MDC secretary for education and prominent lawyer, Fadzayi Mahere (FM) says President Emmerson Mnangagwa should end rampant corruption among his ministers. Mahere told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform in Conversation with Trevor that Zimbabweans are suffering from hunger and the current economic crisis and Mnangagwa should introspect on whether all the decisions that he makes put the people first.
She said the opposition wants the best for Zimbabwe and Mnangagwa should stop treating its members as enemies. Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Are you happy with the health of the legal profession?
FM: The room for improvement can never be filled. As a profession, there is more that we can do but there is a lot as well that we are doing. In an ecosystem that is as dysfunctional as Zimbabwe there are obviously going to be problems and I think one of the biggest challenges that the profession is facing at the moment is that law schools are turning out a great number of legal practitioners and there is not enough space to absorb everyone, so sometimes the on-the-job training that happens with our legal practitioners is compromised and sometimes bad habits are passed on. But I think a lot of lawyers are doing amazing work and in my mind Zimbabwean lawyers for human rights stand out. It is great that they are able to be on call and preserve matters of human rights where people cannot always afford to pay.
TN: You have done legal research at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda based in Arusha, Tanzania. What are one or two things that made an impression on you there?
FM: The first thing that is directly relevant to the Zimbabwean context is that when something as grave as a genocide takes place in your country, do not white-wash it, do not pretend it did not exist, did not happen, do not gloss over the trauma because it always comes back. One of the key lessons to draw is that even if Gukurahundi happened in the early 80s, the trauma still lives amongst us. There has been no truth telling, justice, accountability for the victims. The Rwanda case has been handled extremely well, not to say that all issues were resolved, but they really are taking great strides to try and resolve that problem because you do not want it to ever come back. You do not want a whole ethnic group to feel left out and not included because you cannot then take the country forward.
TN: As you are talking now I am having goose bumps, I visited the memorial day for genocide and I can hear as you are talking now the screams of people who went there and visited, so I totally agree with you.
FM: We really need to mourn, because if you remember the memorial there were all those dead bodies. They did not tamper with the smell just so that people always remember that this happened and it should never happen again. We have not had that in Zimbabwe. Some people actually deny Gukurahundi ever took place.
That is unacceptable from a transitional justice perspective, from an international law perspective, but even from a nation building perspective and these things, regardless of who then comes in, will always come back.
TN: I remember seeing shoes of little kids…
FM: In Zimbabwe there is one photograph that sticks with me all the time, of a little toddler who is grabbing his mother, she is dead. Imagine where that child is now and what sort of trauma they are carrying. Even if you look at the under-development — Matabeleland schools there are the worst. When [former president Robert]Mugabe died a lot of people said we have a fantastic education system, a lot of people further down south said we never tasted the so-called good education system so that really needs to be addressed. One of the things that I found really poignant when I was at the ICTR was that there was a genuine attempt, and I underline genuine attempt, to sincerely use an independent impartial mechanism and that’s open to scrutiny to try and bring those responsible to book — to say that this is unacceptable, you cannot do this, people were named, it does not matter that you were the minister of Information, minister of media during that time because they used a lot of music and the media was very big, hate speech; that sort of language has to go down on record, it has to be dealt with and they did a great job without fear or favour.
TN: You then worked on another very important case, the case against Jean Pierre Bemba of the DRC. What were your key takeaways that are at the International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Netherlands? What were the key learnings and takeaways?
FM: The key learnings in that case are a bit different and a bit technical coming to the actual law, you are obviously aware that Jean Pierre got acquitted at the end after serving a bit of time and he was tried under heavy guard in custody. There is need for international criminal tribunals and international mechanisms to ensure that they are not too divorced from the victims and the societies that they are meant to serve and to whom justice is poured. There is need that the system either updates itself to ensure that investigations are transparent and thorough because working on the trial myself I think more could be done by prosecution to ensure that the case was water tight because what should happen in every legal system — the rights of the accused person in the International Criminal Court are extremely strong so you do not want your case to fall apart because of a weak prosecution. The lawyers that are handling the matter do not have the context. You really need to ensure that its good and the clarion call is that as Africans we need to come up with our own mechanisms to enforce international criminal law, we must not outsource those responsibilities and those mechanisms should be sincere and we should not as the African Union or African justice, the collective, create institutes which we know are doomed to fail with the Sadc tribunal. We should make sure we have our own mechanisms; show that justice is done for victims.
TN: There are people who say let us Africans do away with the ICC. But does Africa have the capacity and the willingness to create an institution that would hold former leaders to account?
