was not meant to serve Zanu PF interests as claimed by their critics.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
NN: President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently invited July 30 2018 presidential election candidates to a meeting to discuss a framework for dialogue and your leader Thokozani Khupe was one of those in attendance. What are your thoughts on that meeting, and were you satisfied with the whole initiative?
AB: Well, it is positive that President Mnangagwa called the meeting which, anyway, was overdue as many stakeholders, including my own party, MDC-T, were pushing for a national dialogue.
Whatever different opinions there could be, it makes much sense to share views on the way out of the current economic mess.
Having a dialogue does not necessarily mean we agree or we like each other.
It is a mature way of acknowledging that all have something to contribute in building Zimbabwe, including those we may dislike or disagree with.
They all have a right to be heard and contribute without bringing to the dialogue the same old contestations that created the discord.
As a party, we believe that more than the political reasons, the state of the economy and the suffering of the majority Zimbabweans should be the primary motivation for this dialogue, and satisfaction can only be achieved if the dialogue is successfully concluded with a positive outcome.
NN: Other parties, in particular the MDC Alliance, did not attend the meeting citing various concerns. Did the MDC-T attend the meeting with trust that Mnangagwa was being genuine?
AB: I cannot speak for other parties nor their opinions. We, as a party, did not go there out of trust of Mnangagwa. We need not trust him for us to be part of a national dialogue. If it was about trusting anyone, then that person or party could as well go it alone.
At this formative stage, it would be too early to measure credibility or lack of it.
There are many surprises in such processes and those who think they could have it their way may continue to dream on.
As for the dialogue being genuine or not, no one would know the outcome before the conversation is over.
It is imperative that we reach out to each other always and work out ways of resolving differences through peaceful means and that remains quite instructive.
NN: There are claims that MDC-T serves the interests of Zanu PF and thus attended the meeting, for example, what’s your take on that?
AB: Those claims are not new and did not start with us. Rivals in politics will always slander and smear each other. That is part of the game in politics. The worst mistake you can do is to sanitise that rubbish by trying to explain yourself.
Zimbabweans know too well who was congratulated by President Mnangagwa on ascending to his party presidency. It is also known who got all the political funding that was meant to be shared.
Who does not know who got Robert Mugabe’s blessing and is Mugabe not part of the Zanu PF legacy? Therefore, attending the national dialogue cannot be viewed as serving the interests of Zanu PF, but a duty that every political player should be involved in for the benefit of Zimbabwe as a nation.
NN: What kind of framework for dialogue do you think can produce an agreement that is positive and reasonable to all parties? Who is supposed to convene the meeting, for example, and who should attend such a meeting in your view?
AB: As a party, we have quite a number of reasonable suggestions for the framework, but due to the fact that we believe the dialogue is a national conversation, it is prudent that such contributions must be brought to the roundtable instead of through a press interview.
This is an initiative to reach out to other political and non-political players, to solve an important national issue and the convener should be a neutral person agreed upon by all participants in the dialogue.
At the same time I believe that non-political players like churches, civil society, academia, business associations etc, must attend the national dialogue.
NN: What kind of an arrangement would your party want to see resulting from the dialogue? Do you want fresh elections or a national transitional authority (NTA)?
AB: We have not set preconditions and we have chided those who set conditionalities as if they are owed by anyone here.
We have never before ever talked of an NTA or GNU (government of national unity) or even fresh elections.
We do not see this dialogue as an avenue of snatching advantages through the backdoor.
What will fresh elections serve when we still need fundamental reforms to make the electoral playing field even?
What is the point of elections with this environment soiled by violence and brutality and the added impunity?
In our view, the national dialogue is not for accommodating political parties, but must be an inclusive process with all stakeholders.
As a country, we have ground to a halt economically and we need to collectively create a way forward.
But I cannot pre-empt what the outcome would be and as long it is reached by consensus, as a party we will go by it.
NN: Sadc last week, through its chairperson Namibian President Hage Geingob, appeared to absolve government of killing civilians after accusing some unnamed NGOs of hijacking the January protests to ostensibly destabilise Zimbabwe. Is that a fair assessment?
AB: Sadc is entitled to its opinion, wrong as it is. We need the international community to know the truth.
And I am happy that many citizens in Sadc may now know better even if their governments are playing the usual irresponsible liberation comradeship at the expense of lives.
Anyway, as a party we never suggested Sadc to be the mediator, but should it end up that way, we cannot object.
Zimbabwe needs the goodwill of all and at this stage, we have few choices.
We are in the mud and those who want to help will do so in their own way.
It is not wise for us to concentrate on what external stakeholders are saying, but what we must be doing for ourselves and country.
More than the political reasons, the state of the economy and the suffering of the majority of Zimbabweans should be the primary motivation for this dialogue.
With all its limitations at the start, it is still a good way towards a collective effort to extricate the country from an economic mess and dialogue is part of a whole struggle for real political and economic prosperity.
NN: What are your party’s views on Mnangagwa’s leadership qualities since the November 2017 coup? Is he any different from Mugabe? What are your views on Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s economic policies?
AB: Why should I be in the opposition if I believe there is any difference in Zanu PF government and its policies?
Mthuli Ncube is perpetuating the usual destructive Zanu PF policies that have brought the country to its current state.
An economic turnaround is possible only with conducive policies whether by Mnangagwa or anyone else.
It is the policies that matter and not a person. As of now, the ruling party is far from getting it right.
It would be unfortunate if we were to look at personalities and not their programmes on offer.
NN: Any regrets after leaving the MDC Alliance, and hopes of engagement to re-unite with former colleagues, and if so, are there any conditions that you are putting in place?
AB: The MDC family has been talking, sharing, speculating and drawing perceptions and theories on the way forward. As a result, differences of the past can be overcome if the conversations within the parties are strengthened, hence no need to talk about regrets.
NN: What are your parting shots?
AB: The country is in a big mess, it needs our genuine efforts to move it forward and the Zanu PF government, like all governments the world over, is solely responsible for all the problems affecting the country and should accept the blame and approach the dialogue genuinely and honestly.