FORMER prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is arguably Zimbabwe’s most enduring opposition leader.
By Gift Phiri
He has fought against Zanu PF since the MDC’s formation in 1999, and has gone through thick and thin since then.
Our News editor, Gift Phiri, spoke to Tsvangirai at his exquisite mansion in Highlands, Harare on Monday about the raft of challenges confronting the MDC, his health and the on-going coalition talks. Find below excerpts of the interview:
Q: President Tsvangirai, this is not making sense to me — the violence in Bulawayo. There are people who are alleging that you sent people there. Why would you send people to Bulawayo to go and disrupt an MDC meeting? And the outcome dented your image and that of the party. Really, it’s not making sense to me. What’s happening here?
A: I think let’s start from the first point. Why would I, after the successful launch of the alliance, then send a team to go and damage that credibility? Why do that? And naturally, how can I embark on violence against my own leadership? Why should I do that? What do I benefit out of that? I don’t benefit anything.
Q: But this Bulawayo meeting; were you aware of it and did you sanction it?
A: No. My understanding, because I talked to Moyo (interrupted…).
Q: To the chairman, Lovemore Moyo?
A: Yes, on the day we were supposed to meet. He said that he was not going to come to the launch and I said, why? And,, of course, he made excuses, but I said I understand you are having a meeting tomorrow, remember that you cannot have a meeting, which is regional — we are a national party and you know, as well as I do, that the resolution of the council regarding the coalition was only taken last Friday. ‘Ah, no we are trying to explain to people; people are unhappy’, (is all he could say).
I said, but tell me something: is there unhappiness about the strategy or the process? Zvikanzi (and he said) no, no, no we are not opposed to the strategy. We are just saying that we were not consulted properly. And I said but this thing has been going on for a whole year, right? And we have had so many meetings; adopting principles, giving me mandate and assigning this team yema (of) negotiators to go and talk to the other opposition parties right up to the conclusion.
And besides, this is work in progress because, one, we have not yet concluded with vePDP (People’s Democratic Party) led by (Tendai) Biti because they came late. Handiti. So that has been the process.
Q: Did madam Thokozani Khupe sent her apologies for skipping the launch?
A: No. If she did, I didn’t get it.
Q: Ok, so she just didn’t pitch up?
A: She didn’t pitch up, the three of them — madam Khupe, (Abedenico) Bhebhe and Moyo. But look, even if they had reservations, one of the things you don’t do is to engage in work avoidance. Handiti uri kuona (you see). At a place of work, if you have a grievance, you work and then raise your grievance.
Q: There is a grievance procedure?
A: Yes, so in this case the party has a grievance procedure. And I think, internally, no one had closed them off.
But it meant as if there was so much division and yet we were trying to engage with the provinces to see where their concerns were.
The negotiators were engaging the provincial leadership, like Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North. In fact, I was surprised the other day; Mat North was here and we had engaged (it’s leadership): So no one said that even after (the) conclusion (of the alliance) there was no space for further debate and further discussion because it’s an ongoing process.
Q: Madam Khupe has pronounced herself on this coalition that she is opposed to it; that she doesn’t see any value in engaging some of these officials. Are you still together with her? Now she is boycotting, and alleging that you are behind this violence?
A: First of all, I deny this vehemently. Anyone who charges that I was responsible for the violence because I don’t even know who was involved. That’s why we are engaging investigators in the party.
We have assigned our arbiter-general to go and find out what happened, who was involved. As I said in my statement today, ummmh, definitely the perpetrators and those who were behind the perpetrators, we will have to take them to task.
Q: You didn’t answer my question about madam Khupe. Are you still together with madam Khupe?
A: You have to ask her. As far as I am concerned, she is still my vice president. This process of coalition was never something, which was hidden from anyone. This was a collective decision in the (National) Council. There are clear resolutions on this matter.
Q: She says she doesn’t see the value in engaging some of these people . . .
