By Alex Magaisa
In the beginning . . .
Ten years ago, Douglas Mwonzora and I had a conversation on the sidelines of a conference at the Elephant Hills Hotel in Victoria Falls. He asked whether I might be available for the constitution-making process, which was by then already underway. Mwonzora was the co-chairperson of Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (Copac), the parliamentary committee that was leading the constitution-making process. I said I would be honoured to serve my country.
It was in that setting, a few miles from one of the seven wonders of the natural world, Mosi-a-Tunya that to my mind, a beautiful bond of brotherhood was born.
It blossomed during the trench warfare of constitutional negotiations in the months that followed. In 2011, I joined Copac and together, we formed a tag team along with a wonderful supporting cast.
Morgan Komichi was there too, a permanent presence in the meetings. The political eye of the party president, Morgan Tsvangirai, he sat quietly, intervening occasionally to assert political muscle when things got difficult.
Negotiations require different skills and from time to time you need the Rottweilers to come in and show some bite. I have to say, working in that process has been one of the most fulfilling tasks for me, both professionally as a lawyer and as an intellectual in the struggle for a better society. I got to know these men very well and mutual respect grew between us as we went toe to toe with Zanu PF at the other end of the table.
Sometimes things got very heated and talks broke down. We carried each other in those low moments, believing very firmly that we were on the right side of history and that we were doing what was best for the people of Zimbabwe. The Zanu PF team was arrogant, stubborn and intransigent, but we refused to give in.
When you have been through such struggles; when you have shielded each other, giving each other strength, plotting strategy and celebrating wins together, something is built that becomes indelible. But it also suffers greatly because it is vulnerable to betrayal.
The president’s call
It was also during that constitution-making process that the party leader, Tsvangirai noticed my presence. By this, I do not mean my physical presence, as he already knew me. The presence I refer to is getting a better sense of what I could offer to the movement and him. To this day, I have no idea who shared a good word with him. I only remember Mwonzora calling me one evening after a hard day of negotiations and advising me that the president wanted to see me the next day at his home.
When I went to his home in Strathaven, that is when he asked if I could join him as his adviser and chief of staff in his office. It was an offer that I could not refuse. I like to think Mwonzora and Komichi were among those who may have shared a kind word about me with the president. But I do not doubt that it was another step of the journey that had begun during that conversation on the sidelines of the conference in Victoria Falls.
I like to think we formed a formidable partnership during the constitution-making process. We fought many battles against our opposite numbers in Zanu PF. I was there as the technical hand and Mwonzora provided the political hand, which was especially useful when Paul Mangwana of Zanu PF tried to be aggressive. One of the strong points, I think, is that we maintained our calm even under extreme provocation. If I sound a tad nostalgic, it is because the current scenario is a cause of great personal pain and wonderment. What happened? It’s a question that eludes easy answers.
That relationship which was solidified in those trenches of negotiating the 2013 Constitution remains, at least on my end, circumstances notwithstanding.
Indeed, some of the most trusted people I have met during the struggle are those I have met through Mwonzora during the constitution-making process. Some of them became family. They protected me like a brother and I suspect their hearts must carry some burden too. Many times during the last couple of years I have put in a word of support when others in the movement were growing suspicious. I have encouraged unity, asking everyone to look at the bigger picture. I do not regret it because I genuinely believed it was the right thing to do.
I am not in agreement with the political course that he and others in the movement have taken at this juncture. I believe that they are making a gross error of judgment; embarking on a course that detracts from much they have fought for and for which they suffered grievously at the hands of Zanu PF. I do not believe Zanu PF is capable of kissing an opponent in good faith. I would not be true to myself if I did not say this. If I am wrong, and I have sufficient humility to concede that I may be wrong, history will be the judge and I will raise my hands and, if need be, atone for it.
I recounted this background to forestall any suspicion that my view on the political situation is personal. It is not. Indeed, if it were, in light of the background, I would not have taken a different political position. I would have chosen to support the cause of those with whom I have worked closely and fruitfully in the past. A mutual colleague from those years called and said, but this is your comrade. Yes, I said, but we have different views on this occasion.
Indeed, we are comrades. When I tragically lost my young uncle and friend, Eddie who was my trusted assistant and confidante during my time with Tsvangirai in 2013, Mwonzora was the most senior MDC leader who came to our village to mourn with us and bury him. It was not an official duty, no. It was personal.
He had known Eddie for a few years and he knew how close we were. For his part, Eddie had much respect for “mukoma Dougie”, as he called him. Over the last few weeks, I have wondered how Eddie might have felt at this time. I know the situation would have troubled him greatly. Mwonzora was there with us for the final goodbyes seven years ago.
