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Zimbabwe: “You can have change without shedding blood” says Tsvangirai

By Patrick Smith in Harare
Posted on Thursday, 4 August 2011 13:49

After two years of power-sharing, Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is confident of victory in Zimbabwe’s next elections, but he remains conscious of the need to reach agreement with military leaders and other factions jostling for influence.

This is the first of a pair of abridged transcripts from interviews by our editor-in-chief Patrick Smith with the two leaders of rival factions of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Coming soon, an interview with Welshman Ncube, Zimbabwe’s trade & industry minister and leader of the MDC-N party.

Patrick Smith: Has there been much progress on the reform of the Global Political Agreement (GPA)?

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: No, we have been talking about national security policy. Up to now there’s not been any agreement. We hope to conclude on that. There is a structure called the National Security Council which has been discussing these security matters. But by and large, over a period, over the last six months, it has become now imperative that we need to go deeper than just national security policy. It involves realignment of these institutions in terms of the multi-party democratic dispensation that we are trying to create.

Have you been able to push through much restructuring of the civil service since the Global Political Agreement got off the ground?

No there is no agreement. That has been quite frustrating because the audit was undertaken and they revealed some gaps in terms of the validity of some of the employees in the civil service. People are trying to be bureaucratic about it instead of just making a decision about the 38,000 people who should not be on the salary bill. Our civil service is about 200,000 with the 38,000 as ghost workers and the remainder to 75,000 not properly deployed. If a decision would be made to eliminate ghost workers that would go a long way in relieving the pressure on the fiscus.

What about security on the ground and the concern about the levels of violence?

Yes, we are expressing that. That matter is also getting the attention of the National Security Council. But it would appear that there is a conflict between policy and operational directives. In which case, the policy may say that these institutions are non-partisan, but at an operational level, at various levels, some of the security operatives have taken the law into their own hands especially on perceived political opponents. Instead of working as a government. That is causing a lot of problems – like the arrest of ministers some of which was done not because it’s in the best interests of the country.

What channels are there to address that?

This is a political challenge, it has nothing to do with what the law. It can only be dealt with politically. There has to be political will on all parties, to desist from those extreme measures. And to do anything that might undermine the integrity of the Government of National Unity.

Can you raise that at the National Security Council and what sort of response have you had?

We await that investigation, but we know what the conclusion would be. No one will be found guilty.

When senior military officers say they will never recognise an MDC government, how do you react?

Why should it concern me? When such statements are issued they’re against policy, and they are against the accepted norm and standards of a military. How do you get a third ranking, fourth ranking army brigadier making [a] statement? The question is not an MDC or ZANU-PF government. The question is that to what extent are these institutions loyal to the civilian authority, as represented by the mandate of the people. If there’s no respect for that, then who are you despising? You’re despising the will of the people…then where do you get your legitimacy?

There is a feeling of election fever in the country at the moment. What’s happening on the part of ZANU-PF? Under your arrangement, can either one of you precipitate an election, by pulling out of the GPA?

Well, if there is a collapse of government, it will precipitate action that may lead to collapse of the GNU [Government of National Unity], it may lead to an election. It’s not automatic, you have to go to Parliament and repeal all those laws that created the GNU and the conditions for coalition.

That’s why, in terms of some of the rhetoric from ZANU-PF, in substance it does not mean anything. Because if you say we’re going to have an election this year when you know that to have an election there are certain processes that have to be undertaken.

Unless they are going to do something unilaterally and illegally. Only then can the role of the MDC be totally disregarded…Depending on the circumstances we’re not going to allow a situation where ZANU-PF defines how election conditions should be. It has to be conditions that are acceptable to all parties.

Would that include an electoral commission that meets your requirements?

Yes, but there’s a new constitution, there’s a referendum, there’s implementation of that constitution, and maybe there’s a need to look at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, its independence, the registration of voters, including voters in the diaspora in the region. Then of course it has to involve the issue of delineation of the constituencies. Above all, the election must be conducted in a free and fair environment, not in a violent environment.

Do you think the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are taking a tougher line with Zimbabwe?

We have noticed a significant recognition of not allowing ZANU-PF to get away with everything. And that they needed to asset themselves as SADC in terms of what shall be done and what shall not be done. So I think that assertiveness has helped to indicate a shift you have indicated.

What do you want to see happen at the next SADC meeting in Angola in August?

I’m sure that the next SADC Summit will push Zimbabwe to adopt a roadmap, with full timelines. The negotiators are negotiating that and whilst that is being finalised the report is going to be tabled for SADC to adopt. We should by then [the summit] have an indication when elections are possible.

The Finance Minister at the African Development Bank meeting said it could be another year at least. Does that sound realistic?

I’ve always said that I don’t think that we could have an election I would say the first quarter, now I’ve had to revise it to almost second quarter of next year. At the earliest.

