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MDC Secretary-General hopefuls speak out

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The MDC today enters into a crucial week in which it holds its elective congress. Several positions are up for grabs and many officials are jostling — fair and foul — to fill them up. One of the positions that has attracted a lot of competition is that of secretary-general. Three candidates for the position, namely Douglas Mwonzora (DM), Charlton Hwende (CH) and Fortune Daniel Molokela (FDM), spoke to our senior reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) on why they believe they are most suited for the job. Below are excerpts:

The big interview Obey Manyati

OM: What is your view on the recent High Court judgment in the MDC leadership case where the party has been ordered to go to an extraordinary congress?

DM: What is important at this point in time is not individual views about the judgement. What is important is that a judgement exists and that as a responsible leadership we have to do something about it. There are two choices, either the judgement is complied with or that there is an appeal. When we held the standing committee meeting, it was directed that there be an appeal, so that is the collective decision. Individual decisions don’t matter anymore.

OM: Do you see the judgment as a threat to the future of the MDC or as an opportunity to correct mistakes made in the past?

DM: Well, there are certain things that we have learnt from this judgement. As a lawyer myself, I am not satisfied at the manner in which this matter was handled by our own representative. In my view, this is an indication that there is need for more internal dialogue within the party. There was absolutely no need to get to this stage. In other words, what is happening now was avoidable, we could have been more vigilant.

OM: Other senior MDC members have dismissed the judgement as “empty thunder” or interference by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government. Do you share similar sentiments?

DM: I am not sure as to whether Justice Edith Mushore was interfered with at all and I will not be in a position to comment on that. However, as an officer of the court myself, I am not very comfortable with spreading hate language against judges in the media or social media. I think judges still need to be respected. Respecting the judiciary does not necessarily mean agreeing with their judgements, but I think it is wrong for anyone to demonise judges. However, it is permissible to disagree with judgements wherever people feel that the judgement is not fair. I do not have evidence, as an officer of the court, of interference.

OM: Do you think the judgement is enforceable at the moment considering also that you are at an advanced stage of preparing for next week’s congress?

DM: I have not applied my mind to it. I think the lawyers who are handling the matter are better placed to comment on whether or not it is enforceable.

OM: Are you happy with congress preparations as of now?

DM: There are quite a number of issues that need to be dealt with and these include the availing of the voters roll to the members as well as the candidates; we still have to deal with finance. Our finances are not yet where we would want them to be and we are still waiting for some money to come and we are also dealing with logistical issues regarding accommodation for our delegates; but I am sure these can be dealt with before congress.

OM: You are a contestant yourself for the position of secretary-general. What are your chances of winning?

DM: Given a free and fair election, I will definitely win, but quite a number of things have to be done. An independent electoral commission has to put its foot down to avoid cheating and it must also make sure that those things that must be availed to candidates must be availed on time. The voters roll must be availed to all the candidates as agreed. It was supposed to be availed on April 29, but we are yet to receive it. There must be watertight security and also we must avoid as much as possible the running of this election by staff members of the MDC. So it depends on the way the commission will conduct this election. I do not see why people continue underestimating me every time. In 2014 I had one nomination and I went on to win by more than 1 000 votes, in 2011 I had one nomination and went on to win by more than 1 000 votes.

OM: Let’s talk about your tenure as secretary-general, what did you manage to achieve.

DM: What you notice is that apart from the aftermath of (Morgan) Tsvangirai’s death, the party remained united. I am the only secretary-general who had served two presidents without being the principal cause of splitting the party, so I have kept the party united. Secondly, I dealt with the issue of electoral reforms and played a part in having the BVR system put in place and our election was relatively more peaceful than before, but of course, we didn’t have enough, money which is the problem that my tenure had. The powers of the secretary-general to source finances were removed and put in the treasurer-general’s office and therefore I was not in control. We managed to make sure to respect the youth and women’s quota and we have more of these in Parliament than before. We also managed, through NERA (National Electoral Reform Agenda), to unite political parties around electoral reforms and we also managed to negotiate the alliance agreement, so I think we did quite well.

Fortune Daniel Molokele

OM: Can you briefly introduce yourself? Quite a number of people do not really know you well.

FDM: My name is Fortune Daniel Molokele, but a lot of people know me by my other name, which is Fortune Mguni. I am a former student leader and I was elected secretary-general at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in 1995 in my first year at law school. In 1996 I was elected vice-president (of the UZ students’ union) to the late Learnmore Jongwe, who was the president. In 1998 I was elected president of the UZ students’ union, but also in 1997 I had been elected vice-president of the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union with Learnmore Jongwe as the president of Zinasu, so in my four-year stay at UZ, I was a student leader.