A: But that’s an argument out of the fact. That argument should be put forward when a decision has not been made. Ehhh you engage in debate, you put across your views, and if the majority says we are going to take that decision, you go along with it. You don’t say because I don’t agree with it, there is (no) consensus.
Q: But she is going public with her dissent. Isn’t this out of character?
A: Of course, it’s worrying. That defiance, that dissent is worrying for the party. And I think a lot of people in the party are saying look . . . , and we have our standing committee on Wednesday.
Q: This Wednesday?
A: Yes. We are going to say, look, ehhh, if you are opposed to the outcome but the council has made a decision and they are moving forward because of that policy position . . . it’s nothing personal. Ummmh, ummmh, so I don’t want to go into detail. For me, the defiance may actually undermine the confidence, you know, and the party. But for me, I am very confident this process will go ahead.
Q: It will go ahead despite this turmoil?
A: I don’t even regard it as turmoil; I don’t regard it as turmoil at all.
Q: You regard it as what?
A: It’s just internal personal considerations, which have nothing to do with the objective. The objective in building the coalition is to change the lives of Zimbabweans.
We cannot be petty to argue about seats when the whole strategic objective is to change the government, and you can’t change the government because you have got seats.
The MDC has been in Parliament for all these years; we were controlling councillors for all these years — nothing has substantively changed for the people of Zimbabwe. That’s the whole objective of having a coalition; it is to build on our strength, so that we are able to confront the Zanu PF candidate.
Q: But perhaps she gets a sense that she is being sidelined. Her views don’t matter, that you have engaged other vice presidents.
A: No, no, no, let’s not go into that debate. It’s water under the bridge. The issue of the vice presidents was resolved by the council and the question of marginalisation, I think it’s, its, its . . . I don’t operate that way. I am a very democratic person, and I am a very tolerant person. The reason why some people take advantage of that tolerance is because they see this as a weakness and yet that’s how you build a democratic culture and democratic values.
Q: And Mujuru and Simba Makoni were conspicuously absent at the launch, why?
A: First of all, the only people who came to the event were people whom we had negotiated with at a bilateral level. For a very long time, remember that at the beginning of these bilateral negotiations, way back around in the later part of 2016 and going into early part of 2017, we had given our priority to negotiate with People First of which she (Mujuru) was a leader. After the split, we stayed with her, alright, because for some reason, we felt she had value to add. Ummmh, those negotiations did not produce any results.
Q: Negotiations did not produce results?
A: No, in fact, it was a stalemate, a stalemate that then occurred.
Q: What was the deal breaker?
A: The deal breaker was on a number of things; the number of seats available; the leadership of the coalition, and because of that, I said to the negotiators, if you declare deadlock with her, then it’s now up to me and her to sit down and decide. But right up to this moment, no deadlock has been declared. So it’s almost like something that is hanging in the air.
Q: So how are you going to proceed?
A: There has to be a declaration of deadlock before we can, as leaders come in. If she still feels there is room for negotiations, we are open to those negotiations.
Q: Do you think your engagement with Agrippa Mutambara, her erstwhile colleagues, had anything to do with this?
A: She had her party; vanaMutambara had their party.
Q: But this is an offshoot?
A: It’s not an offshoot. If there is an offshoot, materially, that does not matter because there was Zim People First before NPP (National People’s Party). Which one is the offshoot?
Q: It’s the NPP
A: Aiwa, no no no, I don’t buy that. It’s you who is saying that. I’m not saying there was an offshoot, there was a split and both parties belong to the Nera (National Electoral Reform Agenda) group and both parties belong to the Zinera (Zimbabwe National Electoral Reform Agenda) group so we didn’t choose, it was not for us to choose.
Q: Some people feel there is disagreement between you and Mujuru over the flag bearer post. Have these negotiations gone that far?
A: No, no, no, over flag bearer yei?
Q: The presidential candidacy.
A: I think let’s be realistic. And I don’t want to go in the media to negotiate a position.
This is still subject to discussion and we put forward our views. It is about who is the best candidate to win the presidential elections and they know it.
Q: She claims she is the best, that she has liberation war credentials.
