Zimbabwe has in the past month witnessed peaceful protests and violent riots sparked by police’s unprovoked heavyhandedness as disgruntled citizens press for President Robert Mugabe’s resignation.
the big interview BY XOLISANI NCUBE & OBEY MANAYITI
The country’s leading opposition party, MDC-T, has played a prominent role since staging one the biggest protests against Mugabe’s rule in April.
The party’s leaders including its vice-presidents Nelson Chamisa (NC) and, Elias Mudzuri (EM) have been leading from the front. The two last week spoke to our reporters Xolisani Ncube and Obey Manayiti (SR) on Friday after another showdown with the police on what the party seeks to achieve through the protests.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
SR: We are seeing protests escalating each day and they are turning violent. Do you think that one day Mugabe will give in to pressure and respond to the people’s demands?
NC: He has no choice but to do so. People have been whispering their discontent and now it has just grown bigger and got vocalised and in the process it becomes unstoppable.
People are beginning to speak out. For too long people have been patient with a very reckless government. The guys in charge of the affairs of this government have not shown the humility to listen to the people; instead, they have shown the arrogance towards the plight of the people. I can tell you that what you are seeing is unstoppable; it is just a new beginning.
EM: This is the start of anger expression by our people. This regime has been eating and feasting on the future and well-being of our people, but time is now and indeed now that the people have come to say, enough is enough. The endgame of the protest is a new Zimbabwe which is just miles away from sight.
This government does not have the capacity and resources to sojourn until 2018. The people’s anger is uncontrollable even with death you can’t really contain an unemployed, hungry youth.
No baton stick or teargas will stop the anger. instead it will pile pressure and cause it to explode like what is happening now. It’s really unto Mugabe and his regime to respond or to be kicked out of power by the masses.
SR: What is your reaction to the way the State has been responding to these protests?
NC: Well, the response by government has been very brutal, uncouth and very unforgivable. It has been characterised by human rights abuses and wanton violation of the law.
But this is also helping strengthen the resolve of the suffering masses. These people you are seeing have an elasticity limit. Their silence should not be mistaken for cowardice.
It’s only fools like those in Zanu PF who will think that Zimbabweans are cowards when in actual fact, they have bravely waited for reckless people to sort out their mess in the hope that things will change.
The same people today in government once regarded as normal the colonialist regime before they realised that it was not normal to live under oppression. They decided to go into the battlefield and fought a battle which they won today.
They have themselves become oppressors of ordinary people and these are the masses who are saying enough of this barbaric nonsense.
This is just a reincarnation of the armed struggle, but the unfortunate part is that this time around, it is a black person oppressing a fellow black citizen.
Whatever citizens are doing now shows that they have nothing to lose.
They blame everything on Mugabe and they are just saying give us our futures back, so the question that these protests endanger our people is neither here nor there. Imagine a woman who spends nights without food, what can she lose when she fights for her food other than belittling and exposing the regime? For the people, their future is forgone and now is the time to draw a line in the sand and demand it back.
The people are saying we would rather die fighting for our democracy than to die oppressed by Mugabe and his regime.
The liberation spirit has been revitalised and now it is fighting those we once regarded liberators.
Those who make a peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution and this is what the Zanu PF government is doing. For many people today have realised that their future is not a gift. It is an achievement which they will fight for against an oppressive regime.
This is not just about political parties, it’s about students, it’s about pastors, it’s about war veterans, and it’s about the women in the market place and in rural areas. It’s about every Zimbabwean, hence they are saying they need an audience with those in power. It’s unfortunate that Mugabe is clueless; he has nothing to offer to the people.
EM: Let me tell you this, for most of these youths, dying is better than living under an oppressive regime of Mugabe. If you were to converse with the ordinary folks in the streets, they will tell you that time has come for us to take up the destiny and determine its trajectory. The people have reached a point of no return.
The blame is on government. It is failing to respond in a humane manner to legitimate demands by the people and we can’t be held accountable for that.
The state has an obligation to safeguard its citizens even those who oppose it. So, when they kill, surely history will catch up with them. When all is said and done, what I can tell you is that, whatever action the state takes, if it does not respond to the demands of the people, it’s an accelerator to the revolution.
This is a revolution of clear demands justifiably so. Martin Luther King months before his assassination offered his thoughts on the type of civil unrest that devolves into violence and looting, saying: “It would be morally irresponsible for him to condemn violence without at the same time, condemning the intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention”. And I must say here that a riot is the language of the unheard. Until Mugabe learns to listen to the people, these riots will be a permanent feature in Zimbabwe.
No amount of intimidation will cow these unemployed youths. You can kill one today but the idea and consequence of hunger and starvation coupled with the murder of one of theirs, will surely force many more to go into the streets to wage a fight against the oppressor.
If there’s any question — in this time of high unemployment — as to whether the same can be said about the riots plaguing parts of Zimbabwe in the past weeks, one needs only look at where they are occurring — urban areas where people are saying enough of it. Soon the rural folk will join.
SR: In the event that these demonstrations succeed in removing Mugabe from power, do you have a mechanism of power transfer in a peaceful and orderly manner?
NC: Definitely yes. We can’t demand power without a mechanism of ensuring its transfer is peaceful and orderly.
But, and I say but, the fundamentals are that, we have to solve the crisis now before we talk about power transfer. We have an economy to revive; we have the aspect of reconciliation to foster among our people who for long have been subjected to brutality by the regime. The power transfer mechanism is what we are working on because we know that Zanu PF won’t last the mile. Our leadership from all political parties in Zimbabwe is working on a transition mechanism to ensure that we can have legitimate elections in Zimbabwe.
EM: From an MDC-T point of view, we are ready to govern anytime, but obviously we have to work with other democratic parties so that we take this country forward. Again, we can’t talk about elections without the reforms we want. These reforms will help us build the confidence and create a level playing field in our electoral process. The demands are good for everyone and indeed good for Mugabe himself.
SR: But do you think Mugabe can agree to reforms that would make him lose power?
NC: Zimbabwe is not for one person. It’s not for one individual but for all of us including our grandchildren. He must know that we are fighting to building a country that will benefit not only himself but even his grandson.
EM: Ian Smith thought he was invincible, but the idea of change made him history. Mugabe has been given an opportunity either to side with history or be with the people. If I was him, I would be with the people in fighting for a better Zimbabwe than be part of history. He risks going Smith’s way, I say so because you can fight individuals not a resolve of an idea whose time has come. The sharpest criticism often goes hand-in-hand with the deepest idealism and love of country. This is what we are giving to Mugabe today.
SR: Your last words to your supporters and government.
NC: To the toiling masses waging a brutal fight against an oppressive regime, let me quote philosophers and say let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of Zanu PF’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each one of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts, we will be writing the history of a generation. We have to stand firm and tell this regime that. To the government, power is of two kinds: one is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment. Mugabe must know where his power is derived from. At first this government ignored its people, laughed at them then they are fighting them but at the end of it all, the people will win.
EM: Nothing is more frustrating than knowing you have a billion-dollar idea — but not a penny to put it into action. But it is more dangerous not act on that idea… the people have an opportunity to fight this and I know they will win. It’s time we buried our differences as Zimbabweans and confront the common enemy — Zanu P. -The Standard