Last year Nehanda Radio exclusively broke the news that radio legend Ezra ‘Tshisa’ Sibanda was throwing his hat into the political ring and seeking office as an MP under the MDC led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Nehanda Radio Managing Editor Lance Guma caught up with Ezra a few days after he arrived back in the United Kingdom from his whirlwind tour and campaigns in Vungu, deep in the heart of the Midlands Province in Zimbabwe.
Lance Guma: Let’s revisit your decision to enter politics. What was the motivation?
Ezra Sibanda: Let me begin by saying thank you for having me in this interview. If you ask a lot of people who go into politics they will give you different sorts of reasons, which range from personal gains to a call of duty.
For me it was the realisation that I can contribute to my country by campaigning for social justice. I see no social justice when someone in Vungu and other parts of the country goes to bed without food or clean water.
My entry into politics is motivated by my belief in a fair and just society. If you ask a postmodernist about this concept, they are likely to tell you this philosophy is a fairy tale that is not in any way achievable in any form in society, but for me, as a critical realist I believe social justice is achievable.
This concept which I firmly believe in demands that people have equal rights and opportunity, everyone from the poorest person on the margins of society to the wealthiest all deserve an even playing field. This belief has clearly motivated me to take the bull by its proverbial horns.
I am making this political journey for a reason. It’s humbling, but in my heart I know it won’t be that easy, but I am doing it because I believe in what Zimbabwe as a country can be.
For example, if you look at Zimbabwe, according to the World Bank has a GDP of $9.9 billion US dollars while a country like Botswana has a GDP of $17. 63 billion, almost double our country. The question is: as rich as our country is, why does Botswana’s economy have to be double ours?
Just to put the record straight I have always been in politics since my time with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. So many things happened at the state controlled ZBC which l didn’t agree with at the time, especially doing one sided shows to promote and favour the Zanu PF government.
If you recall my time and shows l did at the corporation you would realise l have always been known as someone radical and accused of being an enemy of the state by refusing to do propaganda shows.
There was nothing as painful as to being told what to report or say in your shows as a broadcaster, it destroyed my spirit, enthusiasm and love for the job I loved so much.
Guma: There is talk of some MDC-T members and supporters being disgruntled at what they feel are people in the diaspora who are opportunists and only coming back home to join what they think is the gravy train. Your thoughts on this?
Sibanda: I’m sure those disgruntled people are not genuine members of the MDC-T party. Anyone who understands the founding ideals of our party will tell you that the MDC-T is the people’s party, a party of excellence and a party for Zimbabwe by Zimbabweans which believes in democratic principles.
Any Zimbabwean is free to join the MDC-T and participate in its struggle for democratic change regardless of their geographical location. It’s not a rigid party because it has structures all over the world supported by Zimbabweans in the diaspora who left the country for various reasons, mainly political.
The MDC-T constitution allows any member of the party who has been fully paid up for 5 years or more to contest for any position in any election held in Zimbabwe. Whether you are locally based or you live in the diaspora as long as you meet the criteria and go through primary election it’s your democratic right.
It’s so unfortunate, disappointing and quite disturbing if some people feel the diaspora MDC-T supporters are opportunists trying to jump on a gravy train. Which gravy train when we still have to fight, win primary elections and above all fight the stubborn Zanu PF in the next elections?
It’s not a walk in the park to fight the Zanu PF regime. It’s hard work against a stone-hearted party which will do anything to cling on to power. MDC-T supporters going home are Zimbabweans who feel it’s time to go back and help shape the future of our country after experiencing democracy in countries they have been living in.
Some have acquired good educational qualifications and want to use those tools in the country they love, which is Zimbabwe. No individual should stop them. Anybody should be free to contest and let the people decide. It is also my democratic and constitutional right as a Zimbabwean citizen to participate.
Guma: There has been much discussion about the criteria for candidates to qualify for MDC-T primary elections. Are you confident you meet the requirements?
Sibanda: Lance, I’m a founder member of the MDC. I joined the party led by Morgan Richard Tsvangirai at its formation in 1999 and still have the old MDC membership card. I am actually a senior member of the party, far much older in MDC-T party than some who are disgruntled by me coming home.
My job as a broadcaster and media ethics at the time did not permit me to openly participate in MDC structures though I did a lot of underground work for the party. My leaders know my input and contribution in the struggle. I didn’t need to shout all over and scream to be noticed that I’m an MDC-T member.
I knew the right time will come and it has. That’s why I announced my intention of contesting to becoming a Member of Parliament for my home area of Vungu constituency in the Midlands Province. I meet all the conditions set by my party. I have supplied all the information which they needed and also my CV.
Guma: Your colleague and friend Eric Knight also announced his decision to seek political office. In fact we also exclusively broke this news. Many people are assuming Knight took his cue from you and decided to follow your lead.
Sibanda: I know, but I had no influence on his decision. I can’t say he took the cue from me but will assume he got motivated perhaps after reading my intentions in the press.
His decision did not surprise or shock me because he is someone who has always been frustrated by the political and economic situation in the country we love and as you know the bad experience at ZBC pushed him as well to partake in the political struggle of Zimbabwe.
