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Opinion / Interviews

Tsvangirai cracks whip, Khupe might be in trouble

by Everson Mushavi
05 Feb 2017 at 08:01hrs | Views
Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has reacted strongly to his deputy Thokozani Khupe's public opposition to coalition negotiations between the MDC-T and other opposition parties, saying he will not allow his lieutenants to divide Zimbabwe on tribal lines.

Khupe last week told journalists that the MDC-T did not need an alliance with other opposition parties in Matabeleland because the party always performed well in the region.

The former deputy prime minister was reacting to revelations by ex-vice-president Joice Mujuru that her Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) was making steady progress in negotiations to form an electoral pact with MDC-T.

Tsvangirai, who has been on a countrywide tour to gauge support for the coalition in his party, told The Standard in an exclusive interview yesterday that Zimbabweans desperately wanted the opposition to close ranks and challenge President Robert Mugabe.

He said he might have to override those with dissenting voices in his party for the sake of the alliance in a pointed attack on Khupe.

The MDC-T leader said he had been given the mandate by his party to oversee negotiations and would do all he could to see to it that there was a united front to face Zanu-PF next year.

In the interview with our chief reporter Everson Mushava (EM) Tsvangirai (MT) also spoke about his health and Mugabe's refusal to retire.  

EM: You have been in coalition negotiations with Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) leader Joice Mujuru for some time now. are you at liberty to disclose the status of your negotiations?

MT: No. It is too early, but I can tell you that it is a process that has been fully endorsed by my party and I have been given the sole mandate to ensure that an alliance for the opposition succeeds; I can tell you that it will succeed.

I am not at liberty to reveal [details] because we have made a commitment that we will not negotiate in the media.

Much as we would like the media to cover these stories, I always think it is something instructive that you do not negotiate in the media.

EM: There has been suspicion that disputes over who should lead the coalition will be the biggest threat to the prospects of forming an alliance. What could be your comment to that?

MT: I do not think leadership of the alliance is an issue that can stop the alliance. Remember, I outlined that we need an alliance agreement, we need a policy agreement and we need a post-election agreement.

So those agreements are very important because during the course of that, you will be able to ascertain who should lead this process for the success of the alliance.

Otherwise, if you just become dogmatic and bury your head in the sand for the sake of leading an alliance, it is not going to be helpful.

We want an alliance that will succeed. we do not want an alliance for the sake of an alliance.

We want an alliance that will address the apathy in the country, especially among the young voters and to ensure that the possibility of victory is assured before we even go into that election. That is going to be a game-changer.

EM: In your negotiations, you seem close to Mujuru and her ZimPF than any other opposition party, what could be the reason?

MT: I think it is a practical assessment of the asymmetrical distribution of potential votes. It is a yardstick. you remember that ZimPF has no Member of Parliament, but we believe they have a sizeable potential vote base and the political credibility and credentials that will add value to the alliance.

However, I have not excluded any political party from the discussions and I can tell you that we have discussed with Welshman Ncube, Jacob Ngaribvume and others.

All these political parties exist but we need to evaluate the potential of each political party and the value they are likely to add to the alliance. It is a very critical assessment that needs to be done.
 
EM: Other political parties have accused you and Mujuru of snubbing them in coalition negotiations. They accuse you of being complacent and that you see yourselves as the only parties that matter, can you respond to the allegations?

MT: First of all, we are not arrogant, otherwise why should we be talking to all these parties? We see the need for an alliance, the only problem is that some people feel that in an alliance-building process, we should be equal.

How do you say you are equal when you are not equal? It is a realistic assessment, but what I want to tell you is that we respect every party and we respect every leader.

The coalition is not about individuals, but it is about what the people on the ground have been crying for. I see that there are people who would like to put positions in the media, like we will not do this and that, now that is not the way to negotiate.

You negotiate on the basis of your strength, you negotiate on the basis of what you will bring to the alliance. It is a practical reality and it is not arrogance.

EM: Do you think opposition parties will form a coalition against Mugabe before the 2018 harmonised elections?

MT: The prospects are there and I must say, let us make a distinction between an alliance before the election and a post-election coalition because those two are different.

We believe that we can build a pre-election pact of individual parties working together to have one presidential candidate, one parliamentary candidate. in other words, the selection agreement we are going to craft out must not allow for divisions and splitting of votes.

If party "A" is stronger in an area, we must all support [that candidate]. That is the way to approach it, rather than have a self-serving exercise just because you are a party and therefore you are entitled to so many seats.

That will be counterproductive and problematic in the negotiations.

