HARARE – Our senior staff writer Mugove Tafirenyika sits down for an interview with MDC national organising secretary Abednico Bhebhe. Find below excerpts of the interview.
Q: There was talk of an inclusive government prior to the inauguration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa following former president Robert Mugabe’s departure. Chris Mutsvangwa, the president’s adviser, told the media that Mnangagwa had “engaged” the MDC about joining an “inclusive” team in this way, but Morgan Tsvangirai barred members of the party from joining the team. The MDC disputes this version. What happened?
A: As the organising secretary of the party and as far as the party structures and the party presidency, there was no formal approach from either Zanu PF as a political party or Mnangagwa as the Zanu PF aspiring candidate for the 2018 elections.
He went on to become president but we did not see that hand of inviting us. If ever anything had happened, the rightful offices of our political structures was going to inform our machinery so there were never formal talks between the two parties.
The only role we played is probably that they hijacked our programme to impeach Mugabe.
We made four attempts at that with the latest being the James Maridadi motion which they were resisting only to hijack it and present it as a Monica Mutsvangwa motion.
Q: But would you have joined them if they had approached you?
A: One thing that people don’t understand is that when Mugabe was ousted, he was running a government and that government is Zanu PF and pushes its policies.
Now for any MDC member to be in a Zanu PF government pushing Zanu PF policies, he had to get proper clearance from the party so that our policies can also be accommodated and once that happens it would have started negotiations. So it was not about joining a Zanu PF government but about Zimbabwe.
Q: Where was talk of transitional authority coming from?
A: I know because of the euphoria that came with Mugabe’s ouster there is this kind of approach to issues that people took to say we are one, talking about a transitional government .
The idea was to sort out the mess as a collective. Arguments were still coming for and against and there is not one group that will say it won that argument.
Some were always skeptical of that arrangement basing on what happened previously when we had the inclusive government.
We went flat out to sort the economic mess while Zanu PF was busy consolidating power, so that is why it was important for us to talk first to highlight these issues.
Q: But what would have been the basis of a transitional authority and why were you talking about it in the MDC in the first place?
A: It would have made sense if Mugabe had been ousted by the people.
However, the transitional thing was overtaken by events especially when the army took over ZBC, a national broadcaster, which meant that citizens’ rights that go with the ZBC being stationed, were taken away.
For an army general to read main news at an awkward hour raised more questions. So the issue of the transition was parked for a moment.
It only came up again when it became clear that Mugabe was going.
However, at the same time the army was in control, Zanu PF was doing another parallel process.
Zanu PF structures suddenly had the power to sit and start processes to oust Mugabe but it is important to note that the process was also flawed where certain individuals like Mutsvangwa and others who went on to sit in a central committee to make supposedly binding decisions when it is in the public record that they were fired.
The army process and the Zanu PF processes were both illegal. Now we have a coalition government of the army and unscrupulous Zanu PF individuals.
To prove that this whole thing is now a military state, what is the army doing on the roads where an awkward situation has arisen with police officers stopping vehicles and handing over to the army.
The pattern that is emerging is disturbing. What kind of an operation is that? What threat is government facing that warrants the army to go out there and search vehicles?
There has to be a national threat for the army to do that. Now my question to Mnangagwa is, what kind of threat is it that Zimbabweans don’t know?
Whatever insecurity there is, it should be known to the people.
Q: Do you think the international community let the people down by allowing such an “awkward” development, to use your phrase?
A: To Sadc, AU and the international community, we want their comment. What do they call what is happening in Zimbabwe.
There is an element of illegality here. I know people will try just like I will do, to run away from the word ‘coup’ but what do we call this?
We need a name for such a strange situation that is illegal. Is it an illegal process that produced legal results or an illegal process that produced short-lived results?
I say short-lived because all of sudden people who were euphoric yesterday are now beginning to ask questions.
And they have to be answered by none other than Mnangagwa and his government.
Q: There is talk that the MDC was used by Mnangagwa and that you have gone to sleep. What would be your reaction?
A: Like I said, we are in a military State and in the wake of what is happening, we ought to be cautious lest we expose our people to danger and would not want to do anything that would be tantamount to intimidating our own people as we go into elections in the next seven months or so.
Meanwhile, the network of our structures is being fed with the right information and the response is fantastic. While we realise that we were duped by the Mnangagwa group, our consolation is that with Mugabe out of the equation, it’s part of our job done.
We now need to deal with the institution that he presided over, Zanu PF. The only problem is that Zanu PF finances itself through the State and they use that to destabilise the opposition.
Q: How does Zanu PF do that?
A: In Hwange West, for example, while government registers everyone for fertilisers and brings enough of it for all, it is the local party leadership that is entrusted with distribution that then goes on to remove known MDC supporters from the list and distribute the fertiliser only to their people and steal the rest.
Zanu PF ward officials steal their provincial and national counterparts steal as well from the community.
So when the military says it is targeting criminals around the president, we thought they would also target criminals around the wards and districts if they are genuine.
We thought the army would say, look, we are not Zanu PF, we are a people’s army so we are going to now stand aside as referees but we are not seeing that.
What we are seeing is a situation where the supposed referee is also taking penalties in the game, which explains why we now see even those that read the ‘coup’ statement being appointed to government.
The message is clear that we are in a military State and those who say we have gone back to normalcy are living in a fools’ paradise.
There is a partnership between Zanu PF and the army. The army did not come out to save us but to save Zanu PF.
The army won’t go away anytime soon because it’s their project and they want to see it through.
Q: From the MDC perspective, what is the way forward?
A: The MDC is now a vehicle towards normalising the situation but it can’t do it alone. It has to be a people’s project.
People should understand that the country has been captured by the army and we need to come out of this capture soon.
Our neighbours in Sadc ought to realise that an awkward situation has arisen in their region and they have to take a stand to assist Zimbabwe to extricate itself from the jaws of the army and restore the country to civilian rule.
The AU also should also make a stand. They should allow the people to choose not to choose the MDC. They should allow them to choose the junta ahead of the MDC in a fair and credible election.
We want a free and fair election supervised by the AU, Sadc and the UN. It is a collective game because the country is in a mess.
Q: There is talk of acrimony in the party involving you Thokozani Khupe and others over the MDC Alliance. What is the situation like at the moment?
A: In any political set up things are never smooth. Give me any party that you can say it has lived for more than 20 years and all has been well for them, that will be a lie.
Problems are things that we have to live with. What we must celebrate is our ability as parties to solve their problems amicably.
The so-called MDC problems were a creation of Zanu PF and CIO infiltrators who wanted to have the party destabilised to give them a chance to freely deal with their Mugabe.
Concerning the MDC Alliance, no one within the opposition ranks does not want a coalition. We all want it.
We all agree that when the president agreed to a coalition he did his mandate which is good.
However, we cannot just say because the president has agreed then it’s all fine and behave like Zanu PF and their one centre of power principle.
We support the president for agreeing but when it comes to implementation; we must remember we are dealing with people with five senses. Who think we can’t afford to do that.
We have to look at the so-called alliance with a wide open eye because we want to work together.
I don’t believe that if Tendai Biti for example is genuine about his desire to fight Zanu PF, he should set conditions to say we want such seats first.
Are you available to the highest bidder? Does it mean if Zanu PF offers more than the MDC is prepared to give, then you will join them?
Supporting one candidate for the presidency cannot be on condition that you get seats. It’s not genuine. It can’t be for a prize because the biggest prize is removing Zanu PF.
My relationship with the president dates back to the ZCTU. I was part of the structures that made him secretary general of ZCTU and we cemented the relationship when we formed the MDC and since then it has been very cordial.