By Paul Nyakazeya
Independent candidate Temba Mliswa (TM) overcame the odds to win the Norton by-election held at the weekend. He speaks to the Financial Gazette’s Online Editor, Paul Nyakazeya (PN), about the victory, expulsion from ZANU-PF, funding, his relationship with Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, as well as former Cabinet minister Didymus Mutasa and having direct access to President Robert Mugabe.
PN: Congratulations for winning in Norton. How significant is this victory for the opposition and independent candidates?
TM: Thank you for congratulating me, it is significant in that it has given Zimbabweans confidence. We had lost confidence in the whole electoral process. That is not to say the electoral reforms are in order. No, there are still a lot of electoral malpractices such as vote buying, violence and rigging. But you must understand that when people talk about rigging, what kind of rigging is it. It was now in people’s minds — it was a fallacy, a propaganda that ZANU-PF even enjoyed that every election is rigged. Not knowing that ZANU-PF is not as strong as it used to be. They are divisions in ZANU-PF; there was the (former vice president Joice) Mujuru faction, which is no longer there. There is G40 and (Team) Lacoste that have been fighting each other since 2014. So it is an opportunity for any seasoned politician and a person who understands ZANU-PF (to take them head on). It is not all about getting into an election, but having a strategy. The Hurungwe West by-election was marred by violence and intimidation because war veterans were involved. War veterans were out of this (Norton) election and they decided to support me. You do not need many war veterans behind you, what you need is an endorsement from the war veterans. Zimbabweans have respect for the freedom fighters of this country for the role they played to liberate this country. That is also something that was not on ZANU-PF’s side. The opposition too was very important. You need to test the so-called coalition whether it is real or not. My assessment as an independent candidate was to see if these opposition parties can support each other. If you cannot support me as an independent how then can you support someone who belongs to a party that is not yours?
PN: So you are saying if ZANU-PF had war veterans’ support in Norton, you would have lost?
TM: The war veterans have been instrumental in rigging for ZANU-PF, and by rigging I do not mean through the ballot box, but by managing the village heads, the chiefs, intimidation and violence. They were critical. All service chiefs are war veterans; they were also responsible for security at farms. Besides them being the watchdogs of the party, they were also the security of the country. It was strategic to place them like that.
PN: People contest in elections to win, there could be doubts here and there considering our political environment, but for you it seems you knew very well that you will be victorious.
TM: I knew I was going to win because my mandate as a provincial chairman of the province (before my expulsion from ZANU-PF) did involve Norton as a constituency, so that intimate knowledge of the area was critical. It is also a resource game. You do not go to elections if you do not have enough resources.
PN: So who was funding you, some say it was the Americans?
TM: I am blessed that I have enough cars. I was using 10 cars of my own. I am also a farmer and had a good agricultural season; I sold most of my sugar beans to buyers in Mbare; it was cash put into the elections. Nobody wants to support an independent person in an election; so for ZANU-PF to say I was funded by the Americans to the tune of US$150 000 is not true. I could easily win 15 of ZANU-PF constituencies with that amount. I never asked for funding from anybody. I do not go to war without enough ammunition myself. No one wants to fund an independent candidate, even my friends refused to help me; they were scared. There was no cash. If they were to assist me financially it was going to be through the bank and they had their fears. People and companies are scared of ZANU-PF. Some people are in prison or dead because of ZANU-PF. My victory was like liberation for the people of Norton. When I was in Hurungwe on a ZANU-PF ticket, who was funding me? It is interesting that when I won in Hurungwe on a ZANU-PF ticket, no one talked about who funded me. ZANU-PF did not fund me neither did the British, Americans nor anybody.
PN: How much did you spend in the Hurungwe and Norton by-elections?
TM: Hurungwe was over half a million dollars and Norton, the figure that we have now is about US$65 000, although we are still to finalise the figuers,
PN: What lessons did you learn from the Hurungwe West by-election last year and how did you apply them in this election?
TM: In Hurungwe I was naive; I had left ZANU-PF and I had never contested against ZANU-PF. I loved the people of Hurungwe and they loved me too, but they were intimidated and I understood that. I used to be told and hear that ZANU-PF uses violence and intimidation. When you are inside the house you never really know what is going on outside. My experience in Hurungwe gave me an understanding of how to deal with ZANU-PF in this election.
PN: How many people were on the new voters’ roll and what is your message to the people of Norton?
TM: They are great people, they have certainly liberated Zimbabwe. They are heroes and heroines — there are no two ways about it. That is historic. I brought in a new concept of campaigning; you know the bhuru mudanga, vanogona vauya was popular. I got everyone involved; we had road shows; we were doing it in public, which has never been done before. Eighteen thousand people registered and 15 000 voted on the new voters’ roll which is excellent. The supplementary one was not as good. We had new voters, who have never voted and some who were disgruntled and did not vote.