EM: Some observers say even a coalition cannot break Mugabe's hegemony if the electoral playing field is not levelled. do you think so?

MT: I agree with that. The National Election Reform Agenda (Nera) was a good platform to campaign for conditions before positions, that is why we are clear that there are some minimum conditions, like a voters' roll which is credible, questions of voter registration, the biometric voters' roll, the avoidance of voter suppression through traditional leaders and food — all those things are very important if we are going to have a level playing field.

EM: You appointed two more vice-presidents last year after you disclosed your health status. Most people immediately thought the appointments were an admission that you have lost the battle against cancer? Would you mind disclosing your current health status?

MT: Contrary to the speculation at that time, you can see for yourself I am just as healthy as you are. I have just come from an assessment in South Africa. The scan showed positive results.

The doctor was very happy about the progress I am making and I thank God that I have gone through this process at a time other people were sentencing me to death. Premature determination!

I want to assure Zimbabweans that I am very well and on a speedy recovery and the doctor is very happy with the progress.

EM: There have been allegations of factionalism in your party. Some have gone to the extent of alleging that your party is divided along Zanu-PF lines. Your comment on that.

MT: Well, if there is factionalism, what is it based on? It should be based on something and as far as I am concerned, there is no factionalism in MDC based on Zanu-PF influence.

If there are individuals who want to be involved in Zanu-PF factions, it is very unfortunate because as far as we are concerned, we have a very strong united position on how we are going to tackle the issues we are confronted with.

We cannot afford, as MDC, to be involved in factional divisive politics that has destroyed Zanu-PF.

EM: Some people have proposed a transitional government for economic and political stability. What is your view on that?

MT: As the MDC, we are open to any solution to a political stalemate. In fact, in 2014 I called for a national dialogue because I realised where the country was going and that without national dialogue, there was no way you could pull this country through.
 
EM: Villagers from Matabeleland last week warned you that your lieutenants would threaten a coalition because of selfish interests that include preservation of posts? How are you going to deal with the problem?
MT: First and foremost, I want to say that the party has set out a policy and I am responsible for implementation of the policy. During my consultation, I was impressed with the input of the people.

I must say there will always be a minority with a different perspective because this is politics.
It is very unfortunate when people express their own personal views and not express the national policy position of the party.

However, as the leader of the party, I am there to ensure that my mandate to negotiate an alliance succeeds in line with the national sentiment. I cannot betray that.

I may have to override certain personal views because we have to look at the bigger picture which can bring change to the people of Zimbabwe.

There are people who are saying the MDC is seeking an alliance because it failed to dislodge Mugabe on its own. That is not true.

We have won elections before and I think an alliance may enhance our opportunity to have that transfer [of power]; not because of the vote, but because of the perception, then we do that and I want to ensure that we will make sure that alliance takes place.

EM: Some members of your party have proposed that a coalition should only be done in some regions and not others like the southern regions where the party has "scored success" since the 2000 elections, what do you say about that?
MT: I am not going to balkanise the country. During my trip to Matabeleland, I emphasised the fact that we want to build a society which takes into consideration that they have multi-ethnic and multicultural diversity so that people feel they are part of the same country without marginalisation.

I feel that the people of Matabeleland want to be part of Zimbabwe as well, so there is no way we can balkanise people and say these ones are like this and those ones are like that.

The issue of alliance building has nothing to do with regions and regional consideration. it is a national project. we will have balkanised the nation to the point where we talk of ethnic affiliation and that is an antithesis of the policy of the MDC.

One thing that struck me when I was in Matabeleland was the desire for the country to put a closure to these divisions.

They want to put a closure to Gukurahundi and all the other atrocities that may have taken place and they are the victims but they are the first ones to say we need a closure on this.

This is what has to happen and I agree with them, and I think the politics of ethnicity, while it will always characterise our politics because of the nationalists, I think we should move away from the politics of ethnicity and move to the politics of meritocracy with anyone in this country, saying I am a Zimbabwean and I want to contest for the presidency of the country and so on.

We are not going to approach the alliance discussions from an ethnic point, we are going to define it from a national perspective

EM: Considering that there is that minority in your party which has its own views on the proposed coalition that do not agree with your own views, don't you think they will put spanners in the works?  How are you going to handle them?

MT: We always have spanners in the works in the political discourse of this country, but the fundamental issue is being able to achieve the goal of the liberation of this country.