After UZ I decided not to go into national politics even though I was one of the student leaders who were involved in the formation of organisations such as National Constitutional Assembly, the earlier build-up of the MDC. I felt that as a young man of 24 years I needed to grow and mature and have a life before coming back to join politics. I worked for various civil society organisations and in 2004 I left Zimbabwe and was mostly in South Africa working with various international organisations such as Amnesty International and others. At one stage I was based in Geneva, Switzerland. I only came back to Zimbabwe in 2017 when I was asked to come back and contest for Hwange Central constituency, which is the town of my birth. In 2018 I won the primary elections and in July I was elected MP.

OM: What attributes do you have to make you suitable for this position and what are your chances considering that you are competing with well-known party cadres?

FDM: In September last year the president co-opted me into the national executive committee after considering the skills that I have. I have been nominated to be secretary-general because, according to section 9.4 of the constitution, the secretary-general should be the chief administrator of the party. He is someone who will be able to keep correspondence and records of the party, put records in place and administration systems in place and this is where I come in. The secretary-general’s job is not just about popularity, it is also about technical capacity and in my 20 years since I left the UZ, I have had a lot of different jobs both in Bulawayo, South Africa and Switzerland and so on. Those appointments and jobs which I had enabled me to have a lot of experience in terms of setting up organisations and administering organisations and in terms of resource mobilisation. I have also acquired qualifications that can enable me to fully qualify for a job like secretary-general. That will enable me to look at the MDC and find ways to commercialise it as a brand and take advantage of the brand value to create financial strength out of it through commercialisation of its regalia.

OM: The position of secretary-general is like the engine of the organisation. What do you intend to bring in or to reform to make the organisation more vibrant?

FDM: The position requires someone who is focused and level-headed, someone who is technically sound. I have various priorities that are going to develop the organisation to move forward. The first one is that I need to strengthen it as an institution and that means I need to make sure that it is modernised in terms of technology. The organisation needs to embrace technology, for example, it needs to have systems in place in all its offices.

OM: What do you think must be done differently to make the organisation more efficient, this is in relation to the fact that the MDC has in the past failed to meet its obligations such as payment of salaries to its employees?

FDM: The most important thing is to commercialise the MDC brand, then use the commercial value to create revenue and capital for it. Once we rebuild the structures, we can make sure that the merchandise that we will be selling will create financial value. It then means we will be able to pay our employees good salaries and digitalise and modernise our offices. We will make sure that we have vehicles and many other things. If I am elected secretary-general I will organise a business conference on commercialisation of the MDC brand where I will invite all entrepreneurs and businesspeople to come and pitch ideas on how to maximise the brand of the MDC.

OM: There are others who claim there is high likelihood for others to rig the congress elections. Do you have such fears and if so what measures should be put in place to ensure that such things do not happen?

FDM: The MDC has been taken advantage of in terms of its participation in the national elections. We have always won a lot of elections since the days of the late icon Morgan Tsvangirai, but they have been rigged against us. So we stand as victims of rampant electoral abuses and therefore as a party we need to make sure that the free and fair elections we crave for at the national level are also seen in our internal democratic processes. We will be pushing for an independent commission and obviously members of the party must not be actively involved in the electoral processes in particular staff of the MDC must not be involved. We need to get civil society partners to help us conduct credible elections. There is an executive meeting on Monday (tomorrow) and I will be one of the people pushing for that. Also we should have clarity on the number of voters and the voters roll and ballot papers should be designed in such a way that they are not easily copied or duplicated. We should have a way to audit the results.

Charlton Hwende

OM: You are vying for the MDC secretary-general position. If elected, what value are you bringing to that office?

CH: I am a seasoned administrator with vast experience in the administration of both private and public institutions. I also bring along professional skills in strategic leadership and people management. As a student leader, I was secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (Zinasu) between 1997 and 1998 and managed to turn it into a radical and truly national student movement with donor funding and vibrant structures across the country. During my tenure as Zinasu secretary-general with the late Learnmore Jongwe as president, I managed to transform Zinasu from an elitist coalition of university student unions to an umbrella body of all universities, polytechnics, teachers colleges, technical colleges and vocational training colleges in the country. Under my administration, Zinasu became an affiliate of the Southern Africa Students’ Union (Sasu) based in Windhoek, Namibia, All Africa Students Union (AASU) in Tripoli, Libya, and the International Students’ Union (ISU) in Prague.

