Introduction – The party’s national executive has just met, amid the context of a worsening national crisis and Zanu PF’s attempt to steal the next election, even before that election is held.
I will appraise you on these and other key issues that we have deliberated upon in the national executive, including the people’s views that I gathered during my one-and-half months’ tour of the country’s provinces since the end of January this year. Some of the people’s inputs during my tour were strategic, some informed party policy while others were exclusively internal advice to the party and I hope you will understand if I do not give you the full bouquet of the people’s views.
However, we have mainly called this press briefing to highlight some of the important national issues that are pre-occupying the party and its organs, including the national executive that has just met.
1. The brazen attempt to steal the next election
A fortnight ago, the nation was startled to hear that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, a supposedly independent Commission, had allowed the Zanu PF government to hijack the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise, in the process casting fresh doubts on the prospect for a free, fair and credible election in 2018.
Given our history of stolen elections, everyone was confident with the process in which the United Nations was involved through the UNDP.
Elections are about confidence and credibility and the involvement of the respected world body had given everyone reason to believe in the freeness, fairness and credibility of the process leading to the 2018 elections.
The government, as currently composed, constitutes of one political party. It is pertinent to note that when a government so-constituted hijacks an important process, it means simply that Zanu PF, an interested party, has unilaterally taken over the work of an independent Commission ahead of a watershed poll. This should be cause for national alarm, given how Zanu PF has in the past used violence and dubious companies such as Nikuv International Projects to steal the people’s vote.
No political party that should be allowed to unilaterally superintend an electoral process as that can only imperil or endanger the people’s will.
We are hearing more disturbing reports about what this government is doing to subvert the will of the people in the next election.For instance, we are aware of teams that have been working and training under the tutelage of a spy agency of a country that shall remain nameless for now. There is also a ploy to have NIKUV International Projects get registered under surrogate names in an attempt to enable the company to win the tender to supply the BVR kits.
If Zimbabwe proceeds to use the BVR system, which Zanu PF is not keen to do, we are also aware of plans to have Nikuv International Projects work with some named Indian companies in hacking or engaging in cyber attacks on the whole electoral system once it becomes clear that the results are not going in Zanu PF’s favour.
We are aware therefore that plans are afoot to either control or derail the BVR process, frustrate voter registration and the actual voting in perceived opposition strongholds. We know as well that there are plans to tamper with silver nitrate and other inks such as UV ink that may be used in order to fudge the result of the next election.
As a party, together with our colleagues in the broader democratic movement, we take great umbrage at the brazen hostile take-over of the electoral process by a political party when such work is solely reposed in an independent Commission. The party’s national executive has just met and I wish to restate its resolution that as a party, we will utilize all legitimate and constitutionally permissible avenues at our disposal to stop this daylight theft. Whether in the courts or in the streets, we shall fight all attempts to steal the next election and we fully endorse the resolution that we took with others under the banner of NERA to mobilize Zimbabweans for a public protest on the 22nd of March!
Indeed, come hail come high water, we will do all we can to stem the subversion of the people’s will.
As MDC, together with our colleagues in the NERA and others in the broader democratic movement, we will continue to demand from ZEC that it takes urgent steps to chlorinate the electoral process and restore national confidence.
Our demands include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. A credible voters’ roll
A credible voters’ roll is mandatory and if there is continued dithering and subversion of the biometric voter registration process, then we can ensure that prospective voters simply produce their IDs, as happened in the election of 1980.
2. Civil servants and traditional leaders to stick to their constitutional roles
There is need to redefine the role of bureaucrats and other civil servants during elections in line with the dictates of the Constitution. Those whose roles should be aligned include the police, the army and intelligence services some of whom have been stuffed into the ZEC secretariat. Apart from civil servants, it is important to re-emphasize the apolitical role of chiefs and headmen as defined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. I heard sad stories from the chiefs themselves of how they are being politicized, including making them chairpersons of the Zanu PF cell structure to make them frog-march people to influence the vote at rural polling stations.
3. Stern action on vote-buying
Vote-buying by any means should be made a serious, punishable offence. We have seen key government actors associated with Zanu PF overtly buying votes with rice and ZIMRA-confiscated items, among other vote-buying gimmicks. We saw these antics in Norton and Bikita West, as well as in Buhera where ZIMRA goods were donated at the same time when the nation was being threatened with a corpse as a Presidential candidate. Apart from being a punishable offence, vote-buying should be a basis for disqualification, even before the election is held.
4. Chlorinating the ZEC secretariat
There is urgent need to chlorinate the ZEC secretariat for it to be truly professional. The ZEC secretariat should be de-militarized and de-securotized as it is now common cause that it is heavily stuffed with members of the army, the police and the CIO. This is a key issue and even the 10 provincial officers of ZEC must be professional and must inspire confidence in all the political players.