My fellow villagers felt honoured by his presence at the funeral. Unsurprisingly, they have been asking many questions lately, questions which are difficult to answer: Ko mukoma Dougie vaita sei futi? (What happened with mukoma Dougie?). They ask out of genuine concern. I say I do not know what has happened. Because I do not know.
He was the party’s spokesperson during the time that I was working with Tsvangirai. I was based at Charter House, but I did not have an office at Harvest House and whenever I was there, I often made a pit-stop there. We had come a long way. He affectionately addressed me as “Zim 2”, in part a reflection of the deep sense of humour that he possesses. I don’t know if anyone apart from us two understood the meaning of that moniker!
And so you see why the current situation is a difficult one; why nothing makes sense at all.
I did not agree with how the succession of Morgan Tsvangirai was handled. I voiced my opinions on the matter. They were unpopular, but I have never shied away from expressing unpopular opinions. While I respect the wisdom of the crowds, I’m also all too aware that crowds possess a profound capacity for foolishness. I condemned the intimidation and acts of violence that ensued. I empathised with Khupe and Mwonzora over the treatment at Tsvangirai’s funeral in Buhera. I did so, not because I was partial, but because it was the right thing to do.
The succession episode was a dark moment for the democratic movement because it should have been more prepared for it. The deteriorating health of the great founding leader had given ample notice. I remember writing in January 2018 after the choreographed public visit by Mnangagwa and Chiwenga, that it was probably time to say goodbye to the reigns.
Constitutions are designed to cater for all eventualities, including the incapacitation of a leader. But the movement was held by the inertia of protocol and culture all of which meant that the succession issue was left until after his death when it could have been handled while he was alive, if relevant provisions had been invoked. The movement was shy and the price for that shyness is still being paid. For in many ways, the current saga is a symptom of a failed succession process. That should never happen again.
So yes, I was not in agreement with the handling of the succession.
Nevertheless, I also recognised that the movement is a voluntary organisation with the ability to make and unmake its rules to advance its main political agenda, which is to win political power. Rules are meant to serve the party and not the other way round. A person who plunges into a flooded river because he is following unbending rules would be considered foolish. One must do whatever is necessary to avoid the plunge. It was necessary to take the best step towards the party’s political agenda.
I recognised that in all organisations, the principle of majority rule is paramount and that what the majority will stands as long as it is done through the organs. No court or other body can usefully substitute its view for that of the majority because the majority can always return and make it redundant. I also recognised that the principle that in membership organisations the relevant organs can correct and ratify procedural irregularities. This is not only lawful but common sense.
In considering this, I also looked at the big picture. In that big picture, there was a general election which was due in a few months. Because of the coup a few months before, I had long been sceptical about the elections. I had wondered during a conversation with Nelson Chamisa, whether it was worth it, considering that the junta was unlikely to give up what it had taken by force.
Still, I thought if the movement was going to take part, it had to put its best foot forward and punch hard. In those heady days of succession, my misgivings of the succession saga notwithstanding, I recognised that of all the protagonists on show, it was Nelson Chamisa who had demonstrated sufficient political capital to represent the movement in the elections against a military-backed incumbent.
I also recognised that any continuation of disputation over the succession would cause a terrible wound to the movement going into the election. Indeed, an Extraordinary Congress pitting various protagonists so close to the election was bound to be exploited by the opponent and would probably split the opposition in the middle.
Finally, I recognised that the movement stood a better chance if it fought together with others as the MDC Alliance rather than on its own. Thokozani Khupe had never been enamoured with the idea of the MDC Alliance. I was aware of the deep old rivalries between her and some key members of the MDC Alliance which made it almost impossible and there was no time to heal those wounds before the elections.
On the other hand, Chamisa had already represented Tsvangirai in the Alliance and was backed by the key players to lead the MDC Alliance. This might be said to be political expediency, but I still believe it was the right political decision and the performance vindicated it. I do not believe Khupe or other MDC politicians at the time could have posed as big a challenge to Mnangagwa as Chamisa did in 2018.
So no, my political disposition in this difficult moment is not because I was impressed by the handling of the succession. If that was the turning point, I would probably have walked away at that juncture. However, I appreciated that this was a membership organisation and that the majority had made a decision to govern their affairs and to define their leadership as they desired. No one had imposed leadership upon them. They wanted the leadership they got. I also recognised that they had made an effort to rectify the irregularities.
lâ€…This is an extract from Alex Magaisa’s Blog, The Big Saturday Read.