Mwonzora takes full responsibility for by-elections rout…ready to engage Chamisa and CCC

MDC leader Douglas Mwonzora has taken full responsibility for his party’s electoral rout in the just-ended by-elections, but sees light at the end of the tunnel when the country goes for general elections next year.

He said his party is ready to work with like-minded opposition parties towards finding a lasting solution to break Zanu PF’s hegemony at the next election. Below are the experts of his interview aired on commercial television 3Ktv’s Vantage programme hosted by Editor-In-Chief Guthrie Munyuki last week. Below are the excerpts.

Q: The MDC Alliance was routed in the just-ended by-elections leading to so many people directing the flake at you as having failed to do the right stewardship of the party as you lost so many seats. How did it happen that you had to lose in such a manner?

A: It is an objective fact that we did not do well in these by-elections. We have done our post-mortem as the MDC. Firstly as the elections directorate headed by Senator (Morgen) Komichi and then the National Standing Committee, the National Executive as well as the National Council and we received information about what went wrong in that election. We now know what went wrong, what was our fault and what was not our fault in those elections. But at the end of the day when you are the leader of an organisation the responsibility lies with you and I took full responsibility. 

As the MDC we have congratulated those who won. We have resolved to go back to the drawing board and we are going back to the drawing board. We have started restructuring our party, we have done a few changes within our technical stuff where we thought that there were lines of weakness. We are going to make minor changes within the leadership itself but we have put that bad dream behind us and we are looking forward to it. We take solace from the fact that historically the MDC has tended to do very badly in the by-elections ever since its formation. You remember the very first by-election I think was Bikita West. 

It was well contested but of course we did not win it. And if you go to the by-elections immediately after 2018 you will find that the statistics are very (very) bad just as an example- Hwedza I think Zanu PF had 875 votes to 65 of the MDC Alliance when we were still combined. In Chiredzi I think one of the constituencies is Zanu PF 600 and we had 18 votes. In Tsholotsho Zanu PF 404 votes and we had 21 votes and in Shurugwi I think Zanu PF 396 to six votes. It is a historical fact that the MDC doesn’t do well in by-elections but in these by-elections there were a combination of factors and we don’t want to be putting excuses here. 

There were factors that were attributed to us as an organisation, there were also other extrinsic factors of course and we are correcting that, we are looking forward to it. If people go back to history, the electoral behaviour of the MDC is actually cyclical: it’s up down, up down, up down. If you go to the year 2000, MDC scored very highly and almost got the majority of the seats in Parliament. In 2005 it went down, in 2008 it went up, in 2013 it went down and in 2018 based on the presidential election it actually went up. We are happy that we have gone down in the by-election. We will be on the upward trend come 2023. We did not do well, we congratulated the winners and we said we are willing and we are looking forward to working with the winners in Parliament and in council together.

Q: I would like to take you back to the things that you would say as a party you were capable of and the things that were out of your control.  I want you to look at things which you think were out of your control which led to that dismal performance. What were those things which were out of your control?

A: Well the first thing is that the electoral system is certainly not fair and the campaign was not fair. This is an objective fact for example we were not allowed to hold rallies in the same province with the President and that is an objective fact and I raised it in the Senate. The second thing of course was that there was a barrage of propaganda directed at us and at me as an individual for almost three years on a daily basis. We went through a negative campaign which was unfair and our team was not able to deal with that effectively so that was one of the main problems. 

The other thing of course is that the structures of the party were not as strong as we thought they were and they were badly shaken because of the movement of the people and so on. But also there was general apathy within the country and this apathy affected the voters. You will find that there was a dip in the people who voted for Zanu PF, there was a dip for people who voted for MDC Alliance. There was a deep desire for people who voted for CCC only that the CCC people had a greater cause because they wanted representation in Parliament. MDC was represented in Parliament already, Zanu PF was represented in Parliament already. Whether we won these elections it was not going to change the power dynamics within the Parliament. So some people could have looked at it in that manner and these ones needed representations in Parliament and they got that representation.

Q: I will still take you back, now if you talk about the apathy and the campaign environment where you were not allowed to be in the same province as the President. People will ask, how come CCC which raised a lot of complaints with regards to how they were being treated by the police and so forth were still able to garner more votes than you, will that then become an issue?