On the constitution, how much agreement is there between yourselves and ZANU-PF and all the other parties on the fundamental changes to be made?

I’m sure that on the fundamental issues about 60-70% of them are straightforward, there is consensus. But we differ slightly on other fundamental issues. But those are not constitutional disputes. There are disputes around land, we are pushing for a Land Commission and a Land Act. An independent Land Commission, which will have to rationalise the multiple farm ownership that has been the result of this haphazard farm land reform that has taken place. They are pushing for long term leases.

There is a whole dispute around capital punishment. We don’t believe in it but ZANU-PF do. I’ve not drawn any particular list [of the offences] but I think they range from scolding the president, to all ridiculous levels.

What about policy to freedom of expression, media organisation?

That will be contained in the Bill of Rights and I think that people are straightforward on that. Then there’s a dispute around an Executive President, and Executive Prime Minister, mostly interpreted through the current existence of the government, in which you have a President and a Prime Minister. So depending on who you talk to, it may be an interpretation, is this working or is this not working. I think everyone agrees that whether you have an executive or ceremonial resident, there have to be time limits.

Do you think the idea of sharing power between a President and a Prime Minister works?

The French have tried it. To me, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you place your executive authority. The person must have executive authority, but cannot abuse it without being answerable to some check. In this case parliament and the judiciary will be very important institutions of state to counter the excess executive power.

Do you think that going into a coalition was worth it?

I think essentially it was a good decision. The country was on the precipice and I think across the political divide this inclusive government has the support of the people. It was good to have a transitional arrangement but then extending it beyond two years opened the inclusive government to attack, because of lack of delivery. It was never meant to be a delivery instrument anyway. It was meant to contain a deteriorating situation on the economy, and on certain reforms that were necessary, and then to go to a legitimate election.

Now, you can see, even in the last six months, that the frustration expresses itself in the various discord in the government. So the longer we extend the transitional government the more we are undermining whatever good the transitional government may have achieved. Which is quite substantive, quite notable progress has been made. But when people start talking about jobs and economic growth, then the conflict, in terms of policy conflict in the inclusive government, undermines the confidence in the inclusive government. It undermines investment and growth potential.

So like I say, I think the transitional government has overstayed its welcome. I think two years would have been the envisaged end of it. But because of these steps it may go beyond the envisaged two years to three years.

So if you’re under pressure to deliver and you’ve have problems like the President promising the civil service a hike in salary despite the lack of resources, does it become a political issue?

It becomes a very constraining factor, in which from the same government you are sending different messages. And the only people who are caught in-between are the poor civil servants. In the end, the fact is let’s get the money, get us the diamond mining, let us remove excess labour. Then we were able to give the Minister of Finance room to manoeuvre; it’s simple. But some people like to twist and like to apply pressure on the Minister of Finance as if he’s refusing the money. And yet he’s not.

Following the violence in 2008 after the presidential elections, how is the country’s morale?

One thing I can tell you is that no one wants to go back to 2008. Across the political divide, people can say yes, we don’t believe the inclusive government has delivered to our expectation. But certainly we cannot go back to 2008.

There has been violence in some areas of the country, are asking SADC to send monitors there?

SADC now is going to send a team, which is going to work with JOMIC, the monitoring committee, and any incident of violence or abuse will be monitored by that. They [JOMIC] are intervening and are going there to investigate. I’m sure that with the SADC presence they may even do more. And that’s the whole intention, to mitigate those excesses.

What are the prospects of the MDC reuniting?

There’s always been a prospect of uniting all progressive anti-ZANU-PF formations. But we have tried it before; there were so many excuses and demands that we found unacceptable. Uniting the MDC against ZANU-PF isn’t a panacea for the victory for democratic movement. What is important is that there could be a basis of working together, which we would encourage. We have been very open for a long time.

I want to tell you that we won the last election, even if there was a split in the MDC. So it’s not an excuse that uniting the two formations is necessarily equals the victory. We can still win, we have the support of the people. And I think the people are not deceived by these superficial divisions that sometimes are based on individual, selfish interests and not on the collective good.

If you were to ask the smaller MDC if we differ in any policy framework you would find that there is not a huge difference. To me it will always be essential to have peace talks; at the appropriate time we will talk to them and find out whether they still feel that they can go it alone. Now they have retreated to be regional party; so I don’t think that is healthy for uniting the people. So we will have to put that into consideration, as to whether they want to be a national flag or.

The democratic movement is not something that is just confined to the MDC. You have the whole civil society there; people who want to see democracy restored in the country. We have been working very hard to democratise the country and we have champions there, we can work with them.

Is it possible that you could co-operate with Dumiso Dabengwa’s organisation [Zimbabwe African People’s Union] and Simba Makoni’s party [Mavambo Dawn Kusile]?

We have always said that we can cooperate with those political formations because they want what we’re also fighting for. There’s no fundamental difference except maybe personalities.

