HARARE - Our senior writer Fungi Kwaramba (FK) sits down for a chat with MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai (MT) in this exclusive interview.
Below are excerpts of the interview
FK: The last time you hogged the limelight, you were suffering from exhaustion. How are you feeling these days, are you fully recovered?
MT: I am fit now. Yes, it is natural for health problems to occur but I am now fine.
FK: You used to be Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister only just last year and you had a busy schedule, including Cabinet and government meetings, how do you spend your days now?
MT: I am equally busy. Remember, I am the president of the MDC and the MDC has been facing turbulence which we had to endure after the elections.
Things have stabilised and I hope that occupies us for most of the time. We also have a national crisis confronting us.
As a party we must come up with strategies of how we confront these problems. If at all, I am even busier because of these issues.
FK: You spoke about the turbulence that the MDC has gone through, there are accusations by your rivals, some of them your erstwhile colleagues, that Tsvangirai is morphing into a dictator. How do you respond to this?
MT: That is criticism from self-serving individuals who have decided to move out from the party for whatever reasons they have.
But for me, (Morgan) Tsvangirai has been in the trenches for the last 20 years. We were the initiators of the national constitution movement and the formation of the MDC with the focus of fighting dictatorship, an entrenched one-party rule in this country. So to accuse (Morgan) Tsvangirai of being a dictator when he has been so magnanimous, even so tolerant against all this multitude of criticism and attacks, some of them personal, I think it is over the board.
I am the most tolerant person, in fact I have been accused of being too tolerant. Some in my own party think that I am too lenient against those who would like to betray the movement and to betray me.
FK: There are some within your party who are agitating for the amendment of the MDC constitution in order to reduce the powers of the secretary-general, is that in the best interest of democracy?
MT: We do have a process that is underway. The process of constitutional and institutional reforms. Transformation is not a matter of targeting individual posts or individual roles.
Transformation is about looking at the past and evaluating your performance and correcting mistakes. I am sure a party of our type, which has experience, has gone through phases, the formative phase, the growth phase and the maturity phase, in fact we have graduated from being a movement to a political party.
There are experiences that you would like to change in order to strengthen the party, that is the whole intention. It is not about targeting any particular individual or any post, but to transform the organisation so that it serves its purpose.
Every time we go to a congress, it is normal. It’s a grassroots process. The process has not been completed. I have not seen the report from the committee that we set up, so people should not jump to conclusions.
FK: In the past, Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti, both former secretary-generals, have gone on to form their own parties. Is it because there are two centres of power in the MDC as alleged?
MT: That is what we have to look at. If there were two centres of power, that should be examined. There is need for fundamental debate without necessarily forcing a particular view.
I must say we are not going to be persuaded by individual opinion but by the grassroots.
We have always been a grassroots organisation. That is why we set a committee to go around the country and seek input from the people.
FK: You are going to congress in October but there is nothing that is taking place on the ground. It seems as though there is no congress at all coming, why?
MT: The MDC has a very strategic position of ensuring that the new constitution is implemented, of mobilising the people, of making sure that there is a base. GNU (Government of National Unity) almost created an atmosphere of de-mobilisation, now we are an opposition.
We should focus on building the party and making sure that people are mobilised so that we confront the crisis that we have. We are purposeful, unlike our colleagues (in Zanu PF) who are only looking at their own internal fights for succession at the expense of what is happening around them.
FK: Do you have the financial resources to hold this congress?
MT: Resources are always very important because we say resources equal results. Congresses are very expensive. You saw what happened at the Zanu PF conferences, they actually resorted to desperate measures.
It means you have not planned properly. We are planning to cut costs to ensure that we are able to minimise costs of an expensive event but carry out the event anywhere. There will never be a time we will get adequate resources but we will make sure that we will have the congress.
FK: Media reports say that some of your properties are going to be attached because of failure to pay workers?
MT: That was a bit mischievous. You want me to go and sell my few goats and cattle so that I support an organisation or pay for staff salaries. Yes, we do recognise our staff need to be paid and we are doing everything in our power to make sure we meet those costs.
FK: You live in splendour while your workers and the people who support you live in squalor? Isn’t this a contradiction?
MT: Chuckles....Do you want me to go and live in the bush so that you see that I am suffering just like the people out there?
If at all, Zanu PF should know that they have created conditions which have made us all poor. So comparing who is poorer than the other I think it is unfair.
Yes I am living in this property. It is still an outstanding issue and will be resolved when the time comes but I never chose myself to come and live here. Remember I was Prime Minister, so it is under those circumstances that I then came to live here?
FK: Some say you reached a gentleman’s agreement with President Robert Mugabe to keep this place.
MT: I have never met Mugabe since the elections. I have tried to write to him saying let’s meet. I think around October last year, he has chosen not to respond but he knows the contractual obligations around this house. I am not going to compromise my principle by having a gentleman’s agreement with Mugabe.
FK: You recently received a lukewarm response from Sadc when you tried to table the challenges that the country is facing at the summit in Victoria Falls. Are you not wasting time relying on Sadc given that Mugabe is now its chairman?
MT: I think there is fatigue. Sadc has been seized with Zimbabwe for a long time now. In spite of the fact that president Mugabe is the chairperson, it does not change anything.
I think Sadc has an obligation to Zimbabwe. We drew their attention to the crisis. It is still the responsibility of Sadc that the election was heavily rigged and as a consequence this country is on its knees. Sadc must be aware of the crisis in Zimbabwe.