A: Yes it still does if you look at it in line with the cause that they had, they needed representation in Parliament. We did not need additional representation in Parliament. That’s not an excuse for us but it could be one of the things that affected the voter. Was it worth the trouble to go and vote so there was apathy?

Q: Sorry I am having to cut you short, it’s crucial this point that you are making but people are saying that the voter is the same so if you were not interested in having more seats because you still have more seats than CCC and CCC it’s like they wanted more than you but how come the voter chose to go with CCC?

A: I did not say that we did not need the seats, we needed them, we wanted them. I have already said that we did not win the elections and I have already said that we did our post-mortem and in those post-mortem we found that there were certain things that we did not do right. There were certain things that we were not able to control. Of course when you go to election you want to win but the mentality of the leaders and the mentality of the voters may not be the same. A voter who is already happy about being represented in Parliament and a voter whose party is not in Parliament and wants to be represented in Parliament may have different motivations to go and vote. The level of apathy as you can see was 22 percent. 22 percent of the people eligible to vote in those by-elections went to vote and 78 percent chose to stay home. There doesn’t seem to have been much motivation on the part of our supporters to go and vote.

Q: People have said particularly your critiques not only the MDC Alliance but the opposition in general that you were forced to contest among yourselves, the MDC Alliance and CCC instead of contesting Zanu PF because Zanu PF got two more seats and they had nothing to lose because what was at stake were the seats that the majority of them that belonged to the opposition. Would you want to accept what people have always been saying that opposition is fractured and it was involved in senseless fighting that all contributed to the apathy that you are talking about?

A: Well you have said only one of the things that are being talked about of the nature of this election. The one you are talking about is that it is a contest between the opposition anyway. But there are other people who look at it differently that this was basically a contest between Lacoste and G40. Of course, I haven’t put a researcher like Eldred Masunungure or Stephen Chan to look at the veracity of this. But there are people who are looking at that way that this was in fact not a fight between the opposition and the ruling party. 

It was a fight between the ruling party itself, the two factions. The G40 supporting CCC I’m not saying that is the correct (position) but there are people who are saying that and I have heard that analysis. There are of course people saying that the MDC and CCC are from the same origin, why should they contest and so on again that we have not looked at it, done research on it and seen whether that is true or not. It could very well be true it may not be true so I’m just saying that the hypothesis that you are posing is not the only one there are more things that are coming up.

Q: So in other words the ruling party and Lacoste which was for many years involved in a hammer and tongs fight with the G40 which was then vanquished after the November 16, 2017 military intervention was active and still active in opposition politics?

A: Well of course it is, there definitely is no question about it. In the opposition you see people like (Dzikamai) Mavhaire he is in the opposition. We see Jonathan Moyo in the opposition taking sides within the opposition and they are (definitely) definitely active. You see Hopewell Chingono and company and so on. These are G40 people who are active within opposition politics. The MDC Alliance is not giving any excuse for not doing well, I want to make this clear. We have owned up to not doing well in this by-election. 

We are taking corrective action and we have already seen the effects of this corrective action and we are also in the process of looking at those issues that we were able to control and those issues that were extrinsic and we are taking action to deal with that. We see no point at this point in time to crime over spilt milk. An election happened, some people won the voter choose and chose other Zimbabweans to lead and we congratulated them. For us this is the essence of democracy. People must be free to choose whoever they want. We have lost, we have lost in love. I’m not so sure whether those who have won have won in love but the essence of democracy is that if you do not do well you accept it and you take corrective action and this is what we have proceeded to do.

Q: Only this week the MDC National chairman Morgen Komichi and the vice president Elias Mudzuri came and reiterated that the opposition needs to have unity and they went on further to say that the opposition also needs to agree on one candidate ahead of the national 2023 elections and that candidate should really be based on popularity. But others are saying that it does not work. Is this the position of the MDC Alliance?

A: That is nothing new. The MDC under (Morgen) Tsvangirai had this mantra that the MDC welcomes the unity of all progressive forces to fight for the betterment of the lives of the Zimbabwean people. So the call for unity, opposition unity did not start this week with senator Komichi or senator Mudzuri. It is something that the leaders of the MDC have always said, be it Tsvangirai, be it Chamisa when he was the leader, be it Thokozani Khupe, even myself I did say it so there’s nothing new. Maybe you are putting more current to it because it is coming after by-elections. But it is something that we have always talked about that the MDC welcomes the unity of all progressive forces. However, that unity of course will have to be predicated on a number of things.