I am informed by national interests, not personal interests. The broader objective of ensuring that we are able to deliver the people from the current system is what is going to occupy me when I meet other leaders.  I will say; how do you make sure that we achieve the bigger picture, not just the narrow personal interests?

EM: Of interest is that the people suggest positions contrary to yours are in the party's decision-making body that mandated you to negotiate for an alliance. What do you think is the source of the contradictions?

MT: That is not the character of the MDC, the MDC always takes a policy position and I am responsible for implementing the policy position. I would urge all members of the MDC to use the organs of the party to express individual opinions because in the end when collective decisions are made, we are all bound by them despite our individual opinions.

We are all bound by what the highest organs of the party have decided but it does not mean that we suppress those individual opinions.

Of course, they should be expressed and we are very tolerant, but we would appreciate it if they used the right platforms to express their opinions.

We do not negotiate through the media and members are urged to avoid commenting on issues to do with the alliance outside our agreement.

After all, I am the chief spokesperson on the alliance building process so we want to make sure that whatever individual opinions are expressed on the right platform

EM: A lot of your party members seem uncomfortable coalescing with Mujuru's party, claiming it is made up of people formerly from Zanu-PF who once tortured them. what do you say about that?

MT: I am aware of that sentiment. I am aware when I go to some parts where violence took place during elections, but you do not negotiate with your friends. [Ian] Smith and [President Robert] Mugabe went to Lancaster, were they friends? You negotiate to end a crisis and that is my objective.

It means we have to negotiate with Mujuru's group for the sake of putting this country forward. as I said before, you cannot build a future on past atrocities, you have to build a future by defining the parameters of where you want to take this country.

We are talking about how we can take this country forward, not backwards, otherwise if we do so, there are so many issues that are unresolved.

We will be busy discussing the past when we are supposed to define the future. Yes, I accept there will be those sentiments expressed against ZimPF for past misdeeds, but this is the time to bury that and move forward.

EM: What is your party's position on taking part in next year's elections in light of your boycott of polls demanding electoral reforms?

MT: First of all, let me clarify the position. we were fighting for "no reforms no elections" and I think there has been some significant movement in achieving the basics we want. Why do I say that? If you look at ZEC [the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission], there are moves to set up committees, nine of them that will look at voter registration. look at all the areas that we are concerned about so all those committees will go a long way in dealing with some of the omissions.

Secondly, I think that we will be taking some of the issues to court, like the refusal by ZBC to air opposition views and to open up the media space. We also know that Zanu-PF's character of violence may actually have an impact of suppressing voter choice but we are working on those areas, so yes, we are making progress which is not total but we think it can go a long way to mitigate some of the excesses and give us space to participate. Indeed, we are going to participate in the 2018 elections.

EM: In 2008, you claimed that you won the elections whose results were announced after more than a month. If you win in 2018, do you have mechanisms in place to protect your victory?

MT: There are lessons from the 2008 elections. You can win an election but cannot win power, so the critical thing is not just about winning an election but ensuring that we have put a mechanism that will allow smooth transfer of power.

It involves confidence-building measures that an election victory for the MDC, for those that are resisting change, must know that we have no intention of retribution or of vengeance, that we want everyone to believe that when we are in government we are setting a process of confidence for every Zimbabwean across the political divide.

It means that we are appealing; we are sending a message to those that will resist change because of past misdeeds.

This is why an alliance is very important; it will give confidence to those that are resisting change, that the future is for all of us.

Those confidence-building measures may assist us to unlock those resistances and I am engaging the war veterans and all institutions that may have been very reluctant and sceptical about an MDC government on policy direction that we are outlining.
 
EM: What is your message to President Mugabe today?

MT: Mugabe has to make a choice for the sake of his legacy. First, from the point that he is the founding president of independent Zimbabwe, he has to choose between being considered a hero or a villain. It is his choice. I have always said knowing him, I know he would like to have a very positive assessment of his legacy and he has to do the right thing, which I think is not to participate in the next election, open up the space, allow the Zimbabweans to make the next move of defining the future rather than being entrapped in the nationalist basket. It is time to retire.

EM: Some people have suggested that the main reason why he wants to stick around is that he is afraid of retributive action from the MDC if they win the election.

MT: I have no intention of engaging in retribution, regardless of the fact that we were victims.

Retribution creates victims, it begets violence, it creates retribution so it becomes a vicious circle.

What I can assure you is that there is no intention on our part to victimise his family or himself.

An old man of that age, I think it is unAfrican to continue pursuing that man to the grave.

My message is very simple, let go [and] don't undermine your legacy, which we all want because we cannot rewrite history.

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