HARARE – At a time frustration at Zimbabwe's political class is running high, Nelson Chamisa (NC) who has emerged as the MDC’s presidential candidate is hoping to tap into a desire for wholesale change in the way the country is governing should the MDC Alliance, which he will front, emerges victorious at the forthcoming polls.
Our News Editor Gift Phiri (GP) had the opportunity to sit down for a wide-ranging interview with Chamisa, and below are excerpts of the interview.
GP: Congratulations on your election as MDC president and MDC Alliance presidential candidate.
NC: Thank you.
GP: President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said as part of building political consensus in the country ahead of the harmonised elections, he shall soon be inviting leaders of all 83 political parties for a day-long consultative meeting. Have you received this invitation?
NC: No we haven't. And we don't believe (we) have all those parties. They have formed (some of those) parties so they will say there are many parties. But most those are Zanu PF-sponsored parties. They are Zanu PF in many forms. The multiplicity of Zanu PF in other forms does not make parties that many, we know that.
GP: Your party has been advocating comprehensive electoral reforms in order to have free and fair elections. Are you making headway?
NC: Reforms are very important. There can’t be elections without reforms. ED must stop paying lip service and giving political rhetoric to free and fair elections.
GP: But the president has promised free and fair elections.
NC: He has been calling for free and fair elections but he has been doing nothing about free and fair polls. Free and fair elections is not a slogan but practical substance on the ground. What legislative reforms have been put in place; what institutional reforms have been put in place; what structural reforms have been put in place; what about habitual and cultural reforms (that) have been instituted? This madness has shot off the roof.
GP: The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)’s Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) mop up exercise has closed with more than 5,3 million people having registered to vote. Zec says it now awaits the issuance of a proclamation for the 2018 harmonised elections and is now seized with the processes of decrypting data from the BVR exercise and preliminary cleaning of data collected during the blitz phases as it awaits the delivery of the de-duplication or voter register audit software. Are you happy with this process so far?
NC: We need a forensic BVR audit of the voters roll by our own experts as players and stakeholders. We are dealing with people who have a reason to fidget with figures and massaging the will of the people.
GP: Have you been furnished with an election timetable. Do you know when elections will be held?
NC: There is guesswork and conjecture on when elections will be held. We managed a celebrated guerrilla warfare against our oppressors for the liberation of our country and should we continue with guerrilla tactics and ambush antics in a post-independent Zimbabwe? It tells you one thing, that our independence has been emptied of its meaning. Our otherwise hard-won independence has been reduced into fluke independence.
GP: Let’s suppose you don't get the reforms you are pushing for, what will you do?
NC: We will never accept an election where we don't know where ballot papers are printed. Polling material to be used and the ballot printing are key issues that we are not going to leave to conjecture like we did in 2013. In terms of reforms, the ED regime is rabid in media muzzling and partisan reporting. The situation has gotten worse. If there is an area where there is a classical dramatisation that ours is a new error not a new era, it’s in the State media. You don't see any other parties.
GP: Zec chairwoman Justice Priscilla Chigumba has acknowledged that the commission's secretariat is manned by ex or rather retired members of the army or State security forces. But she says its only 15 percent of the secretariat and they are no longer in State employ, so does this settle your long-standing query that for the de-militarisation and total independence of the Zec?
NC: No. We need to chlorinate the Zec secretariat. The software is the biggest challenge. It has some viral load in it and it must be debugged. We have one of the best armies in the world and we are proud of our boys and girls in uniform. But that pride must not be turned into a shame on account of abuse by unpopular and selfish politicians who are not only a threat to the nation but to the future generation.
GP: The Zec chairperson has also told the parliamentary committee on Justice and Legal Affairs that of the 5,3 million-plus number of registered voters, 60 percent of them are between the ages of 18 and 40 years. She has actually said ‘this means this is a vote of young people.’ While your supporters believe this a voter bloc that backs you, Zanu PF supporters claim these are youths they mobilised during the presidential youth interface rallies. What’s your take?
NC: They were not registered during the presidential youth interface rallies. Zanu PF is not capable of mobilising young people because it is not young. Its language and its campaign strategy are analogue and this is a digital generation. Its language is out of sync with the digital generation. It can't be their vote.
GP: What mechanism have you devised to vaccinate the election against ballot fraud and fudging of numbers?
NC: They may be entertaining the idea on how to rig elections, they must abandon such hazardous thoughts. We will not entertain another deceitful election. Four generations have squandered our time as a generation, consumed all opportunities and liquidated all chances of prosperity. Look at the number of Zimbabweans in the diaspora! We want them back to rejoin their families and rebuild their country. Our colleagues in government are clueless, idea-less and energy-less. Their life mileage clock has ticked. We have retirees in government who want to retire us as a young people. Why should retirees in government be prime actors when we have prime actors on forced and imposed retirement? It’s time up, it’s game on. It’s not about the MDC, it’s about Team Zimbabwe. People should forget about parties and think about the future.