Guma: You were back in Zimbabwe over the festive season and we saw pictures of you addressing large crowds in Vungu. Tell us about your campaign so far?
Sibanda: Oh that was exciting Lance! Don’t forget I have been in touch with the people on the ground ever since I came to the UK 10 years ago. The first time I returned home was in June 2010 when they asked me to come back and stand for them in the forthcoming elections.
I go to Zimbabwe 4 times a year to meet people from my constituency. It has been great and they are resilient people who won’t rest until the change they dream of comes. They see change on the horizon, have the belief and are confident 2013 a new Zimbabwe will be born.
In my one month in Zimbabwe I met and addressed hundreds of people in different wards of Vungu. I wanted to hear from them as well, what they want and what can be done to change their situation.
They want to go back to the days when they would supply the country with their farm products; tomatoes, vegetables and fruits. Lower Gweru was the warm heart of Zimbabwe, it’s time to reclaim it back and the MDC-T party is the only party which can bring it back to the glory days.
I also told them of my vision for the constituency and explained my policies which can help our constituency back to where it was after 33 years of Zanu PF corruption and neglect and together we can make it.
If we are going to bring about change that we need, we have to understand what change is. It’s not about Zanu PF introducing new candidates, singing about empowerment, giving people hand-outs and people believing its change which shapes the country’s future.
We need change in policies, policies which ruined a once beautiful African nation through corruption and mismanagement, an Africa nation which fed the whole of Southern Africa with its agricultural products, had a flourishing economy and an internationally recognised education system.
I also met Zanu PF supporters and war vets in some resettlement areas, saw the conditions they were living in and couldn’t believe how and why settle so many people in places where there was no order, no clinics or schools nearby.
Most of their children have to travel over 20km to nearby schools and also pregnant mothers travelling long distances to seek medical help and these farmers having no resources to farm and unbelievable now urgently need food aid.
They agreed with me that their chaotic and disorganised resettlement scheme was poorly planned and implemented without looking at all the logistics. I’m glad they now agree with me, we have got to change Zimbabwe, but let’s be absolutely clear about what change means-change isn’t just a word.
Guma: I understand the late legendary football striker Adam Ndlovu and the other Highlanders Legends were meant to play in a friendly match against a Vungu Select in December last year and that you had organised this match?
Sibanda: Yes indeed, my heart was shattered. I’m still devastated and in great pain after my friend, someone who was adored and loved by anyone who met him, the legendary Adam Ndlovu was tragically and horrible taken away from us.
Because of my good relationship with him and other Bosso legends, I arranged a Highlanders Legends match to play a friendly game against school leavers in Lower Gweru on the 23 of December 2012.
This was not a party thing but we wanted a peace game where both the general public, supporters of MDC and Zanu PF would come together to watch the beautiful game. We now live in modern world, I believed since football is a unifying sport, it would be helpful to educate people on tolerance.
I wanted people to understand that we can differ in opinions but still live side by side without committing acts of violence by harming, intimidating or bullying each other because of our political affiliations and beliefs.
Guma: The Zanu PF candidate won the Vungu parliamentary seat in March 2008. Why do you think you can win the seat this time around?
Sibanda: Zanu PF won the seat because the MDC-T fielded two candidates dividing the votes and leaving Zanu-PF to pip us by a small margin of less than 100 votes. We also had the MDC-M’s Renson Gasela who also picked up a few votes. So if you add the total number of two MDC-T candidates you will realise we could have won that seat by a landslide victory.
The good thing is that as per the new arrangements following the GPA, losing candidates in the primaries are not permitted to contest using party name so there is no danger of dividing votes this time. They were also some irregularities during the transportation of ballot boxes from resettlement areas of Somabhula.
Guma: There is a picture of you with the incumbent Zanu PF MP Josphat Madubeko. Why did you meet him and what did you say to him?
Sibanda: As I said before, in modern politics we need maturity and tolerance if ever we are to move with the times as a country. I believe in politics of engaging opponents, it’s a healthy thing to do that than engage in the politics of hate which ends up leading to hate speeches and violence.
I met Madubeko and told him he needed to pack his bags and retire, because him and his Zanu PF has failed our people for the last 2 terms he has been in parliament. He did nothing, absolutely nothing and couldn’t explain to me and the people what he did with the allocated Constituency Development Fund.
I told him he is a criminal to embezzle money meant for the constituency and has no respect for the people of Vungu. Honest criticism is healthy.
Guma: Suppose you win both the MDC-T primary and national parliamentary election and become MP for Vungu, what are some of the first things you will seek to get done in your home area?
Sibanda: There is so much work in that constituency Lance. The state of the roads is extremely bad considering the area is less than 50km from Gweru Town. We have two huge dams which burst some years ago and remain unconstructed. These are the dams which were the livelihood of people through irrigation, fishing and drinking water for their livestock.
We have to urgently rebuild their capacity and get our people working again. Schools need books, 40 children in a class in some schools share one text book, and how do we expect them to pass in this current arrangement?
Teachers are not motivated to teach because of such a situation and they are not bothered. As for clinics there is no medication, we need urgent help and I believe I can play a role and fight to deliver for the people of Vungu.