FM: I am not a fan of removing the ICC. In Africa currently, like you say, there is very little political will to deal with those who are accused with some of the worst offences and you know they are the ordinary criticisms that come on inside it that it is an old boys club they just protect each other so we might get ready. Do we have the capacity; absolutely yes, we have some of the finest lawyers in South Africa, some of the finest judges in Africa and if they are allowed to operate independently coming back to the rule of law and the importance of that as a value — if prosecutors are allowed to do their work to investigate without any impediment — the cases will not fall apart. But if we have what happened in Kenya where the system is deliberately acting to forestall the prosecution to ensure that it does not work; if we have that in Africa then impunity will continue. So there is a need to introspect. In Africa, there is a lot of conflict, many human rights abuses that really meet the threshold of gravity for crimes that are tried before the International Criminal Court but we do not have an answer to how do we deal with that. So of course they will say Africa is not doing anything. The difference with for example, those who fought in the Iraq war they will say from a complementary perspective our jurisdictions will deal with these people should need be, they will conduct commissions and there is some sort of attempt to do justice. As Africa we need to introspect our attitude towards International Criminal justice on our soil, it has to become more sincere and more robust.
TN: Lastly your journey then takes you towards the ICC at The Hague to work as a lawyer investigating the Kenyan situation which is very relevant given our history of post-election violence. What were your key takeaways and learnings from that and applicability to our local situation?
FM: That case has so many mirrors, so much rhyming with the Zimbabwean one where you have got widespread systematic post-election violence, a widespread displacement of persons and lots of rapes and so on. After that happened even though the case before the International Criminal Court was not successful, having the case in that forum forced the Kenyans to the table in a very genuine way. They reformed their entire judiciary, they did not just take the odd judge here and the odd judge there and say let us do some patchwork reform; they completely transformed the system that is the judiciary that then overturned an election. The key point and learnings comes when given the trauma and the crisis we have experienced as a country. We have come to national consensus of what should never be allowed to take place again from a democratic perspective, violence we cannot condone again after the trauma of 2008 that nobody speaks about; again after the trauma of Murambatsvina, Gukurahundi I cannot understand why it should ever be acceptable for army tanks to drive into our streets and shoot citizens arbitrarily. It is that failure to resolve crisis and conflict and branches of fundamental human rights that lead us to the continued same place. that is why our institutions are not transforming in the way that can achieve sincere nation building.
TN: Correct me if I am wrong; the Kenyan situation, am I right that this whole pressure, this whole ICC pressure, actually resulted in a local solution to a Kenyan problem which is what we do not have here?
FM: What is unfortunate is there is almost like a need to escalate to a appoint where people are then forced to the table. Why can we not just look at Zimbabwe as it stands and say look this is not who we are, 18-hour load-shedding is not who we are, the failure to provide clean potable water is not who we are, hyperinflation, lack of democratic freedoms, the suffering, closure of hospitals is not who we are? We always tell ourselves we are so educated, we are so competent, we go around the world and we shine and yet these basic building blocks, daily issues that people face are not resolved. Let us not wait until there is a war in Zimbabwe to come to the table.
TN: What is wrong with us or am I blaming the victim?
FM: What is wrong is right at the top with our leadership. These are the people who claim, and I will speak as post liberation young woman born after the war in 1985, where the promise of liberation and independence was so strong, [but] what has become of that? They say they went to the war to liberate Zimbabwe.
They have to ask themselves today is this the liberation they fought for? They fought for a united Zimbabwe where white and black people could sit together, where black people do not suffer, they started with the right rhetoric gutsa ruzhinji [feeding the masses] yet people are now facing a crisis of starvation. It is the people at the top that are toxic and unfortunately it is just a few drops of poison that then pollute the entire ecosystem. There has to be resolve; there has to be a national consensus and what the people down low can do, what we the citizens, the opposition can do is to really hold to account, speak out strongly, ask the right questions, speak and act.
TN: Are we holding them to account?
FM: A lot of work is being done and more can be done I appreciate that, but I think if you can just look at the 2018 election people did vote; it is not as though people were apathetic, we were very clear with the sort of demands that they wanted, the sort of politics that they wanted to see and people speak of those holes; the power crisis every day saying look how is their corruption? A solar project is paid by me as a tax payer it never comes to fruition and there is no accountability in any way; it is just gas lighting and lies. We have fuel crisis, how can you not have fuel and petrol stations for two years nonstop and nobody in government is flinching? Unacceptable! We have hyperinflation; just a decade ago it should be seared in everybody’s mind. What happens when we introduce Zim dollar without the fundamentals and yet here we are. That is not the old gogo who is vending, that is not the teacher or doctor at fault, that is not the young student that is trying to aspire for better, that is the people at the top and it is a failure in our leadership, the government has failed, let us not even beat about the bush. Sometimes people accuse us of dog whistling, no there is no code, quite directly we have to say they have failed.
TN: I was going to ask you what made you join politics, I think you have answered it. I can see the passion, the lure in you but still having looked at your career where you are right now seeing this passion you are just coming from the court room right now, what is it that will eventually say to you I need to get into politics?
