HARARE – Daily News journalists Talent Chapanduka and Gift Phiri (DN) talked to opposition Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) leader Simba Makoni (SM) about his expedition to South Africa to drum up political support.
Below are the extracts from the interview.
DN: We understand you have just landed from South Africa. Would you care to tell us about your mission to South Africa?
SM: We went to South Africa to contact Zimbabweans primarily with the objective of encouraging them to participate in the making of change here at home.
We start from the position that the situation, the conditions that we find ourselves in here in this country were created by us Zimbabweans.
They may not have been created by you personally or by John Chimuti, but it is Zimbabweans who created this situation and it is them, it is Zimbabweans primarily who must find the solutions to these problem.
Quite often you will hear people talk about when will change come? And I am of the view that change will not happen by itself. Change will have to be made.
And so our approach from the launch of the party has always been to mobilise people to stimulate people to participate in the making of change.
One of our valued propositions is inclusion and participation that we should enable people to play their roles in the affairs of the country.
And so on that basis we have been working to get Zimbabweans involved here at home and wherever they are.
So when I travel to places I always look for Zimbabweans. Whereas we are eager for Zimbabweans to understand what our party stands for, eager even for them to decide that what our party stands for is best of all thats on offer by other political parties, we are not rigid in saying that they can only make their contribution to changing affairs of the country by being in our party.
So the first call is that we must participate in whatever format, in whatever platform in whatever formulation, it could be political, it could be in business, it could be professions, but each one of us must feel the commitment to play their role.
That’s primarily what I went to SA for, to meet Zimbabweans to encourage them to play their role. We also don’t believe that for them to play their role they must necessarily be here in the country.
Because of the way the world works today, you can make your contribution from wherever you are under the sun.
We also want to encourage Zimbabweans, in playing their role, to stand for their rights, Zimbabweans in Hillbrow, Zimbabweans in Soweto have no less rights than Zimbabweans in Budiriro, in Mufakose by the mere fact of their not being in the country.
They should continue to enjoy all their rights including all rights and responsibilities and obligations. So that is the other message I went to share with them.
DN: So who exactly did you meet in SA?
SM: We had a number of meetings with Zimbabweans in different places.
We had meetings with Zimbabweans in Pretoria, we had meetings with Zimbabweans in Johannesburg.
We had meetings with Zimbabweans who are running their own businesses, the businesses could be a tuck shop, it could be a workshop, a car repair workshop, they could be employed as domestics in houses, waiters in restaurants, as fuel attendants at fuel stations, or they are professionals teaching at the university, or accountants in big firms or banks or in big corporate organisations. So it was a whole cross section of Zimbabweans.
The meetings went on very well. This was our first effort to reach out to Zimbabweans in a systematic and organised manner.
Before, we were approaching individuals. They were not huge meetings. We didn’t fill halls and stadiums.
But the numbers were not the important thing at this stage but being able to make the first contact. We had a particularly painful experience when we visited the Methodist Centre in Johannesburg.
DN: Tell us about that?
SM: We met Bishop Paul Verryn and some of the Zimbabweans that he works with to take care of up to 3 000 Zimbabweans who live in that place. There are Zimbabweans, we were told by Bishop Verryn, adding up to 90 percent of all the people there.
There are some South Africans; I met one Zambian and one Malawian and one Congolese. But the largest majority of them are Zimbabweans. There are families with babies, six-months-old, 18 months, two years.
There are young men and women who are going to university. There are single people, the oldest man I met there told me he was 65-years-old. So you have a whole cross section of citizens.
You also have a whole cross-section of social standing.
There are teachers there who are teaching in schools, two schools, a primary school and a secondary school which are run by the Methodist Church. These teachers were in secondary school here and they were telling me, “at this (Zimbabwean) school, I was the head of department for Geography.”
And there are (also) what you may call ordinary, unskilled, semi-skilled citizens who are selling sweets and airtime on the streets.
So it’s almost a microcosm of Zimbabwe. You can see a cross section of the people you will meet in the streets of Harare; you will meet at the Methodist Centre.
The thing that hurt me is the condition in which those people are living. It is a huge building, four storeys long.
And from the ground floor to the top floor, every space is somebody’s dwelling.
Every square inch is like your room in the Avenues, your house in Budiriro, your house in Glenview, and Mt Pleasant. It’s painful.
They wake up in the morning, fold their blankets, and they put their clothes in a bag, and they store them away so that during the day, the activities of the Methodist Church institution can go ahead.
In the evening they come and withdraw their blankets and they go and lay their beds out.
If you have 10 steps up a staircase, they are 10 bedrooms.
They are 10 living rooms. They even have an area they call family room. And if you imagine this room, we would put a piece of cloth across this side and my wife and I and our four children, we would sleep there. And you put another piece of cloth to demarcate the next house, of the next family.
We should not do things like that to each other. It hurt me, it pained.
I had heard and read about the Methodist Centre, I had seen TV documentaries about the Methodist Centre but being there, witnessing it for yourself and talking to the people! The first evening we went there, we spent three hours.