5. Guaranteed access to the public media by all parties.
This is now a requirement in the Constitution, even where there are no elections. Media reforms remain a key electoral matter that continues to suffer from non-implementation, even where the Constitution is clear and unequivocal as stipulated in section 61 of the supreme law of the land.
6. Agreement on the printing of voting material
There is need for agreement by all parties on who is printing the ballot papers and other voting material. We have seen happening in other countries in the SADC as in the elections held in Namibia and Zambia. There is also need for a forensic testing and examination of ballot papers and other voting material before and after voting.
7. Presence of polling agents from all political parties at polling stations
Every political party must have polling agents at every polling station during the voting process.
8. Safety of candidates
All political candidates must be given the opportunity t campaign freely without fear, coercion or intimidation. Related to this, Zanu PF must disband youth officers, who mainly political agents doing party work in the wards at the expense of the State. This is highly anomalous and illegal as the taxpayer cannot be liable for agents directly carrying out Zanu PF work as is currently obtaining.
9. Diaspora Vote
It is now constitutional for every Zimbabwean to exercise his/her right to vote. The ZEC must ensure that it puts in place administrative and other mechanisms in place to ensure that every Zimbabwean, regardless of their physical location, exercises this Constitutional right.
If we really have nothing to hide, we must ensure that our polls are observed by all and sundry without preconditions—and without exclusionary tendencies towards certain observers. All observers without exception must be allowed to observe both before and after the election.
As the nation converges on a common agenda for progress, growth and development and for democracy to take hold, I wish to applaud war veterans for joining the rest of the country in making the same demands for which they fought a brutal but legitimate armed struggle against racism and repression.
We salute the ex-combatants for converging with the rest of the nation in making key national demands.
Not only are they calling for President Mugabe to step down in the interest of the country, but they have now joined the rest of the nation in the sonorous cry for democracy and for the protection of the right to vote, for which they fought and for which so many paid the ultimate price.
A message to our liberation war icons
On behalf of the party I lead, the broad democratic movement and on my own behalf, I want to assure the war veterans, ex-detainees and restrictees that Zimbabweans sincerely welcome their joining the legitimate national demand for the institution of democracy, beyond mere liberation and political independence. We sincerely welcome their withdrawal of support from the notion of one-man-rule and one-centre-of power which were never the objective of the brutal and protracted liberation struggle.
Together, let us confront those who have betrayed the ethos of that sacred war. Together, we can all complete the unfinished business of the liberation struggle. Indeed, our war veterans, with the support of the generality of our citizens, did not only fight for independence. They also fought for democracy and it was always going to be inadequate to assume the struggle was over merely upon the attainment of independence.
I promise the nation and our war veterans that some of us remain sticklers to the solemn commitments we collectively made in the Constitution, especially on the sanctity of our land and that the land reform programme is irreversible.
Fellow Zimbabweans should heed our assurance that we have no intention of stripping anyone of their land; save only to address issues of inequality in distribution and productivity on the land that genuinely belongs to us as Zimbabweans.
Some of us believe in giving beneficiaries the right to land so that this land, for which so many died, can be both an asset and a legacy that can be passed on to future generations. True, there will be rationalization in the allocation of land without any reversal of the sacred principle that Zimbabweans must own their land.
The Constitution is clear on the value we must attach to the liberation struggle and the war veterans who brought us independence through a brutal and protracted war. Their welfare and their plight are matters that we value and hold in sanctity.
Everything that is happening in our country today, including this despicable attempt to steal the next election, is a divergence from the core values and principles of the liberation struggle.
Our brothers and sisters went to war, not only to liberate the country but also to democratize it. As a nation, we have always placed a premium on the right to vote, then referred to as one-man-one-vote, itself one of the reasons the heroic people of Zimbabwe went to war. Any attack or subversion of the right to a credible vote is an assault on the ethos of the liberation struggle.
I want to assure Zimbabweans that we will do everything we can to protect their vote, even though we cannot do it alone. We appeal to all Zimbabweans to work together in the patriotic quest for this nation to hold free, fair and credible elections.
Indeed, I am encouraged by the growing national convergence in this regard, as well as the current efforts to rally all Zimbabweans beyond political parties to forge an alliance that will inspire the people and assure everyone of a new dispensation, come 2018.
My tour of the provinces
In the past one-and half months, I have been touring the country and listening to community leaders outside the party I lead. I am encouraged by the growing national convergence about what should be done in the interest of the citizens and the future generations. Indeed, I have realized that everyone and ever sector has got a genuine grievance against this regime and I know we are all agreed that 2018 provides us with a perfect opportunity to defeat the authors of this debilitating national crisis by ushering in a new, democratic dispensation.