FM: I will start from why I came back to Zimbabwe. I remember it was in 2011 when I took on the Pegasus Fellowship when I spent time in chambers in London and eventually a fork in the road emerged when a choice between staying in London and converting my degree and continuing as a barrister in London or and coming back to Zimbabwe to be part of the legal system here. I remember saying to myself there is a lot of attraction here in London, everything works, being surrounded by the brightest and best, I can become the sharpest. I also said to myself the ceiling is very clear, it is hard enough when you are not in a local place, when you are not home, to live a life of impact and meaning; to make the money but when you actually make a difference to people’s lives. At the time the constitution was in the process of being made it was such an interesting time for a young lawyer in Zimbabwe, the currency had stabilised and it made sense to come back to Zimbabwe, you could actually pick Harare over London. I came back because I wanted to make a difference and be part of Zimbabwe which I always say it’s a success story waiting to happen sometimes the twists and turns and the chapters some are too long, the bad guys waiting for too long but you know that Zimbabwe has all the ingredients of success. We’re are not like other post conflict African societies; everything we need is actually here. Everything was going on for a while at least we were on a path during the GNU, stability of the currency even though work was being done on the macroeconomic fundamentals. There was a sense that the country was going forward, businesses were starting to thrive and young people were starting to have energy. There was something in the mood of the time that was starting to be amazing and you would want to be a part of it. Then 2016 happened — the introduction of the bond notes and just because the memory of 2008 was seared in my mind nobody was spared during that time, everyone started to lose savings, that time when the shelves were empty. Zimbabweans tend to suffer from forgetfulness, let us not forget things. Introducing the bond note they were calling it an export incentive and it had its problems. Problem number one was that it was not provided for in the law, the minute one thing is illegal we have a problem because the law exists for a reason. Second, they wanted to introduce a Zimbabwe dollar, what is it backed by? Then they pretended for a little bit that it was backed by an export incentive but we asked to see the details of the facility from African Bank and they were not publicly available as expected dealing with something as fundamental as the monetary system you cannot do that behind closed doors; there has to be transparency, the public needs to be given notice and an opportunity to really make representations; none of that took place.
TN: You got involved with This Flag. That was your baptism into politics. You then decided that you would be an independent candidate. You clearly had looked left, right and centre and decided, what went through your mind?
FM: When I was involved with This Flag with a team of very amazing people, there is one thing we noticed… that we can all think and speak as citizens… that we can all write very long articles, tweet, Facebook about what is wrong. But if the people, who are empowered at law to make the decisions about our lives are not listening, not competent, not using the power that they have, we really are saddled with a very big problem. As activists we became very critical of the political system saying they are not engaging our daily issue. It is always about partisan politics, they are never dealing with our daily issues. The daily issues that the Zimbabweans are facing whether its hospitals, failure to put food on the table, failure to take kids to school, soaring prices, lack of fuel, lack of Zesa that is what politics should be about and issue-based politics. You must solve those problems before you send people to space; before you set up a space satellite. We had This Flag Thursday which was a TV online show where we would sit down. We had a wide range of people, politicians, ministers from both sides and we were shocked from the calibre of the people who were in charge. These are the people running things, the lack of competence, concern, solution building, care, how does the crisis get to a point where there are no water treatment chemicals, no Zesa and it is business as usual, they sit in cabinet and they deliberate. What are you deliberating about? This country is broken, it is dysfunctional. The problem is actually the politics, the issues that citizens can do most but the problem is our broken political system. We came into politics with an urban canvas, doing This Flag and realising people will ask what now, what is the solution, we said let us run for political office. Let us run a clean campaign that everyone will have faith in politics because we always got the answer that politics does not work. If we run a campaign that can energise the young, inspire hope and a thirst for change.
TN: What a successful campaign! What were the lessons from that campaign?
FM: I would like to say thank you to the team that supported me. Having conducted a long outreach before issuing our manifesto and said look every single promise we made we answered why then did you not back this horse and they said everything was great but what we really wanted was someone who could be part of a team that could answer the national question, we need a whole team, to collaborate.
TN: You say as uncomfortable you might be to join the others. What does that mean?
