The big interview BY OBEY MANAYITI
BOUYED by his victory at the just-ended MDC congress, the party’s leader Nelson Chamisa says he is ready to confront President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF.
The 41-year-old former student leader was elected unopposed to succeed the late Morgan Tsvangirai at the congress held between May 23 and 25.
Chamisa (NC) told our senior reporter Obey Manayiti that the MDC will use peaceful demonstrations to nudge Zanu PF to introduce a number of reforms to address the issue of disputed elections.
He said the party would “emphasise on political dialogue to resolve and settle our various political national questions.”
He also spoke about his plans to transform the MDC into a vibrant party and healing rifts caused by contestations ahead of the congress. Below is the full interview.
OM: Congratulations on your appointment as Morgan Tsvangirai’s successor at the helm of the MDC. Can you take us through the journey to that influential leadership role?
NC: Thank you very much and first I want to thank all Zimbabweans in general and in particular the MDC family for bestowing on me trust, confidence and honour and this important responsibility to lead the people’s movement, the party of excellence into victory.
As you may be aware, we had a lot of issues around the passage or the transition from our icon to the new order.
A lot of people didn’t understand that whatever we did was full of the organisational interests and what the constitution allows.
We allowed the constitutional order to be used and implemented to avoid instability in the organisation for purposes of winning the elections and indeed we succeeded.
Zanu PF expected us to do things that would destabilise the party and we definitely had to do what president Tsvangirai wanted himself.
He wanted the MDC to be united and the alliance to be a vehicle to which we would go into the election and he wanted those that had left the party to come back and that is exactly what we did.
We are happy we are where we are. Most of the things, as you know, he is the one who had already made certain arrangements for purposes of making sure the organisation will not face jeopardy.
OM: Since its formation in 1999 the MDC has gone through several splits with the major one happening in 2005. What are you doing as the new leader of the party to bring back those that left?
NC: All our comrades who had left are already back in the fold and we are happy that the MDC is back to its original form, if not better.
You can tell by the momentum in the country, the mood in the country that the party has reclaimed its mojo, the party is on the rise and the party is getting bigger and stronger, better if not best.
We are so excited and we will continue, if there are any other members who are willing to come to the party who were there originally (they are welcome) but most of them are now back.
OM: Is there any chance of you reuniting with the likes of Thokozani Khupe, who led the recent group to break away from the mainstream party?
NC: First of all, there was no breakaway. We had three individuals who were expelled from the party and whom I understand have gone to form their own political party, which is represented in Parliament.
The gates and doors are open for all democrats, all Zimbabweans.
MDC is an excellent home to all progressive and democratic players in the country and that is why you see that we have our big tent philosophy, which is about embracing all to this great family of democrats.
We are ready to receive them as and when they have seen the light and of course as and when they realise the necessity of compounding our issues.
They obviously have to amend their ways in terms of disrespecting organs and institutions of the party.
OM: The outcome of the congress said some officials that held senior positions in the previous administration being reduced to ordinary members. What will you do to reunite the party?
NC: I don’t know where you are getting this view that a person is reduced or increased on account of a position.
We are members of the MDC first and foremost and being a member is the most important entitlement and honour for all party members.
As for deployment to a particular position, that becomes really a privilege but I must say that no member has been reduced (to anything).
Elections do not reduce members or elections do not strip people of their honour and integrity as full members.
Elections actually embolden our collective membership as a family.
Not a single leader has been reduced into an ordinary member in the party.
In our party leadership is not positional, you don’t become a leader on account of a position.
You are a leader on account of your membership, everyone is a member, so all those who didn’t make it to the standing committee will be deployed strategically according to talent and skill reposed by those fellow distinguished comrades.
OM: What is your reaction to criticism that those who once abandoned the party and your former colleagues in the student union movement have taken over the MDC?
NC: Well, I don’t understand where that is coming from.
We are not a student union body but a political party and the MDC was formed by over 32 civic groups, including traditional institutions being represented and also war veterans, women’s groups and youths groups.
We draw our membership from a cross section of sectors and we elected our leadership, which is a rich mix of different people from different backgrounds.
I can tell you that (MDC vice-president) Professor (Welshman) Ncube does not have the student union background. I can also tell you that (vice-president) Mai (Lynette) Kore is not from the student union background and I can tell you that (chairperson) honourable Thabitha Khumalo is not from that background, but we don’t look at those labels.
We look at individuals and their competence. I can tell you that the leadership we have is the best we have had in a long time, in fact the MDC is now stronger, bigger and better.
We are now in the original position if not better. The only missing element in the MDC is the departed comrades, president Tsvangirai included, but I can tell you that the party is stronger and vibrant.