PN: Will you not follow the same steps that Jonathan Samkange trudged whereby upon being elected as an independent candidate in Mudzi South, he went back to re-join ZANU-PF? It also happened with Jonathan Moyo in Tsholotsho.
TM:The only way I can come back to ZANU-PF is if I am made president of the party, not any other position. That way I will change the whole system. The truth of the matter is he (President Robert Mugabe) is very old and should now spend time with his grandson. We respect him, but it’s time for a new generation. Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking when I voted for a man so old at the last presidential election.
PN: Maybe you voted for him because you benefitted a lot from ZANU-PF and the whole system such that it was a case of “see no evil and hear no evil” for you then. You simply moved with the crowd.
TM: I never benefitted from ZANU-PF. If there is one person who has been arrested more than anybody else when I was in ZANU-PF, it is me. It was like I was in opposition. Some people would ask me why I still stayed in ZANU-PF when I was being arrested like that.
PN: Why did you stay in ZANU-PF when you were being harassed like that?
TM: I believed in the institution and not individuals, but realised that the institution is made up of individuals, they are the ones who drive it. I lost a lot of money through these legal cases, a trust fund for my children is depleted now (because of the court cases).
PN: So when this week you said you are now going for the bull, did you mean you are going to challenge the President in 2018.
TM: I will help to ensure that he is no longer there as President. (President) Mugabe made a mistake; he sent people to me thinking they were bulls, but these where heifers and despite all they said I beat them.
PN: Who were these heifers in Norton?
TM: He (President Mugabe) sends (Vice President Phelekezela) Mphoko to come and campaign when he was spending taxpayer’s money for close to two years (while staying in a hotel). You think people forget. The party also does not respect its leadership and you expect it to command respect in the community, it is impossible. VP Emmerson Mnangagwa was humiliated by Mandi Chimene in front of the President himself, nothing was done. He (Mnangagwa) also came to campaign for ZANU-PF. You send (Saviour) Kasukuwere – the political commissar of the party, who is living in a posh house he cannot account for. He also sent (Minister of Home Affairs) Ignatius Chombo. How can he send people who do not have credibility? You think people are stupid?
PN: This victory, is it not a wake-up call for ZANU-PF to “step up their game”? Will we not see the intimidation and violence you were talking about rising to ensure that they retain as many seats as possible in future elections?
TM: They cannot. They tried violence and vote-buying and it did not work and will not work, so what’s next it is to kill the people, that’s the only thing that they can do, to kill everyone. Certainly when you are on medication prescribed by the doctor and the medication does not work, the next thing is you are going to die. ZANU-PF is on its way to the grave. ZANU-PF came in full force, but still lost. They sent Kasukuwere, they sent Chombo, they also sent the two Vice Presidents Mphoko and Mnangagwa. Wherever I am or I stand for an election they (ZANU-PF) know they are dealing with someone who is strategic. I beat Kasukuwere during the youth elections: I was backing Shadreck Chipanga. I do not promise people what I will not deliver; I commit to them what I will do. I am not from Norton, but I won there. As politicians, we should be honest.
PN: I understand you are closely related to Vice President Mnangagwa and Zimbabwe People First founder member, Didymus Mutasa? How do you balance those relationships considering you are all active in politics, but with different visions, objectives and parties.
TM: Yes it is true I am related to Mnangagwa, he is my cousin. When he was in Zambia my parents looked after him during the struggle. But you have to understand one thing, when I was expelled from ZANU-PF Mnangagwa was part of that team that expelled me. He got me expelled because it was a disciplinary committee made up of five people (Simon Khaya) SK Moyo, Mnangagwa, Oppah (Muchinguri-Kashiri), (Sydney) Sekeramayi and the late Sikhanyiso Ndlovu. When they first sat – the three of them, Moyo, Sekeramayi and Ndlovu, they could not make a decision, yet a quorum had been reached. If they had made a decision I could not have been expelled. But they were so scared of Mnangagwa and wanted him to be there. In the next meeting that is when I was expelled. So if you look at it, it’s Mnangagwa who got me expelled. At the same time Mutasa is my uncle, my grandmother’s brother. He could not do anything about it because he was also part of the Politburo at the time. I am trying to show you that I was expelled by Mnangangwa and Mutasa did nothing about it. So those relationships mean nothing at the end of the day. Mutasa was a political guru in Manicaland, Mnangangwa is a political guru in Midlands. I come from the Midlands, but I do my politics in Mashonaland West. How can they influence where I am now. If I wanted their support I could be in their provinces.
PN: Could it be they did not support you and turned a blind eye because you were once linked to former vice president Joice Mujuru’s camp then?