There is a lot of speculation about President Mugabe’s health. How serious do you think the problem is?

President Mugabe’s health is a matter of national concern. He’s not getting any younger. But I think the biggest failing is not about his health, it’s about a clear succession plan within ZANU-PF. That is the crisis. Because if there was a clear succession plan there would be no worry. People die, they know that. But if he leaves it in a political vacuum it then creates problems for the country. So that is the concern. His health for a man of his age fluctuates. There are days when he is strong, there are days when he also is not.

Would you want to running a country when you are 87?

Certainly not. I’d rather be playing with my grandchildren and doing what is best in the last remaining days of my life. Look, it’s his choice, but I think it’s an ill-advised choice. There are moments when he could have ran on legacy. Now he’s eroding some of the positive aspects of his legacy. And that to me is one that is worrying- to the extent that the country’s future is held to ransom by one individual, that it undermines confidence in the country.

Have you spoken to President Mugabe about his future and is there a risk of chaos if he suddenly leaves power?

Yes, I’ve talked to him. His excuse is that he needs to make sure his party is strong, but he’s also worried about the degree of deep divisions, irreconcilable divisions, within his own party. So that in itself is a matter of concern.

There are constitutional measures, the vice-president takes over for a while, then we go to an election. That is the constitutional position. I can’t foresee any situation in which there would be any measures to try to undermine that.

There will not be any constitutional crisis, because there is a constitution that takes care of that eventuality.

People say if you mobilised your support after the 2002 elections and went on the streets, you’d be now sitting on your legacy for ten years of a presidency. What do you say to that?

That’s just an armchair criticism. Circumstances dictate the behaviour of any particular situation. I think that at that time, ZANU-PF was not ready to transfer power. I think the transition has given them some degree of confidence that there can be a future beyond just being in power. So the circumstances were different.

I think the time has been well spent. Can you imagine that ZANU-PF and the MDC would sit down in the Cabinet and talk about this national programmes before? The only thing is that it needs to be transcended outside the Cabinet camaraderie into the structures outside, which then creates this competitive spirit, sometimes that is associated with elections.

So I think the country has gone through the soft landing process. And I have no doubt that putting people on the streets may have won us that victory but it would have been bloodshed.

What is your response to the claims made by ZANU-PF that the MDC are western-backed?

That’s just propaganda. The crisis in this country has nothing to do with Western influence. We just happen to be an alternative to them. They put a flag, a nationalist flag, to say “we are more nationalistic than these people”. But what kept on surprising them is that the party that they were accusing of being Western backed and being a puppet, is the one that has got the support of the majority of the people.

In spite of the beatings and violence and killings that have taken place, the people still are hanging on in confidence in the MDC. But now everyone realises that the crisis in Zimbabwe is nothing to do with white or black, it is everything to do with misgovernance and abuse of the rule of law. That’s what it is all about.

When we won the election in March 2008, they [other African leaders] were convinced that we had won and that’s why they said they couldn’t recognise what Mugabe had done in June 2008.

Since you decided not to take your battle onto the streets after the 2002 elections you have been a stronger defender of constitutional politics in Zimbabwe. Do you think it’s worked?

It’s been an extraordinary path, I must say, because in Africa every conflict must end up with bloodshed. We have chosen the non-violent route. It’s quite uncharacteristic of all changes in Africa. So if we succeed maybe we will have set a precedent that you can still have change without necessarily shedding blood. It’s very difficult.

Where do you want Zimbabwe to be in five years time?

I’m hoping that we will look back over the last ten years and say it was a wasted opportunity. I think in five years time we should be in the reconstruction phase. The agenda for Zimbabwe is the recapitalisation agenda, the reconstruction agenda, that’s the future.

Democratic rule would be one of the yardsticks. Have we improved the lives of people according to their aspirations or have we also descended into the same power abuses that ZANU-PF has been characterised by for the last 20, 30 years.

I think we [MDC] have enough checks and balances. I think we have built in sufficient protection against abuses by any individual.

If you win the next presidential elections how will you deal with the opposition of the military and intelligence chiefs?

At this stage it’s a very delicate subject. We need to balance between the fears of the perpetrators of violence that has caused traumatic experiences in this country for the last 30 years. And the anxiety and the concerns of the victims, who have been at the exposure of this. So I think you need to navigate through those concerns.

I think the international community will be on the side of the people. They’ll be on the side of the people. They will give legitimacy to any government that is elected freely and fairly. I’m sure that there will be massive support to that new dispensation.

I think, to be honest, there will be a need to have another post-transition transition. We don’t want to go into a coalition again. Then that undermines the thrust of the Party and its philosophy. But maybe find measures just temporarily to bridge the divide.

An edited version of this interview was published in the August-September 2011 edition of The Africa Report. For more on the battle over setting an election date, read the introduction to our country focus on Zimbabwe.

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