I felt privileged that at the age of 40 I am presiding over a very serious and competent team, which has been given the task of democratising our country and liberating our people.
It’s no mean task, it’s no mean duty but I can tell you that we have an indomitable and formidable team that has the best brains, vibrancy and capacity and we are ready to unite and move the struggle to a new level but more importantly to build our country and sign a new course for it.
I want to say that we have buried the time for blame and lame excuses, it’s now all shoulders to the block and all hands on deck.
OM: What are your short term plans for the MDC, considering the many challenges facing the party and indeed the country in general?
NC: We have just concluded our historic fifth congress, historic because the people made it historic.
I must say that this must have made Dr Morgan Richard Tsvangirai very happy because the congress was not only peaceful but resoundingly successful.
It bestowed evidence that God is in it and God is in charge of our processes and people are behind it and they are supporting it.
We are very clear that we have a task in the short-term to reorganise the party, regenerate the party, modernise the party and make it efficient at an administrative level, politically revisiting our strategic weapons to make sure that we are ready for the task at hand.
We also adopted far-reaching resolutions. We are also making sure that we strengthen and renew the organisation, making sure that we reinvigorate the structures and make it a grassroots-based party, focusing on the branches, focusing on the rural and farming areas, making sure that if anything, the whole country unite in love, unite in the small dots of smart politics which is what we have done.
The third issue in the short-term is to also review the way we engage with our colleagues in Zanu PF.
We believe in active non-violent and peaceful demonstrations and in that engagement we are emphasising on political dialogue to resolve and settle our various political national questions.
This is basically on the strategies and tactics and the kind of elections that we want.
We don’t want a vicious cycle of disputed and contested elections. We need to resolve this by having a raft of comprehensive reforms.
The fifth one is on our administrative side. We need to stop this whole thing of having elections and not being able to field polling agents, we need to be administratively able to harness the capacity of experts who are able to run this organisation like a blue chip company.
So you will see the MDC beginning to capitalise, buying buses, having vehicles in every province and district level, just to make sure the party develops in a manner that has never been seen before.
Internationally we need to deepen our relations with our friends on the continent and broaden that footprint globally to make sure that we have solidarity networks of democratic forces.
Lastly it is about the leadership culture, in the short-term we will make sure that we have an alternative plan.
MPs are going to be monitored and evaluated, we will have score cards and we are going to rate them in terms of their performance and go back to constituencies and ask people about their MPs and councillors.
It’s no longer business as usual but business unusual. The game has changed in a new direction.
OM: In your view, what needs to be done to solve Zimbabwe’s multi-faceted economic and political crisis?
NC: Well, we have said that the crisis in Zimbabwe is a crisis of legitimacy, the crisis of governance and the crisis of political stalemate. The problem is political.
The only way is to have genuine political dialogue between Zanu PF and MDC and others but after having cleared the way on the real issue so that we are able to resolve key political questions around legitimacy and comprehensive reforms.
I have seen what Zanu PF is trying to do through Parliament, unilaterally pushing piecemeal and cosmetic reforms. There has to be reforms supported by all the people in Zimbabwe.
What they are doing is something that will not build confidence because it is not agreed on, it is partisan and it is not inclusive enough.
Reforms have to be instituted politically and legislatively, reforms that are aligning our politics to our constitution, reforms that are aligning our circumstances to the dictates and demands of the citizens and those reforms and important.
We also need national healing and nation building and peacebuilding.
OM: The government accuses you of plotting violent demonstrations, which you want to use to topple Mnangagwa. What would be the purpose of those protests?
NC: They have always institutionalised lies and deception, typical of a leopard that accusing it’s offspring of smelling like a goat in order to try and justify eating or cannibalising your own, but let me tell you this and I will say it now and forever more, wee are not going to allow a situation where there is violence in the country.
We believe in peaceful politics and democratisation.
We believe in non-violence and that is what we are going to be pursuing.
If we are going to demonstrate, it is constitutional, if we are to demonstrate it is allowed because an unhappy people have a right to demonstrate.
There is nothing untoward in demonstrating.
In any case, we are demonstrating to ask them to come to the negotiating table.
It is not as if we are demonstrating to run over them because we believe in the constitutional order but why is it that they are so scared of dialogue?
Why is it that all the time they always think about violence? Why are they always thinking of spilling blood?
They must not panic but must address issues raised by the people.
We are peacemakers, we are doves and we are ready to smoke a peace pipe with those who love peace, but we will not allow macho tactics and funny tactics by those who want to intimidate us — that we will not allow.