And it was already dark. And you had to jump over people to go to Bishop Verryn’s office which is on the fourth floor. To climb those stairs, you were jumping over people. So that’s how the meetings went.
DN: What are you doing to help those exiled Zimbabweans?
SM: It’s not what I am doing, I want my compatriots, I want our citizens to understand that we shouldn’t sit there and expect somebody else to do something for us.
One of our true value propositions is what we term “genuine empowerment” aimed at removing the practise of “dai ndaitirwa, dai hurumende yandipa, dai hurumende yandibatsira, dai donor yandipa chikoro.
We have been so thoroughly disempowered by the “dai syndrome”. So I didn’t go there to solve their problems.
DN: So what did you go there to do?
SM: I went there to offer partnership in searching for a solution. I am not saying to Zimbabweans as president of MKD that elect me in the next election so that I can solve all your problems.
I am saying to Zimbabweans elect me so that I can remove the impediments stopping you from solving your problems so that together we can enable people to do things for themselves.
I was born and raised in Rhodesia. I experienced the way under colonial domination our people were self-reliant and self-sufficient under very difficult conditions.
We were more empowered in Rhodesia. It pains me.
But my poor father, who raised me in our village kwaMakoni, and send me to school to an extent that I acquired a PhD in Chemistry was not given anything by anyone.
And he did not wait for someone to come and give him so that he could then look after his family. The worst thing that we have done to ourselves in the years of independence is to remove the sense of self-reliance.
DN: In your view, was your mission successful?
SM: Very successful, from the point of view that our objective of meeting other Zimbabweans, share their experiences, explore ways in which we can work together, the measure of the success range from people who said, “how do we join MKD to others who said Simba, we want to stay in touch with you by e-mail, by telephone” I would say it was very successful.
DN: There has been a backlash about your views on Independence. Do you maintain those views that Zimbabweans got independence but did not get freedom?
SM: Our people live in fear. The most dominant force in the lives of Zimbabweans, all Zimbabweans, is fear. President Robert Mugabe lives in fear of losing power and poor Zimbabweans in the villages live in fear of being beaten up, of their huts being burnt, of having no food, of not being able to send their children to school. All live in fear.
My compatriot and colleague Dumiso (Dabengwa) says we are independent but we are not free and I agree with him.
DN: What are your views on the $100m loan that Zimbabwe has secured from South Africa for elections?
SM: Tendai Biti claims he has been given $100 million by (South Africa Finance minister) Pravin Gordhan, well, Pravin Gordhan denied it.
DN: What are your views on the economy?
SM: There are food shortages, factories have collapsed.
DN: A UN team has just been barred from Zimbabwe to assess election funding needs? What is your reaction to this?
SM: I understand that (Justice and legal Affairs minister) Patrick Chinamasa said, those people can go to hell. It was a front page report in one of the papers in South Africa that the Zimbabwean government has said that it does not want the UN to consider helping Zimbabwe because of conditions that the UN imposed for the help are unacceptable. That is the gist of the report that I picked up.
Now, if true, my reaction is that first of all, I am very ashamed that my country is forced to have to beg for money to run elections.
It’s shameful that a country with the resource endowment that Zimbabwe has cannot find $132 million, to run our own elections.
It’s shameful, and I can’t see someone stand up and say I am head of State and commander-in-chief of a country that cannot raise a $100 million.
We couldn’t raise $45 million to do the referendum three weeks ago and we had to force companies to pay money that they didn’t have, even insurance companies, to take pensioners savings to pay for a referendum because we were so corrupt, we can’t manage our national fiscus properly.
So my first reaction is one of shame, thorough embarrassment, but if you want to be helped, you can’t start putting conditions that “I am hungry and I want food, give me T-bone steak, and don’t give me mufushwa nedovi.”
That is ridiculous. Quite frankly that adds to this embarrassment that some of us feel about the conduct of some of these people who call themselves our leaders.
DN: In your view, when should the next elections be held?
SM: It’s very difficult to put a date on the calendar, because you have to start by saying what is it that will make Zimbabwe ready for holding elections.
Both the Global Political Agreement and the roadmap for free and fair elections which the three GPA parties agreed to states in very explicit and clear terms what the conditions necessary for free and fair elections are. And none of those conditions exist today in the country.
And there has been no effort by Mugabe and government to start to create those conditions. So how can you put a date on a calendar when the work that needs to be done hasn’t even started?
But worse so, when there is no will to do that work. Mugabe has no will to create conditions for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe nor does Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
But I can tell you that what needs to be done doesn’t take five years and we have four years of the inclusive government.
So I can’t put a timetable. I don’t think they will be ready in June that they are dreaming about. I don’t even think that we will be ready by October which other people say the Constitution allows us to do.
But the first and most important thing is that people must first commit to creating conditions that allow me and you and make our choices freely without fear.
DN: Are you confident of winning the forthcoming elections?
SM: We are preparing to participate in the next elections effectively and if the conditions for free and fair elections prevail, we are confident, we are confident that we will get the support of the majority of Zimbabweans.
DN: We will leave it there, thank you very much Dr Makoni.