Q: I would like to ask you particularly in this contest where there was seemingly bad blood between you and CCC leader Nelson Chamisa. These calls coming from your lieutenants does this mean that you are burying the hatchet with Chamisa and you would want to have a like-minded group?

A: Well I don’t think that there’s bad blood between myself and Chamisa in that case in the sense that there’s anything personal between the two of us. We had a rivalry, yes starting from the days we were contesting for the post of secretary-general and so on. But there’s no bad blood between me and him, there’s no hatred between me and him. We do not agree fundamentally on leadership style. I don’t agree with him, I didn’t agree of course with the disrespect of the constitution and so on. So there are things which we disagreed about but there’s no enmity between the two of us. I want to come to the fundamental issue on how these decisions are made on whether a party goes into an alliance with other parties. 

It is not a decision that is made by the president. It is not a decision that is made by the chairman, it is not a decision made by the national vice president. It’s a decision of the national council actually it is a decision of congress which makes those fundamental decisions. But the MDC has always said that it stands for the unity of all progressive forces and this unity has to be predicated on certain fundamentals. The first fundamental is that we must agree on the vision, national vision. Number two there must be mutual respect. Number three there must be a common goal and they must have a common or similar ideology and so on. 

Things which go beyond personalities, objective things that go beyond personalities. And when such decisions are made the opinion of an individual leader is irrelevant. But what has happened ever since the by-elections two of our candidates crossed to CCC I think one was Mr Chiposi and the other one was Mr Mhetu they crossed to CCC. There were a lot of discussions that we saw taking place within that party which suggested that they are not welcome, they were not welcome and so on. So a lot will depend on attitude of the party that is very (very) important what the congress will say, what the national council will say and we will go beyond the personalities into looking at the national objectives, national vision, the ideology and we have always said as the MDC that we are guided in whatever we do by what is in the best interest of the Zimbabwean people and we will be guided by that.

Q: Many people are actually saying that the opposition really needs to have unity and they should just agree on a single candidate for next year’s elections. You are the leader of the MDC and there are other leaders of other opposition parties including CCC. Would you be prepared to let your rival Nelson Chamisa based on his popularity and what came out of the by-elections to be the leader of that opposition where you will be part of?

A: You are theorising because you are basing on a by-election. A by-election that was basically in terms of the power dynamics of the country was inconsequential. This by-election only would act as a morale booster to anybody who won it but it doesn’t change the power dynamics of the country. Therefore it is a mistake for people to base anything, any discussions on the basis of this by-election. This by-election has taken place one year and six months before the next election. I think people must allow time and observe what will happen as we approach the election. The decision as I said is not mine, the decision is that of the MDC T as a party not my individual decision. My individual decision will not be relevant at all.

Q: You have always been consistent about politics of rational disputation. Do you still maintain that within that politics of rational disputation there’s a need to have that dialogue which appears to have stalled and suspended elections for people to find each other?

A: We have been thoroughly misunderstood on this but we have always said that there’s a need for dialogue in this country and through dialogue we must be able to institute key social, political and economic reforms. On political reforms we have a number of them including electoral reforms. In the electoral reforms we look at the reformation of the election management board itself, the revolutionarising of the laws relating to the election and the diaspora vote and the role of the security forces in that election. 

We will remain fortified in that belief that dialogue is important. We did not advocate for postponement of the elections at all as was being said by our critiques because we were arguing that if there is enough political willingness, if there’s enough political will we will be able to institute these reforms even in time for the by-elections but we can’t prejudge how the dialogue will go and what issues would be put on the table by the collective. We have our own issues and I’m sure other political parties have their own issues that they want to put on the table and after those issues have been put on the table a decision has to be made on what is in the best interest of our people. Is an election in 2023 without reforms in the best interest of our people? Will it generate anything different from 2018, 2005, 2013 and so on? A serious decision has to be made by the collective. A lot will depend on how the dialogue goes. We intend as the MDC to up our game to up our call for national dialogue and we have said this dialogue must be inclusive, it must be unconditional and it must be genuine. I’m happy to say that other parties who were saying, opposition parties that they want dialogue provided Mwonzora is not there, they want dialogue provided the MDC T is not there they have now changed their position and they are saying that they want inclusive dialogue as well.