A: But the facts. This is not about war credentials. This is about the best candidate. So I don’t want to go into those arguments. It’s like I’m trying to negotiate in public.
Q: Why wasn’t (Simba) Makoni invited? He says he wanted to come.
A: Again, in the same vein, our negotiators approached Makoni. Unfortunately, no meeting took place because we believed from the beginning that the negotiations must start first and foremost as a bilateral issue between us and this party, between this and this party.
Then once those parties have agreed on the major substantive issues, then work on the multilateral agreement, which is then the launch that we did.
Q: Some people get a sense that the party is facing a critical funding shortfall.
A: Well, I mean, we don’t go around saying we are filthy rich. We are a party that has always survived on the generosity of our members. Yes, the party needs finances; it needs more finances as we go towards elections. But that does not mean that we are not going to raise the money — we are going to raise the money.
A: Arghhhh, iwe (you, you, you). Ndikakuudza kuti (if I tell you . . . (pauses). We are going to raise money for the election campaign. It’s up to us to decide.
Q: Your spokesperson (Obert Gutu) claims government is refusing to release money under the Political Parties Finance Act.
A: Of course, maybe this is sabotage from the government.
Q: You think this is sabotage?
A: Yes. When was the last time we got what is entitled to us? We have not received it.
Q: So how are you going to proceed to ensure you get what is due to you?
A: We understand there are discussions that are going on. We hope we will be able to secure a share of the money under the Political Finance Act.
Q: Quite substantial property has been attached by the Sheriff from Harvest House.
A: That was a fraud.
Q: It was a fraud! How come?
A: Because first and foremost, the fraud part you can go and get it from the lawyers. We were actually in the High Court about the manner in which that was executed.
Q: You mean you have appealed to the High Court?
A: No, no, we have gone to the High Court to say it was not procedural.
Q: In what way?
A: In the fact that Sally Dura; we don’t owe Sally Dura that kind of money.
Q: But it’s Sally Dura and 15 others.
A: No, no, but it’s Sally Dura who executed the thing, not (former MDC director-general Toendepi) Shonhe. It’s Shonhe and 15 others. So how do you come out of the 15 and say I am going to make a claim? You know, the execution of that exercise was not procedural. So we have gone to court, and there was a hearing the other day on the procedure in which this matter was heard.
So hopefully it’s going to be concluded so that our property can be returned.
Q: There are claims that you have decamped from Harvest House to this place (Highlands). Is that true?
A: No, no, no, there is no truth in that. I was just in Harvest House, the press conference was held here. The other day, when was this, the meeting with the Mashonaland East provincial assembly. We are going there on Wednesday for the standing committee. It’s convenient for me, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have shut down Harvest House. All the officers are operating from Harvest House, so what is the problem?
Q: Do they have furniture?
A: Ah come on. How do they work where when there is no furniture? You go there and find out whether those people who are working there have furniture or not.
Q: Otherwise how are you feeling?
A: No, I’m fine.
Q: You are still going through chemotherapy?
A: No I’m still under treatment. And as you can see, I am responding well to treatment.
Q: I know it’s rough, I have gone through it.
A: Have you?
Q: Yah, yah. It’s really rough.
A: It’s really rough. You go through a period in which you sometimes think, hey this chemo thing.
Q: The vomiting, the nausea, the side effects.
A: Yah yah, but inini I was so fortunate, I didn’t go through those, vomiting and all that, no I didn’t.
Q: No, you didn’t go through those?
A: Vomiting and all that, no, no. No side effects?
Q: Really, you were blessed.
A: You know my hair just went out the other day. But I had stayed with my hair for almost eight sessions.
Q: Is that so?
Q: You have done how many sessions now?
A: About 10, I think.
Q: That’s a lot, you must be at the tail-end now.
A: Yah. You just need to be.
Q: You look really good.
A: No, I’m fine, I’m fine. You too.
Q: But the cost is just too much, president Tsvangirai.
A: That is why people die. It’s totally unsustainable. Daily News