I have also held full-time administrative positions in Sasu and ISU during my time as a student leader in 1998 and 2002 where I gained a lot of international experience. I am also the founder and chief executive officer of a successful logistics company with operations in several countries across southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. Remember that I am a trained human resources manager. Managing organisations and people is what I do every day.
There is no doubt that the MDC stands to benefit from my experience in leading institutions with strong internal systems. My international networks as well as my administrative skills gained from training and from the corporate world where I am an active player will also benefit the party.

OM: What are your chances against the other aspirants? What is your advantage over them?

CH: If the recent nominations by provinces are anything to go by, then the chances that I will be the next secretary-general of the party are very high. I am humbled by the confidence that the provinces have shown in me. The MDC structures are clear about who should be the next secretary-general of the movement. I received nine out of 13 nominations.

OM: The position of the secretary-general is one of the most powerful ones in the party. Historically some secretary-generals have ended up in problems with the rest of the leadership. Would you know why this is the case and what can you do to stop this?

CH: One of the most urgent things during my tenure will be to reform the secretary-general’s office and to transform this crucial department from being a centre of power to a centre of administration. In terms of the MDC constitution, the secretary-general is not the leader of the party. The leader of the party is the president of the party. The secretary-general is a subordinate of the president. Unfortunately, successive secretaries general of the MDC have refused to acknowledge this constitutional reality and it has caused major conflicts and divisions in the party. Under my stewardship, the office of the secretary-general will not compete with the office of the president because it is not only wrong, but also retrogressive. The secretary-general should complement and not compete with the president of the party. Unbridled ambition and disloyalty have also been a source of conflict in the party. The MDC splits in 2005 and 2014 were spearheaded by sitting secretaries general of the time. This will not happen during my tenure. I am a loyal cadre of the party and I will not invest my energy into any agenda that has the potential to derail the movement. I will be loyal to president Nelson Chamisa and his shared vision of a new Zimbabwe.

OM: There are others who are saying you lack capacity and that you should have paved way for Mwonzora, who has backed down from contesting Chamisa. What can you say about this?

CH: I am not sure of your definition of capacity. But I have already demonstrated to you that I have a compelling track record of success in the student movement, corporate world and as a political leader. I have been elected to lead fellow cadres at various levels in the party. Currently I am the outgoing national deputy treasurer-general of the MDC following my election at the 2014 party congress. The nine provinces who nominated me this time around are actually saying I should be promoted because they believe I have the capacity to be secretary-general of the party based on my past achievements. Last year I was elected MP for Kuwadzana East. I am sure those who elected me in all these cases are sure that I have the capacity to lead. For the record, Douglas Mwonzora did not step down from challenging Chamisa for the post of party president. The truth of the matter is that Mwonzora failed to get any nomination for the post of president while Chamisa garnered 13 out of 13 nominations from the party’s provinces. Mwonzora did not do Chamisa a favour at all and nobody owes him a favour in return.

OM: There are accusations that you are using money to win over the race. They also argue that you spend more time outside the country, hence you will not be able to carry out the important duties timely. What can you say about this?

CH: Those accusations are either coming from outsiders who are not aware of how leaders are chosen in the MDC or the usual culprits in Zanu PF. They should not be taken seriously. I don’t have money to buy people. We don’t use money to buy votes in the MDC. That practice is against the culture and character of our party. In the MDC, leaders are elected on merit. What I have is a shared vision for a new Zimbabwe, new ideas, commitment to the struggle and loyalty to my party and country. This is what I bring to the table. Not money. Again, for the record, I am a Zimbabwean citizen and I stay in Zimbabwe. I have always been available when the party needs me. I have always been available when my constituency needs me. I have always been available when the country needs me. I will always be available to discharge all my duties and responsibilities diligently and efficiently when called upon to do so by my party and country. The malicious allegations from my detractors, the arrests by partisan state security agents and the fabricated charges by the courts will not deter or weaken me.
OM: What reforms are you hoping to bring if elected?

CH: I have a 10-point plan which I will implement when I become secretary-general of the party. The first priority will be to rebrand the party into an efficient and bankable organisation with sound and strong internal systems. Second, I will transform the secretary-general’s office from being a centre of power to a subordinate department whose core business shall be the administration of party resolutions and programmes. Thirdly, I will create an apolitical, competent, efficient, committed and loyal workforce with improved conditions of service in line with modern trends and the country’s labour laws. Fourth, I will equip the organising and elections departments with both financial and material resources in order to ensure they achieve victory for the party in all future elections. Fifth, I will empower the women and youth assemblies as well as the provinces with both financial and material resources in order to boost their capacity to campaign for the party president and all our party candidates in future elections. I will promote transparency, good governance and constitutionalism in the party. I also plan to ensure gender parity in all organs of the party. I have clear strategies to achieve these objectives.