TM:I was accused of supporting Mai Mujuru by the Mnangagwa faction. This is where I find myself; equally now I am being accused of supporting Mnangangwa. I never support individuals, but an office. There is no difference between Mnangagwa and Mai Mujuru. They were all handpicked by (President) Mugabe. They never sailed through an election. In 2004, Mnangagwa was supposed to come in as vice president, but he did not. Mai Mujuru was handpicked and imposed. That time everybody admittedly that they were supporting Mnangagwa, including myself. At the last congress there were no elections, they were handpicked. I was accused of being the person who was going to move a motion for President Mugabe to step down and Mai Mujuru to take over and was the first provincial chairperson to be expelled. If you really look at it, I paid a price for people who never really helped me because I am my own person.
PN: Is it the reason why on Monday you said Joice Mujuru should not be leader of the opposition coalition and MDC-T Morgan Tsvangirai should be instead?
TM: I do not believe in imposition; Mujuru has never won a congress in ZANU-PF, why would she think she is more popular; she was handpicked to be vice president. The late general (Solomon Mujuru) was instrumental in ensuring that Mugabe became president, so it was payback time. To me, I keep saying this about Mai Mujuru: She got rid of Didymus Mutasa the person who together with Rugare Gumbo, Jabulani Sibanda and myself formed Zimbabwe People First. We invited her, but the people who invited her are no longer in People First: What does that say. We have people like (David) Butau and Jealous Mawarire. You cannot compare me to Jealous politically. He has never been a chairman of a cell, and let alone become spokesperson when Rugare Gumbo is there. Mugabe had more respect for Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa more than Mai Mujuru has for them right now. They are insulted by young boys and girls. People First was premised on people from ZANU-PF and her getting Sipepa-Nkomo from the opposition shows how weak she is. ZANU-PF is not following her. You cannot lead without ZANU-PF following you. I had ZANU-PF supporting me. You have to understand to win an election you have to have ZANU-PF people supporting you not the opposition supporting you. If she thinks she is popular when her party is full of nonentities then her matrix and formula is wrong. Where is Jabulani Sibanda? We have people like (Dzikamai) Mavhaire, who is a tribalist. Who just wants to be a mukaranga vice president. He is compromised, one minute he says (President) Mugabe must go; the next minute he comes and says good things about (President) Mugabe. We want politicians who are consistent. Hate me or like me I am very consistent about what I say. And when I am backing Tsvangirai I am basing it on the results from ZEC of elections held in this country. When I look at the results I do not see Mai Mujuru anywhere. So why should I support someone from a speculative point of view. This is about people’s lives and future. My point is let’s support those who were there before us, who have a positive record. I equally have ambitions to be president, but when someone is there who have a following, why don’t I back that person?
PN: As provincial chairperson or after you were expelled, have you ever meet President Mugabe to tell him your side on the story? If so who facilitated those meetings?
TM: I have met (President) Mugabe through my own means, Mnangagwa, Didymus or Mai Mujuru never took me to (President) Mugabe. I knew the President myself. He (Mugabe) gave me his number on a one-to-one. I had direct access to (President) Mugabe as a provincial chairperson. I told him I did not want to come to him through anybody else and wanted to talk to him directly. What if I have a complaint against Chombo or (Webster) Shamu, (Edna) Madzongwe or any of the Politburo members in the province and I keep coming to him with them. He understood that and for me he gave me a lot of time. I met (President) Mugabe more than eight times and at any given time for not less than two hours. Some of the Cabinet ministers do not even spend that much time with (President) Mugabe.
PN: From those meetings what are your views on President Mugabe as a person and a leader?
TM: I liked (President) Mugabe, I loved the man. But am very sincere, I thought in my suspension and expulsion, as the leader of party and somebody I had a good relationship with, he could have called me and asked me if these allegations were true or not. But he was misled just like he is being misled right now. Norton is gone to a chairman he allowed to be fired. What does that say about my expulsion? Was it proper? Was it honest? Did it benefit the party or it has hurt the party? ZANU-PF is creating another (Julius) Malema. If he had called me I was going to tell him the truth. The President was and is being misled by people who are criminals.
PN: What can we expect from Temba Mliswa in Parliament?
TM: A lot of ZANU-PF officials congratulated me this week, saying we are happy because you will bring up issues that we cannot raise. I will bring up national issues that affect the lives of the majority of Zimbabweans. I Will be happy to meet up with people like (MDC-T vice president Nelson) Chamisa and (Gokwe-Nembudziya Member of Parliament Justice) Wadyajena. These are young boys who are progressive. I am fighting for my generation. We need God-fearing leaders. Political parties should not take the electorate for granted. I will also fight for the girl child. I do not believe government is serious about the girl child by buying condoms and prioritising sex education instead of making the girl child go to school for free. If they do not go to school that is when they will end up indulging in sex. We must accelerate this programme because the girl child is disadvantaged in this country. The Financial Gazette