FK: You extended an olive branch to opposition figures to rejoin what you call “the big tent.” In your view, why is there reluctance by some opposition leaders to join forces with you?
MT: Is it avoidable? Any rightful thinking Zimbabwean who wants to see change in Zimbabwe must understand that by splintering, you are supporting the status quo.
If we come together and unite, chances of achieving change are enhanced. So, there is no fundamental flaw in calling for a big tent. What is important is for people as individuals to stop these self-serving motives and to come together and talk.
Little parties, it is like adding zero plus zero, but if you think seriously and say what is my purpose, if it is to see the people achieve democratic change, then you must join forces and come together.
FK: Going to elections last year, Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn’s president Simba Makoni was backing you. Is he still party to your movement?
MT: I am sure that I and Mr Makoni see from the same perspective. I hope that (Zapu leader Dumiso) Dabengwa, (MDC president Welshman) Ncube, Tendai Biti and all these other guys must appreciate why as leaders they are there. It is about service and sacrifice. It is not about self-serving.
FK: Since Tendai Biti walked from the main MDC, have you ever spoken to him?
MT: No, I have not spoken to him.
FK: Do you miss your former comrades who left you?
MT: It is a sad development. That is why I am saying being in the same tent, is the right solution. But if people decide to get out of the tent, they have to face the weather out there. It is lonely out there. It is very cold.
FK: Some say you have failed to remove president Mugabe in past elections and it is time for you to step aside. Do you still have anything to offer to the people of Zimbabwe?
MT: In Zimbabwe, it is not about contest, it is about the return of power by whatever means. Mugabe knows he no longer enjoys the support of the people of Zimbabwe across the political divide.
If he wants, I will test him and say give the people of Zimbabwe an individual platform to express themselves, you will see he will not get more than 10 percent across the political divide. So the truth of the matter is that he had to devise a method of subverting the will of the people through (Israeli IT firm) Nikuv and other operations.
FK: At a rally in Seke communal lands, you said Mugabe should pass the baton to either Mujuru or Mnangagwa. In your years in government when you worked with these two individuals, how did you relate to them?
MT: During my years in government, I have never had any individual liking or disliking. I was very objective even in my interactions with president Mugabe.
It was an objective relationship. I think it is up to Zanu PF to choose its leaders, it is not up to me to decide who is better than the other. But given what is happening now, it is almost like dog eat dog and that is not healthy for the party and the country because they are the ones in government.
FK: Do you think there is anyone in Zanu PF who can rescue the country from the crisis you have pointed out?
MT: The problem is that if people continue to focus on individuals, it becomes a problem. The problem is institutional. Zanu PF is an entrenched dictatorship.
The power forces that drive the power of Zanu PF are so many. They are beyond the individuals that we see as leaders.
So it is institutionalised dictatorship that has now gripped the state and to be honest, unless if you are able to transform that, you are going to have the same problems, whether Mugabe or anyone else comes in because all of them are going to ride on the same institutional controls.
FK: You once had tea regularly with Mugabe and it appears you have mellowed significantly towards him. Why have you changed?
MT: Are you blind to the acrimony that president Mugabe has been bleating out at funerals, at weddings, every time he has had an opportunity? Have you not heard him saying years of GNU were horror to him?
So where is the buddy-buddy? I criticise president Mugabe on the omissions that has led this country to where it is today. I do not criticise him as an individual but on matters of principle and till the day I leave politics I will continue criticising him.
FK: You once said Mugabe should go peacefully or you would remove him violently. You still want to pursue that route?
MT: I am not soft. We are a movement for democratic change so we will not remove leaders through violence and I believe in the democratic process. When we formed the MDC, we were going through a phase of national democratic revolution.
The two most important objectives were how do we strengthen democracy in the country that is why we were campaigning for a new constitution.
How do we make sure we have fair distribution of wealth, which is what motivated us. We were not motivated by violence or the overthrow of anyone even to this stage it is not about overthrow of a particular individual.
FK: Your youths have been arrested for holding illegal demonstrations, is that part of a strategy?
MT: That is within their constitutional right to do. Remember Zanu PF promised 2 million jobs but what we have seen is the opposite, the closure of companies, so young people are right when they say we went to school, we are destitute, companies are closing, there is no space for us. So they have a right to ask, 'where are the jobs?'
FK: The standards of living for most Zimbabweans continue to go down. As the opposition leader, what is the solution to all this?
MT: The solution lies in what I would call a national consensus. Our problem has never been economic, those are symptoms.
Our problems have always been political legitimacy and unless Zanu PF recognise that, they are just on a wild goose chase.
Let us solve the political contestation and you will see that the economic benefits will flow thereafter, that is what happened with the GNU. Each time this country goes through some inclusive process, there will be progress. But every time those individual parties want to go exclusive, problems will be on the horizon. In my view that is the solution.
FK: Zanu PF has made it clear that they are not willing to negotiate with you.
MT: Well, they are the ones who are in charge. What solution do they have? The burden of national responsibility is in their hands, so it is their responsibility. What solutions do they have?
FK: Lastly, in your view, is the MDC ever going to retain its pre-inclusive government aura?
MT: What has happened to the MDC? The MDC has national representation from Zambezi to Limpopo. The MDC has the national base and national support, the MDC will continue to be the alternative to Zanu PF.
So it is on that basis that the MDC is not going away. The MDC is here to stay. In fact we are preparing to be the next government.