Matinenga turns back on political 'riches'

HARARE - Constitutional Affairs minister Eric Matinenga is arguably a gentleman of the murky Zimbabwean politics.

He did not crave his job neither did he force himself on the MDC leadership to be the party’s representative in Buhera West in the 2008 harmonised elections.

Curiously, he has done a commendable job as a minister, particularly succeeding in spearheading the crafting of a new constitution under a very unforgiving environment.

Yet in all this, he is not going to run for politics office again and his decision stays, come what may!

“I discussed this issue with my family and we then agreed there was what appeared to be a desperate situation, let’s go for it — but we are only going to work there once. We do one term and we are out,” Matinenga told the Daily News of his participation in politics and the decision not to run again.

“I agreed with the position. The reason why I settled on a one term participation in politics was that coming from a legal background, as a lawyer, I always thought that I must choose a niche where I believe I am giving the best of my service to the country.”

Matinenga says the decision not to seek a further term in politics was reached upon consultation with his wife and three children.

His wife had to leave her job temporarily to help him campaign in Buhera West in the run up to the 2008 polls.

The veteran lawyer never intended to run for political office but pressure from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, resulted in him making a last-minute rush towards the close of nomination court.

A stickler for discipline and accuracy, Matinenga, has tasted the life of a Zimbabwean politician and is one of very few ministers to voluntarily leave power.

He sees life outside politics and his mind is set on going back to Advocates Chambers.

“No there is no change of heart. “There were a lot of side issues we considered. But the more I looked at that decision the more I was gratified by having made that decision, particularly when I then interacted with colleagues across the board, not only from my party,” said Matinenga.

“I then realised how important that decision was in terms of principle.

“You look at our crop of politicians, some politicians have got a way of thinking that politics is the end of it all; there is no life after politics.

“It really is very sad. And I thought that decision we made is a decision which we can happily live with if only to show people that there is life after politics.

“I was very lucky I got into Parliament and I was made minister. I must thank my God for that. But to me the desire is not to hop from one ministry to another. I have already been made minister, it doesn’t really differ whether I was minister of Water, minister of Women’s Affairs or minister of Finance or whatever.

“To me I have been a minister and I have been a parliamentarian. The only thing I could do is to be the president of the country. But I know that I am not going to be the president of Zimbabwe unless if I want to challenge Morgan Tsvangirai."

“And I didn’t think I had the brand to challenge him and I didn’t think that he had failed. Tsvangirai is 60 now, if he does his 10 years, he will be 70. I am 59. If I have to wait my turn I will be 70 when I run for presidency.

“I don’t believe you must run for president when you are 70. I think come 70 you are past a sale-by date in terms of that high office."

“And I said to myself I think I can do a better service with my 10 years and I can do better service if I go back to my profession because there is so much to do particularly when you look at our constitution.

“I thought I could give better service by going back to my profession and add value to the way our country is governed. This is why I made that decision”.

Matinenga sees value in battling in courts and being a servant of justice.

As if he had a premonition of what life in the world of politics was Matinenga told his colleagues at Advocates Chambers when he was appointed to government: “I will be back.”

His furniture and books are all tucked there.

“I did not sell anything from that office. All my colleagues knew I was going to come back. Before I left to take up my ministerial post, I told them one day I will be back”.

But life in the inclusive government has been a mixed bag for Matinenga.

“There have been times when I have regretted having been a member.

“But those times have been eclipsed by my desire to see that what I was asked to do must be done, and that we must reach a positive conclusion with regards to the mandate which I was given to perform.

“So, on that account despite the misgivings I may have had during the time, I was nevertheless determined to see the process through.

“In fact if at any stage I had believed that this was something which could not be achieved I would have dropped out of government. “But I was always confident that yes, we have got immense problems, we have got a lot of views to bring together but at the end of the day it had to be done and I am glad that it was done,” Matinenga told the Daily News as he savoured the completion of the constitution-making process which culminated in a peaceful referendum.

Zimbabwe held a constitutional referendum on March 16 in which the majority voted overwhelmingly for a new constitution.

But Matinenga’s critics and those opposed to the politically-driven process such as National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) chief, Lovemore Madhuku, claimed both the referendum and the constitution-making process, were not a reflection of a people-driven exercise.

“When you say to anybody give us a definition of a people-driven process you get as many definitions as the number of people you ask.

“But my definition which I believe is a workable definition is that at the end of the day you must be satisfied that the people of the country have put in a substantial input into the content of that constitution,” argued Matinenga.

“How you do it will differ with the circumstances, will differ with the country concerned, but the end test should be, are you able to say the concerns of the people have substantially been captured in the document and I believe this one has been.

“People talk about this constitution-making process having been hijacked by the politicians. “I don’t agree because at the end of the day someone has to make a decision. It is not universal. It’s not a one-size- fits-all situation.

“Constitution-making, with respect, and this is my view, is always politically-driven.

“At the end of the day there has to be somebody who gathers all the information, who synthesises all that information, who analyses that information and then decides, despite that this is what the people have said, how best do I represent it in a document? “This is what happened in South Africa and this is exactly what we did in this country.”

Matinenga dismissed reports the Cabinet had agreed to award ministers and their deputies hefty exit packages that include residential stands, $30 000 and three luxury cars.

He also disputed claims that he is the only minister to refuse that package.

“I am actually angered by that story. I am not aware of this unless of course this happened in my absence,” he said.

However, to get it right, he said he met up with Finance minister, Tendai Biti after a church service in Harare where he was told Cabinet had not agreed to the “immoral” package.

“His response to me was — it is fiction. He went on to say it was not only false but defamatory. The Prime Minister has also said it is not true. And I believe him”.

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