Zimbabwe’s Mujuru: We don’t want to look like we’ll cause a coup
A liberation war hero with the ambition to lead Zimbabwe’s opposition, Comrade Joice Mujuru is a leading contender in the struggle to drive 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe and his party from power. As the economy heads for another crash in the coming months, Zimbabweans are taking to the streets to demand political change.
Confronting the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), now riven into quarrelling factions, opposition parties have a new confidence. Some want to compel the government to cede power to a national transitional authority to carry out reforms before national elections due in 2018.
Mujuru, who was pushed out of ZANU-PF by rivals in 2015, is a new star in the opposition, alongside long-standing members Morgan Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube. In August, she walked hand-in-hand with Tsvangirai in an opposition march through the streets of Gweru.
Although Mujuru brings liberation-fighter and street credibility to the opposition, her three decades of service to the ruling party and Mugabe make her suspect in the eyes of many activists. But that same history could persuade voters to switch allegiance – as she did – from ZANU-PF to the opposition.
Much will depend on the unity and credibility of the opposition, and the extent to which it can get political reforms and fairer elections. In Europe in October to meet members of the diaspora, Mujuru talked to The Africa Report about her political values and strategy.
TAR: The country faces an economic meltdown, and the government is trying to borrow from the International Monetary Fund. Do you support that?
Joice Mujuru: One thing that is worrying the Zimbabweans, not just us in the opposition, is how honest and how transparent will they [ZANU-PF] be as government once they are given those billions of dollars? Will they use them for the intended purpose or will they divert them to their own liking? That’s the biggest question.
We had a diamond boom, we have gold in our country and industries are still doing business. So where is the money going? And he [President Robert Mugabe] said: “I don’t know where the $15bn [in diamond sales] went.”
We would be okay on our own, why would we need international monies? We would have paid the debt without anyone coming to our aid.
The crisis is deepening. Can the people of Zimbabwe hang on until 2018?
The government’s response is a crackdown. That’s what he [Mugabe] knows best. For sure, he will come after the opposition parties. This is not to say the opposition parties cannot come together, starting from discussing the situation in which an election can be held. Opposition parties have already come together to produce a document, which has been presented to government, saying which areas should be worked out before elections are called.
A lot of people are asking for how long can we remain in this situation. Can we really survive until 2018? We don’t want to look like we are going to cause a coup. We want to follow the constitutional way of doing things. ZANU-PF is no longer a government that you can rely upon. We have spoken about how the economy has been run down. It’s un-Zimbabwean to see people […] demonstrating against government.
Oh, yeah, because our people are usually peaceful people […] and to push them onto the streets to start denigrating their leader […]. People want peace. That’s what has made Zimbabwe.
You were near the top of ZANU-PF for over 30 years. What made you change?
You should be able to give each other a chance, understand that you can hold different views, tolerate each other, work together and agree to disagree but still move on. Beating and killing – that’s not right. And I’ve been complaining about that – even when I was in ZANU-PF. Being a freedom fighter, we treasured good relationships with the masses, the very same masses that we fought for. You need to educate them so that they understand your policies, your principles. And discuss differences. I am different from ZANU-PF because I tolerate.
You have said you don’t have a problem with vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa. Does he have a problem with you?
I’m sure his problem is male ego. When he came to join this struggle [in Zimbabwe] in 1978, I was already a member of the [ZANU] central committee and national executive. But he wants to bring in what he was in the 1960s, which never had an impact because he was arrested before he could do anything and jailed by Ian Smith. And his parents came and demanded [his release because] he was underage and he was Zambian. He went to Zambia, he went into hiding and carried on with his education. Some of our commanders approached him when he was at the University of Zambia […] and he refused.
But he is unelectable simply because during Gukurahundi [mass killings in Matabeleland] he was the right-hand man of Mugabe in this Fifth Brigade, which was not part of the army.
Does your party have nationalist credibility?
We never fought a colour, we never fought for a region. We fought for the independence of everybody who calls Zimbabwe home. And that’s why Mugabe can’t really find a strong point to denigrate Zimbabwe People First. We have decided first of all to commit ourselves, build the party on our own. Yes, we have whites amongst us, but they are part of us.
What do you think of Morgan Tsvangirai as an opposition leader? Can you work with him?
As People First, we respect Tsvangirai. He helped us because our fear and our respect [for Mugabe] really damaged us. We could not be bold the way Tsvangirai was, but I respect him for that. We know the strengths and weaknesses of each party. Tsvangirai’s strength resonates with you outsiders, not with Zimbabweans. […] But with [our strength], they have now seen that it’s Zimbabwean. The war veterans understand what was missing in Tsvangirai’s outfit. [… We are] now mapping out which areas and what we can start working on together. So the confidence is there but we are now saying let’s move on and give each other trust, and this trust has to be built slowly but surely.