FM: If I am in charge of a campaign I have lots of licence to do everything that I want. If you are running a campaign in Mount Pleasant it is much easier and answering the questions that people have from the demographics. If I have an idea of a yellow campaign, sometimes it would fail and we say let us move on, but when you are now part of a bigger team, you now have to work with other people and this is a good thing. It is not comfortable only in the sense that processes are a lot more elaborate, but for a good reason because that is when you achieve a good national census and answer the national question. At the time that we decided to run it was not easy to just join for example, the opposition I was never going to join Zanu PF. I have never been Zanu and I will not be it. I believe the model is completely wrong, they are not the party that can take us into the future so the place that I could sort of fit was going to be MDC. Sort of fit because they had very tight rules of who could run as MP. They had primary elections and justifiably so, you do not just walk into a political party without following the processes and we were midstream with the campaign so the day we decided we would be going to run within a month we would set everything up but if you are going to join a political party you have to respect what they have built over 20 years. You cannot just launch and say I have got a big bright idea, move over. You have to respect what is there already. We did try and write to the MDC Alliance and said could we work together justifiably and they did not come back to us because their rules could not allow that, it would set a dangerous precedent. I knew that we needed to line ourselves with people who were opposed to the current system that has broken the country over decades and the worst that can happen is that we won’t win and if we don’t win we will learn and learn we did. We learnt the importance of going to talk to the people, getting a strong sense of what the people’s needs are, bringing communities together to drive change, divorcing ourselves from the stuff that is talked about in the newspapers and really coming back to people, grass root level and hearing, there is nothing fulfilling than people believing in an idea that you set up.
TN: November 2017 happened, a lot of excitement, people went into the streets, took selfies with soldiers, you participated in that and do you regret it?
FM: People took to the streets for different reasons. When I took to the streets it was because I was sick and tired of Robert Mugabe, who had been the symbol of my and the entire country suffering for a long time. So the minute people said there is a protest to complain against Robert Mugabe I was there and I do not regret that. There was a changed mood in the country at that time. I do not think there is any escaping that. We were not out to march to say we want a different Zimbabwe, we want the symbol of our oppression, we want Robert Mugabe to fall. Those were the clear messages that were sent out, the sense that I had was everything around us was propping Robert Mugabe up. Remember in 2008 when Sadc came into the country after the post-election violence, Thabo Mbeki flew in, after people’s hands had been chopped off, after threats, widespread systematic bias, Mbeki said there is no crisis in Zimbabwe. That was a slap in the face from the region. You almost felt your lowness as Zimbabweans, this flag flares up in the region and people do not see that, people are desperate for change. So when the space to have a protest came we were like we have a country where people can protest.
TN: So the protest was not an endorsement of the coup?
FM: Certainly not an endorsement firstly of Emmerson Mnangagwa. I have never endorsed him, I have never believed in him. I did not think he would fail spectacularly as soon as he did but I never endorsed him because like I said Zanu PF is rotten to the core, the model can never take us into the future. The mistake that we made as citizens was twofold. The first being that we thought that if the symbol of our oppression, Robert Mugabe falls, then that would be the end of our problems. We underestimated just how large the system that was created overtime and perfected by Zanu PF was. The second mistake is we should have and this I regret, we allowed there to be infractions of the constitution because the sense of populism; sense of failing we were by any means the cycle of fall. That is a cautionary tale to meet everyone, never abandon the Constitution to the extent that we abandon the Constitution during that time we made a huge mistake. But going out into the streets to exercise what is my democratic right, to protest Mugabe, that I do not regret.
TN: You then decided that you wanted to join MDC having campaigned as an independent, take us through your mind, what led you take that decision?
FM: I had a fantastic team of people who came in to help us as election agents and every single V11 for every single polling station, not constituency in Mount Pleasant. Everyone was walking in through the door and we were waiting from about 11pm to about 6am when the last polling agent from our team came in. I will never forget the looks on their faces. The shoulders were down. They would come in from Vainona, Northwood and I had one team member called Sean and he was doing the Excel spread sheet of the results and he was like do not worry it is midnight now, maybe we will get windfall at the barracks and you know it’s not going to happen. So by 1 o’clock, I knew we were not going to win and the sense of disappointment amongst a team that had given everything for a year was overwhelming for me as a leader. I said to myself I failed these guys. We had the perfect team and did not succeed. Social change is about taking power and using that power to drive change. We later then came back after a month and we said no we need to continue with our community projects. When we run again what shape are we going to take? A few conversations happened between Chamisa and myself. We had to set out two parameters both ways about how we would work together and the core thing that we agreed on was that without a strong united opposition we cannot take the country forward, we cannot fight this monster called Zanu PF. I joined the party and was appointed.
TN: If you had an opportunity to speak directly to President Mnangagwa, what would you say to him?
FM: The people of Zimbabwe are suffering from hunger, hospitals are closed, there is no power, prices are going up [and] we are suffering from hyperinflation. We need to come to a point where the corruption stops, stop allowing ministers to continue stealing, let us come up with a national consensus where we want to build genuinely. You squandered the goodwill that existed in November 2017. Can we now take a step back and take the country forward first for once? The opposition wants the best for Zimbabwe, stop treating us like enemies stop killing people on the streets, the economy. Let us take Zimbabwe forward, please comply with the Constitution because Zanu PF is hurting us so we are calling up on you to introspect and all the decisions that you make whether regarding the dialogue, budget, laws, put the people first.