Appealing to Zimbabwe’s ‘forgotten’ rural areas, Maxwell Shumba makes his ZimFirst party all-inclusive

In an effort to stand out from the new political parties on the scene, Maxwell Shumba, the founder of ZimFirst party, says he is appealing to all Zimbabweans, but has made a point of launching party intiatives in rural Zimbabwe in order to create an all-inclusive party. He speaks to RFI about the road to the 2018 elections, the party’s involvement in the electoral reform public protests, and the issues he has with former Zimbabwe vice president Joice Mujuru.

By Laura Angela Bagnetto

How would you describe ZimFirst?

It’s a unique party. We recognize that Zimbabwe has had perennial problems with presidents, party presidents who do not want to leave office. So, we uniquely place ZimFirstto be the first party which will have a campaign team as a stand alone…so that in subsequent years, other future leaders can come out and launch their campaign beyond Dr. Shumba. We are moving towards 2018, we are getting a lot of traction, we have the road map for 2018 and we have gained international credibility.

You have launched your party in the rural areas, not in Harare, or Bulawayo. What is the significance of this?

Traditionally, the rural areas are a second thought. People go to them when it’s election time, so we think we are different. Last week we had an event in a rural centre where we launched another initiative, the “SpeakOut.” We put a lot of importance to the people who are the majority, in fact, the majority living in abject poverty. In that rural village, when nine people lost their lives in one day in the revolutionary war, the so-called Chimurenga War, nine of them were freedom fighters. Twenty-nine were villagers, including my sister. But when we got independence, we never saw any of the Zanu-Pf leaders. They didn’t come to console us, or even to hear the stories—you know, the trauma. The village was traumatized. Up to now, no one has ever visited us. My father, my uncle, they died… that’s why we launched our party in rural Murewa [ndlr: Zihundi village in Murewa]. There’s a lot of significance. The roads are dilapidated…despite independence, we still have unfulfilled promises. For us, the revolution was a betrayed revolution and we wanted to showcase that.

It seems that although your party came out last year, former Zimbabwe vice president Joice Mujuru took the same name of your political party. Can you tell us what is the issue behind your party’s name and her party’ name?

In 2014, after Joice had been chucked out of Zanu-Pf, I coined the Zimbabwe First National Convergence. I tasked the people to approach everyone on the political scene and civil society, and we approached Joice. And from Joice I ended up having direct contact with Didymus Mutasa. Around March they came to me through Mutasa, claiming that the hierarchy had met and claiming that they wanted to create something called Zanu People First—Zanu from them and People First from me. They were hoping to erase or reverse the outcome of their previous congress. I told them no—ZimbabweFirst, Country First, People First was a novel concept that we did not want to associate with any previous name. Joice being Joice, a VP who is used to getting everything, they just continued without due regard. At first they called themselves Zanu People First. To the disgust of our members, they were taking everything. Their manifesto was a copy-paste from our manifesto. They decided to build brick-by-brick—they took everything from us.

And remember, we launched on September 26, 2015. Country First, People First, ZimbabweFirst is on everything—on our logo, our documents. I even told them earlier that they needed to leave our name alone. But Joice is used to getting what she wants by using political power. That’s the ZanuPf we’re trying to fight. It’s also an indication that she has not changed. So when they launched their party in March 2016, it was like we never existed. As ZimFirst, as much as people are pushing for a coalition of political parties, ZimFirst will never be in a coalition with Joice Mujuru. Mujuru’s party is ‘Mujuru’s Party’ until they find a name.

Is the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) pushing for a change in Zimbabwe electoral laws also a priority for ZimFirst?

The push for electoral reform is a priority for Zimfirst. A collective effort is need to push Mugabe to enact electoral reform but a political coalition is far from it. The National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) is an alliance of political parties which have agreed in principle to push for electoral reform. It’s not a coalition to contest elections whatsoever. We retain our own concept of coalition going into 2018. People from all walks of life—women, professionals, the youth—they are forming a coalition in ZimFirst. We have our own concept of coalition. It’s a coalition of the people at home and abroad. We will let those who are tainted flock together. We are not going to join yesteryear leaders who have failed, who are tainted—just for the sake of unity. We are not going to sacrifice our integrity. We are not going to sacrifice the future of Zimbabwe for the sake of unity. We are on course to be the party which is going to rebuild Zimbabwe. – RFI

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