HARARE – Zapu leader and presidential candidate, Dumiso Dabengwa said yesterday President Robert Mugabe is too old to continue ruling Zimbabwe and should be retired, and also raised the prospect of an electoral pact with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai before or after the July 31 poll.
In a no-holds barred interview with the Daily News journalists at the leading paper’s Trust Towers headquarters in Harare, Dabengwa — who has sealed a coalition pact with the smaller MDC led by Welshman Ncube — said a grand coalition with Tsvangirai, who poses the biggest challenge to Mugabe since the 89-year-old former guerrilla leader came to power in 1980, was still possible.
He said “nothing is cast in stone”.
“I think everyone in Zimbabwe is agreed that the poor old man is old enough that he should be allowed to retire with honour if it is possible,” Dabengwa said.
Mugabe, at 89 the world’s second oldest head of State, is seeking a fresh term at the helm of the troubled country.
Zimbabwe’s pro-democracy opposition has so far failed to forge a united front that analysts say is necessary for those trying to beat the country’s long-serving president.
Dabengwa had earlier balked at a PM-backed plan that would create room for him in a new government.
But with domestic pressure mounting, Dabengwa said he was willing to negotiate a compromise that would present a united front that ushers in a new governance paradigm.
He says Zapu had backed the idea of a coalition as far back as December, but there were no takers for the proposal.
“Zapu is for a grand coalition,” said Dabengwa, who once boasted of having scuttled Tsvangirai’s outright win in the March 2008 vote when he teamed up with Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) president Simba Makoni, who has since entered into an electoral pact with the PM.
“What happened in 2008 is water under the bridge and it is gone with the sea,” Dabengwa said.
“I said now we must sit down together and must be able to look at what is best for the country. We are going out of the way to form a coalition before the elections but in most circumstances, they are formed after elections.”
With Makoni already in an election pact with Tsvangirai, Dabengwa says there is need for smaller opposition parties to coalesce and draft programmes that would ensure people participate fully in the governance of their provinces through devolution of power.
He said his party still believes a grand coalition with Tsvangirai was still possible as long as it benefits the people of Zimbabwe.
Asked whether fielding five presidential candidates is in the best interests of the country, Dabengwa said Tsvangirai’s MDC only approached him at the 11th hour on the eve of the sitting of the Nomination Court, making it difficult for him to consider the proposal.
The ex-Home Affairs minister said the goal of the grand coalition must not only be to remove Mugabe from power, but should also tie all loose ends to prevent another agreement similar to the PF Zapu and Zanu PF Unity Accord that was signed in 1987 to end a vicious civil war that claimed an estimated 20 000 civilians mainly from the Midlands and Matabeleland regions.
“We are not saying Mugabe is the only obstacle to the development of Zimbabwe,” Dabengwa said.
“But we think we should put our heads together towards allowing our people to participate in the governance of their country.”
Asked who he would back if Zimbabwe was to go for a run-off vote, the former Zipra intelligence supremo said he would go with Tsvangirai.
“We told Morgan that unfortunately the time factor did not allow us to consider his proposal positively but let us go with elections but when the results come out whoever among us is in the run-off, we are going to come and support him,” Dabengwa said.
“I said the same things to Morgan in 2008.”
Dabengwa said he believed Mugabe was the biggest obstacle to the country’s development and that given his advanced age; he could no longer carry the hopes of a nation that has endured decades of economic stagnation owing to a crisis of governance created by his administration.
Dabengwa, whose Zapu outfit pulled out from the Unity Accord in 2008, revealed that Zapu is leaving nothing to chance as it negotiates a power pact with Tsvangirai since it has firsthand experience of playing second fiddle in a political arrangement.
“The reason why we are being very careful in the negotiations is because of how we were treated in the Unity Accord which condemned Zapu to a second choice position where we could only have a vice president,” Dabengwa said.
“This is why we are making sure we have all the safety valves because once beaten, twice shy.”