By Guthrie Munyuki
HARARE – Daily News senior assistant editor Guthrie Munyuki (GM) talks to self-exiled MDC treasurer-general Roy Bennett (RB) about his struggle for social justice, democracy and his frustrations.
GM: How much support have you been getting from your party since you went into exile?
RB: Like hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans who have been victimised by Zanu’s murderous regime there has been no support forthcoming from our party. We all got involved in the people’s project to bring true change and get rid of Zanu’s murderous mafia.
So, instead, I would look at it from the opposite perspective: how much support have I given the party since I have been in exile? True cadres of the MDC joined to give not to take or expect something back; they joined to serve not to eat.
As time goes by the core of the party, which is the people, will hold us all accountable. No leader would have a position if it was not for the people; the MDC brand, the Tsvangirai brand, is the project of the people of Zimbabwe.
They supported the MDC/Tsvangirai brand, died for the MDC/Tsvangirai brand, had their property looted destroyed for the MDC/Tsvangirai brand, beaten and raped for the MDC/Tsvangirai brand and so on and so forth. Let us leaders never forget that.
I do not expect any support from my party, rather I give my support unconditionally. My party is me, my party is the people’s project. Together to the end. The last mile.
GM: When Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai accepted President Robert Mugabe’s refusal to have you sworn as deputy Agriculture minister and instead appointed the late Seiso Moyo, how did you take this, considering that at first Tsvangirai had spiritedly held a collective party decision not to budge on any other candidate other than yourself?
RB: I never joined the MDC for a position. I was disappointed that this decision was not communicated to me directly and that I had to hear it from a journalist, but as the MDC is in government with absolutely no power, I understand that difficult decisions in the interest of progress have to be taken to move things forward.
I trust this was a collective decision within the party and therefore as a true and disciplined member of the party I accept that which I may not agree with and move on. Having said this, I was relieved not to have to try and do anything meaningful under the regime which is still fully in control.
Agriculture is the ministry where the most crooked and destructive policies were implemented and I would more than likely ended up delivering to (Agriculture minister Joseph) Made the same fate as I dished out to Chinamasa (Bennett was jailed for one year for assaulting Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa in 2004 during a parliamentary debate).
GM: How much of a contribution are you making to the party while you are domiciled outside the country?
RB: Being outside (the country) obviously creates its problems, but there are also considerable advantages. For one, I can operate without being harassed by Zimbabwe’s mafia, otherwise known as Zanu PF.
It has given me the opportunity to pass on what the people at grass roots level want the world to know. I have a very deep personal responsibility to the people of Zimbabwe, many of whom I communicate with daily, both inside and outside the party.
It has also meant I can raise resources for the party for the elections and other projects, tasks that would have been more difficult from inside Zimbabwe.
GM: The MDC has been slammed for failing to curb corruption among its councillors and senior officials. What impact does this corrupt party image have on the performance of the party in forthcoming elections?
RB: There have been problems with corruption in the party. Any intelligent person can see that. The councillors in Mutare are one example. I am not surprised because Zanu PF has a long history of passing the HIV of graft on to those whom they deal with. Those they don’t kill, they will try to corrupt.
However, its rubbish that MDC are already as corrupt as Zanu PF. And the most important issue is this: what are we going to do about it? There will always be rotten apples — it’s human nature and you get crooks in every country, in all walks of life — but we need to create a culture of intolerance towards such people and such practices. No politicians can be above or beyond reproach.
We must also look to create truly independent institutions that will have the power to root out corruption wherever it is. So, internally, the party must renew its commitment to create the right culture and, externally, it must look to create independent bodies free from political interference that will deal ruthlessly with problems.
At the end of the day, these are criminal matters and I hope that the police and other anti-corruption bodies will be restored to their rightful place in Zimbabwe. Zanu PF has stripped our judiciary and law enforcement agencies of their integrity but we need to reverse this.
GM: The MDC is accused of not having done enough to expose corruption, and instead, some key party members are accused of accumulating wealth over a short period of time. Isn’t it in the best interests of the party, in the eyes of the electorate, to have a lifestyle audit?
RB: In the longer term, measures such as lifestyle audits conducted by independent international auditing firms will be absolutely critical.
They should be paired with other measures like anti-corruption hotlines and so on. Still, there are challenges in the short term that make full transparency a problem — for example, many party members are wary of exposing all their assets to Zanu PF because this is an invitation to have them stolen.
But I think that an aggressive audit should be done immediately should the MDC take power.
This is not an option but an absolutely essential measure. In the meantime, a confidential internal audit should be conducted by independent auditors and anything that cannot be explained should be tabled in the Standing Committee and then publicly.
GM: It has been said but dismissed, that Tsvangirai is facing a rebellion if he does not win the next elections yet he remains popular. Why would some of your colleagues even think of such a plan instead of galvanising the party for electoral victory?
RB: Regardless of what polls or so-called “experts” say, I don’t think there’s any chance of MDC losing a free and fair election. Why would the majority of Zimbabweans vote for a party of drunken geriatrics that has run the country into the ground? Rather, the question is what will happen if terror and vote-rigging result in a Zanu “win”?
And what will happen if MDC wins but the Joint Operations Command (Joc) continue their coup and refuse to step down? These are the real questions on the lips of Zimbabweans. In that situation, the MDC will face some very tough problems that go well beyond whether Morgan or myself or any other MDC leader stays in position.
GM: How much suffering have you had for being a Tsvangirai-led MDC senior official?
RB: I have suffered, of course — and most of these things are well-documented (see http://freezimbabwe.com/resources.php). But this is what happens in a dictatorship and many Zimbabweans have suffered much more than me.
Many have died; others have seen their families slaughtered. The only way we are going to have a chance of a normal life is to get rid of Zanu PF. While those people have the fingers of their right hand on the triggers and fingers of their left in the till we will never see real rusununguko. Let’s not forget that.
Anyone who says otherwise is sticking their head in the sand.
GM: Will you ever recover?
RB: I am fine. I am strong and I am fighting on. It is normal, everyday (it is) Zimbabweans who give me strength, who encourage me daily, and I am pressing on for them. My re-election at congress is a request from the people that I keep fighting — that I keep fighting for ordinary Zimbabweans, keep fighting for the principles that drove the formation of the MDC in 1999, and I take those responsibilities very seriously.
I also have a loving family and a loving God, so I am far from being down-and-out.
GM: What’s next for you? Do you intend to participate in next elections, how and where?
RB: Some of those decisions will have to be weighed further down the track. I will do what is strategic and what is in the best interests of the people.
GM: Lastly, what has your party not done which it should have done, to make sure that Mugabe is forced to institute sweeping reforms as spelt out and agreed in the GPA?
RB: There is always more that could have been done. It is unfortunate that things like Posa are still on the statute books. This is based on repressive legislation that is more than 40 years old. But the main problem is Zanu PF itself. It is foolish to think any little pieces of paper will stop them from doing what they want.
No amount of changes to the constitution or the law will stop Zanu PF from being Zanu PF. Root-and-branch surgery is required. The MDC was formed to bring about democratic change and it is only when a democratic government takes power that life will change for the better in Zimbabwe. Daily News
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