GP: Chief Musarurwa told a meeting of Zanu PF Mashonaland East Women's League in Marondera on Monday that they will never allow "pwere ine mukaka pamhuno" or an infant like you to rule the country.
NC: He is very young yet I saw him saying young people must not be in charge. He must begin by dethroning himself. Why should Zanu PF reduce Chief Musarurwa into a political mujibha or commissar? These are some of the things that cause our climatic challenges and unpredictable episodes in life.
GP: You turned 40 last month and you are set to be the youngest presidential candidate in Zimbabwean history – breaking the mould, battling conventions and breaking with traditions. Of course you have served in all three arms of government, in the Executive as a Cabinet minister during the GNU, in Parliament as Kuwadzana East MP, in the Judiciary as an advocate of the High Court. What would you say to those why say you are too young to run for president?
NC: Age is not a badge of maturity. Yes they say age comes with wisdom but at times age comes alone. We have many people who have grown old without growing up. So don't read much into old age. If anything, old age is a disadvantage because you have expended a lot of energy. As young people, we have the age-advantage. We can never have an old person being an instrument of change. The world waits for no late bloomers.
GP: What about those who say you are too inexperienced to have serious presidential ambitions?
NC: I have been in the struggle for 18 years under the able mentorship of one of the most illustrious sons of this country, Dr Richard Morgan Tsvangirai. Whereas at a university you need four years, I can’t be young and inexperienced after an 18-year internship to attain multiple degrees from the school of leadership. This is precisely the generational problem we must resolve. Young people have been considered to be outliers and peripheral to national development. Young people have been promised to be leaders of tomorrow when the older generation is busy jeopardizing tomorrow to an extent that there is no tomorrow to celebrate. For a long time, young people have been regarded with derision and suspicion as snake-holders when in fact they are stake-holders. What is clear is that yesterday's people cannot solve today's problems. Today's problems require today's people and we are here today as today's people.
GP: There is suspicion that you are a "military project" and that you are in bed with Zanu PF. What do you have to say about this?
NC: People mistake my patriotism and love for the country for being an extension of comrades across the river. I am a believer in new politics, fresh politics, politics of respecting and honouring our collective diversity without losing our individual identities. ED is Zanu PF, I am MDC but we are both Zimbabweans. At no point should our partisan numerator identities diminish our universal denominator character being Zimbabweans. We relate as Zimbabweans but differ in style, beliefs and substance. They celebrate what we abhor and abhor what we celebrate. They celebrate corruption, we abhor it, they celebrate entitlement, we abhor it; they celebrate division, revenge and vindictiveness, we abhor it; they celebrate dictatorship, we abhor it; they celebrate command economics, command politics and command elections, we abhor it; they celebrate big government, runaway and galloping appetite for state resources, regularly raiding state coffers, we abhor it; they celebrate state-party conflation, we abhor it. On the other hand, we celebrate inclusive smart politics, smart economics and smart elections, they abhor it; we celebrate diversity and mosaic manifestation and beauty of our different tribes, regions and races, they abhor it; we celebrate a genuine new Zimbabwe and real change, they abhor it. Right now they are celebrating fake change.
GP: Some claim you were too cosy with President Mnangagwa, and this was apparent when he was still VP, doubling up as Parliamentary Affairs minister and leader of government business in Parliament. You had some 'bromance' going on in Parliament. What kind of relationship do you have with President ED?
NC: ED is a liberator, I am a transformer. We are already liberated, so this task is done. The outstanding issue is now transformation and its our turn as the young generation. In my whole life and before God, I have not met ED outside Parliament or outside Cabinet. Further, I have never had a discussion or dialogue with him on issues political or personal. Remember, I have been allocated to G40, been allocated to Gushungo, been allocated to Lacoste. Perhaps it’s because I am that inclusive because I don't segregate on the basis of political inclusion. In a new Zimbabwe, we must be able to cast our eyes beyond just parties in search of good men and women who are good for Zimbabwe.
GP: Critics and the ruling party have accused you of having a propensity to lie, pointing to your claim that US President Donald Trump had promised the MDC $15 billion if it came to power, a claim denied by US embassy spokesperson David Macguire who said "we do not make such promises to individuals or political parties.
NC: I know what I am talking about. They should be able to distinguish between a lie and what they cannot achieve. I sympathise with them. We need $14,9 billion for infrastructure rehabilitation, according to the African Development Bank report of 2013. What is clear is that their capacity to associate with $15bn is only limited to disappearing it, not raising it. That's why I told you they celebrate what we abhor. If our colleagues in Zanu PF cannot believe good news that we have such phenomenal goodwill as a people and as a nation, they must be four months patient and see the stewardship of our administration. As president Tsvangirai said, 'we have the keys.' Those who locked without the keys can never understand that Zimbabwe will be genuinely open for business.