Since January, I have traversed the length and breadth of this country. For f six weeks, I sat under trees, in village huts and in urban town-halls listening to our pastors, civic leaders and traditional healers. I have had very enriching engagements with our chiefs, headmen, village heads, civil servants, commuter bus drivers, rank marshals and ordinary villagers.
I spent hours with students, vendors, artisanal miners and the unemployed and derived comfort in the national consensus that 2018 is a watershed year for all of us, but more importantly for future generations.
Indeed, everyone and every sector have a genuine grievance against Zanu PF.
I listened to the wise words from my fellow countrymen and countrywomen. I agree to the clarion call that we must all make for the sake of our country; the call never to allow a 94-year old to mismanage our affairs once again. I heard the appeal from across all sectors, that it would be tantamount to high treason to allow a 94-year old another five years, with some even suggesting they will field him as a corpse. It would be an insult to the people of this country to give this man and this party another five years.
Yes, Mugabe may lead his party but he must not be allowed to lead this country solely on the basis of age and past performance!
I am heartened by my fellow citizens and the effort we are collectively investing in ensuring that the country delivers a free, fair and credible poll in 2018. I am humbled by our fruitful engagements across political parties, across religions, across social classes, across religions, across gender and across artificial barriers—all for the sake of this dear country that we all love.
I listened to the people on the issue of political alliances and that as a party we must exercise due diligence on who we work with as some of these political parties do not have proper structures and membership while others are surrogates of Zanu PF.
I heard the cries of our chiefs, headmen and village heads, who are abused by Zanu PF; being forced to frog-march people and to engage in partisan food distribution. They said for all this abuse, they were paid a measly allowance of $25, which is now several months in arrears.
They also told me that Zanu PF had already begun to violate the Constitution, subsuming village heads into Zanu PF structures as cell chairpersons in a desperate attempt to control the environment around polling station by illegally creating dual role for village heads.
I heard the cry of the minorities that how they do not feel they are part of the country. The Venda, the Ndebele, the Kalanga, the Ndau, the Tonga and the Shangaan all told me sad stories of abuse that confirm the ignominy of the tyranny of the majority. There is a legitimate concern about exclusion and domination by those that feel they are the majority tribes in our country.
This is shameful, considering that this is the brave 21st century. We certainly cannot afford, in this day and age, to have people with a sense of entitlement by virtue of the fact that they come from a tribe they subjectively regard as a majority tribe.
It was an enriching experience. I will not forget the concerns, the advice and the genuine expectation from across the provinces that in 2018, we will hold a genuinely free, fair and credible poll. Zimbabweans out there expect their vote to count and their will to be respected so that even the skeptics can enjoy comfort and security under a new dispensation.
A message to the change skeptics
The next election holds a key to the future of our country. We will rise or fall as a nation by the choice we make in the ballot.
I have a message to those who have in the past resisted change and who remain keen to subvert the people’s will because of their uncertainty the prospect of political change in the country.
I wish to assure everyone that there is nothing to fear in the change that we seek. We have no intention to engage in retribution and we are only driven by the genuine patriotic spirit to ensure peace, stability and growth. Change will be good for everyone. Change will allow every one of us to pursue and live their dreams under the protection of the State.
In 2008, a large part of our fellow citizens in State institutions were reticent and suspicious about the prospect of change. The people won the election but there was no transfer of power because of the skeptics of change; those whose reticence about a new Zimbabwe cost this country the opportunity to set a new political direction.
I want to say there will be space for every one in the new Zimbabwe that I envision. There will be neither vengeance nor retribution against anyone. There is certainly nothing to fear about a free and fair election and the new political and economic order that it will engender in our country.
This country belongs to all of us and there will be neither retribution nor vengeance against any of our citizens. No one should have any reason neither to fear change nor to be suspicious and uncertain of the new dispensation that is now upon us.
Lastly, I urge fellow Zimbabweans to support the efforts for free and fair elections with our assurance that we do not wish to harm or engage in vengeance against anyone. All we seek is a peaceful country poised for growth, development and democracy.
I am confident that collectively we will not fail the nation and the future generations to whom we must bequeath a stable, prosperous and democratic country underpinned by growth and opportunities for all.
The year 2018 presents us with a perfect opportunity to start afresh and lay the foundation for a prosperous country. We must leave our footprints on the sands of history so that in future, we will be able to boldly stare history in the face and say in 2018, we charted a new direction for our country!
Together, we can do it.
I thank you