Guma: On social networking sites, you have been receiving a lot of criticism from supporters of the smaller MDC led by Welshman Ncube. Why is that?
Sibanda: It’s shocking the amount of abuse I’m getting from these irrelevant and tribalistic individuals. They are not from Vungu but just keyboard creatures who have taken advantage of social networks to score cheap political points.
And we all know that the internet is still an unregulated jungle where anyone can say anything about anyone and everyone and expect to get away with it. As such, most of these people create and publish gossip, rumour, speculation, innuendo, and even slander and pass it off just to fix someone.
I don’t expect to get abuse from supporters of another political party which claims to be fighting for democracy in Zimbabwe unless they have a different agenda. Most of them accuse me of joining MDC-T, calling me a traitor and I don’t know what they mean by that.
If ever they thought I have to support a party on tribal lines then they don’t belong to the modern world, they just have to remain in their caves for the new Zimbabwe has no room for people like them.
These are the people who are soiling MDC-N’s name and if allowed by their leaders they will cement most of the people’s feeling that it is a tribal party when we are told it’s not. I’m sure Welshman Ncube is against such idiots who are slowly but surely turning MDC-N to a regional party and that’s very sad.
I just want to pass the message to my abusers; Tribalism is the discrimination of any individual or group of individuals against another, specifically in a negative manner. There are no excuses for harming an individual or group; there are no excuses for destroying other humans.
Positive change is here and everyone who stands positively will always have the greatest power- The power of Love. MDC-T is the party to bring our people together, the word tribalism or racism won’t be in our vocabulary because in the new Zimbabwe none of that will be tolerated.
Guma: Having spent over a decade in the diaspora and drawing from this experience, how can Zimbabweans who are in exile contribute to the social, economic and political processes back home?
Zimbabweans in the diaspora are special people and if voted I will definitely fight for them to be recognised and their contribution appreciated. I’m sure Zimbabwe would have been a failed state maybe worse than Somalia if it was not for people living outside Zimbabwe.
They sustained our economy in those difficult years, gave emotional and financial support to families and friends during those dark years of poverty, starvation and serious political violence.
They need to be commended for their sacrifice and working extremely hard to help our country and the people through opening up small businesses, remittance to their loved ones and also sending medication to their suffering relatives.
Zimbabweans in the diaspora need to think of investing home, they need to be supported, it’s their country and we should not abandon them. Let’s get into groups, think big and then go and open up clinics, hospitals, schools, colleges, mining and other viable businesses.
There are so many opportunities in Zimbabwe and we can’t allow the Chinese to take over as they are doing now. We also need people to participate in politics, by having people who have tasted democracy. It will help shape our future politics in Zimbabwe and also educate our people about tolerance.
We need vibrant individuals who through their experience know that being an MP is not just to occupy a position but to understand the responsibilities which go with that if ever we are to help move our country forward.
Guma: What is your assessment of the MDC-T’s chances of winning the next election?
MDC-T has always been winning elections since 2000 Lance, it’s not a matter of chances but it’s a matter of being given our right to run the country, don’t forget we won elections in 2008 again. MDC-T is the party for the people by the people, people spoke and continue to speak hence they continue to vote for it in every election.
They trust and believe in the leadership of the party and have the resilience to soldier on despite persecution and suppression, illegal arrests and torture, murder and rape, poverty and starvation, acts of violence, that is enough evidence and speaks volumes that the party is getting more stronger by each day and they believe Morgan Tsvangirai is the leader to take us to Canaan and we are about to get there. The road might be rough but we are confident change is in now in our doorsteps.
We know there will be political parties mushrooming once the date of elections is announced. These multiple feeble parties will be strategically manufactured with a high and brave determination to castrate our leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC.
They may be united or disunited but have always failed to stand the Tsvangirai driven whirl-wind whose common denominator remains genuine freedom, real democracy, institutional renewal and true citizenry engagement.
These parties stand ‘zero’ chance in Zimbabwe. The people of Zimbabwe have over-stayed in Zanu PF slavery furnaces over the past 33 years, so real transformation has become so important and urgent. People can’t wait to unlock the chains of slavery and experience real freedom, change and democracy.
Guma: Are you not worried about the prospect of Mugabe’s regime rigging the poll?
Sibanda: To rule out rigging in Zimbabwe will be fooling oneself. We just have to be more vigilant, try and prevent any form of rigging. We just hope the new constitution will prevent previous illegal deeds of stealing elections.
We just need the voters roll to be sorted and remove the dead people in there who have been used to steal elections. I trust and believe if all the reforms are met and fulfilled as per the GPA then there is no chance of rigging these forthcoming elections.
I believe if our members and all those concerned about the future of the country come out in their numbers to exercise their right as voters there won’t be able to rig elections because the numbers will be too high to play around with. Elections are won by numbers so we have to urge people to come out and vote.
I’m glad we have an intelligent national organising secretary in the MDC-T in Nelson Chamisa. I genuinely believe he possesses the talent, knowledge and skill to organise and lead the structures. He will lead us to victory.
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