Replacing the tyrant but not the tyranny: Interview: Violet Gonda ‘Hot Seat’ with David Coltart

By Violet Gonda

Journalist Violet Gonda brings you an in-depth analysis of President Mnangagwa’s controversial new cabinet. Her guest on the Hot Seat programme is lawyer and opposition leader David Coltart who says the appointment of Mnangagwa via a military coup was merely replacing the tyrant but not the tyranny.

Former Education minister David Coltart and President Emmerson Mnangagwa
Former Education minister David Coltart and President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Coltart warns the government is going to be run by a civilian administration, which has just a thin veneer over a military junta. He believes it’s going to be harder for Mnangagwa to fight an election than it was for Robert Mugabe who had support in the rural areas and explains why he disagrees with those who are calling for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to retire.

Please note the interview was conducted on the day of the cabinet announcement, before the President made amendments, which included firing Education Minister Lazarus Dokora.

Violet Gonda:Mr Coltart, first of all, your thoughts on this new cabinet?

David: I’m very disappointed. I was prepared to give Emmerson Mnangagawa the benefit of the doubt. I was encouraged by the statement that he issued just before he returned to Zimbabwe, and by much of his inauguration address. I was also encouraged by some of the actions taken this week, and so, I had high expectations for this cabinet. I never expected him to appoint a government of national unity; I always felt there was insufficient time in the run-up to the elections, but I really hoped that he would reach out and get some good technocrats involved – use the 5 cabinet posts reserved to him in terms of the Constitution to do that, and also perhaps to bring in some younger blood from within ZANU PF. He’s failed to do that, although he’s bought in 3 technocrats; which is encouraging. The rest of the cabinet is made up generally of old men. There is not a single person under the age of 40, there are only 3 women in a cabinet of 22, and he has bought in some hard-line military people including Perence Shiri and Major General Moyo.

Violet: Who are the biggest winners?

David: Well the military, clearly, is behind this. This is the deal. He has put the military in key positions. Major General Moyo is now the Foreign Minister; he will play a critical role in the interaction between Zimbabwe and the African Union and SADC. Perence Shiri is now the Minister of Lands and has got a very important role to play and then he (Mnangagwa) has put in some of the hardliners.

Violet: Many fear that the military have captured the political space. You mentioned Major General Moyo who is now the Foreign Affairs Minister. What does he need to do to turn things around because at the end of the day people don’t know anything about him? Does he have a background in international relations? Or, is it going to be easy sailing for him because the West is eager to reengage with a reinvented ZANU PF?

David: Well, I’m puzzled by President Mnangagwa’s appointment of Major General Moyo. I’ve got nothing against Major General Moyo. I don’t know him at all, but he does have a problematic past. He is mentioned in the 2002 UN report into the plundering of the Congo, he was then Director General of COSLEG, he advised both Tremult and Oryx Natural Resources, which represented covert Zimbabwean military financial interest in negotiations with state mining companies in the DRC then. He was also the person accused by civic groups of being in charge of violent military action against MDC members in the Presidential run-off election in 2008 and, of course, he was the face of the coup in the early hours of Wednesday 15th November, when he appeared on ZBC. So, it’s a puzzling choice for Foreign Minister because this is a man who is already known to the international community in a very bad way. It may be that these allegations were false, but the UN enquiry into the DRC was comprised of competent people from a range of different countries, including Egypt and other countries and they came out with this damning report. So, he is going to have to overcome that history in projecting Zimbabwe as a modern democratic nation state.

Violet: Why do you think Emmerson Mnangagwa chose him? Was he stuck with these military people because he had to reward military people? And you mentioned Air Marshall Perence Shiri, who is now the Lands Minister. How significant is that?

David: Well, dealing with your first one, obviously I don’t know the thought process that President Mnangagwa went through in appointing Major General Moyo. It does appear as if it is some way of payback to the military for their assistance, but that is a mere assumption.

Major General Moyo may have attributes that President Mnangagwa’s aware of, that none of us are aware of. It is puzzling. I would have thought that he would have chosen someone like Patrick Chinamasa who made quite a good connection in Washington; is viewed as a relatively moderate lawyer who would have presented a better face for the nation.

Turning to your question regarding Air Marshall Perence Shiri, it is problematic. He was the Commander of the Fifth Brigade. The North Korean trained Fifth Brigade in 1983. And, although of course, he has been Commander of the Air Force for a long time, he had a relatively low profile. Now, he becomes a Minister of Lands.

Land is obviously a key issue for President Mnangagwa, he referred to it in his inaugural address. He said that he wanted a new dispensation; that he wanted to pay compensation to farmers; and, in that role, Mr Shiri is going to have to have this international face. He’s going to be the face of the nation in persuading the international community that the land question has been resolved. So, it’s a curious choice. It doesn’t make sense to me. I would have thought that any number of ZANU PF ex Cabinet Minsters or Members of Parliament would have fitted that role better.

Violet: You say Patrick Chinamasa would have made a good appointment as Foreign Affairs Minister. But, some would argue the only good appointment was returning Chinamasa as Finance Minister because of his experience in the previous Cabinet. That right now he is the best person for this position and that his is the only position that matters right now because it’s all about the economy… about the money.

David: Well, I actually take a contrary view because the reality is that Tendai Biti, the former Finance Minister, stabilized the economy. Under his tenure, as you know, the economy grew, bank deposits grew. Since Patrick Chinamasa took office as Finance Minister, there has been a run on bank deposits. He is the person responsible for this massive budget deficit, which has been funded by the issuance of Treasury Bills. He is the person responsible for issuing Bond notes.

So, he, more than anyone else, must take responsibility for the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. I would have thought, if ever there was ever a position that needed a sound technocrat, someone like a Nkosana Moyo or a Simba Makoni, it was the Ministry of Finance. So, I disagree with that. I don’t think it does inspire confidence in the public confidence in the Banking sector to have Patrick Chinamasa in that position.

Violet: Who are the technocrats you mentioned earlier on? You said there are 3 technocrats at least in this Cabinet. Who are they?

David: The 3 technocrats are Professor Amon Murwira, who is a University of Zimbabwe lecturer, Professor Kevin Nyathi, who up until now has been working with the UNDP and Winston Chitando, who is Minister of Mines now, and up until his appointment was Chairman, and – I think, before that was Managing Director of Mimosa Platinum Mines.

So, those are good appointments, all three of those. I don’t know much about the two professors, but certainly Winston Chitando is respected in the mining sector and Mimosa Mines seems to have BEEN run well. So, credit where credit is due, those are 3 good appointments.

Professor Nyathi has been appointed Minister of Labour. He has six years’ experience working for the UNDP on conflict transformation and capacity building, and it seems that President Mnangagwa has put him into that position because of his experience.

He is the one who is going to have to negotiate with labour, presumably through the tough decisions that President Mnangagwa is going to have to take to stabilize the economy. So, he’s chosen someone with good experience to perform that role.

Violet: I understand that, by law, the President is only supposed to have appointed 5 non-constituency members of parliament but in this case, he has appointed at least 8. What can you say about this?

David: Well, he has 5 in terms of the Constitution. The Constitution also says that people can be appointed but then also have to take up seats in Parliament within a prescribed period of time, I think it’s within 3 months. So, I presume that having got rid of the likes of Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere and others from Parliament, there are now by-elections coming up and I assume they get these people, these extra 3 people, to stand in the constituencies that are now vacant.

Violet: But what about the issue of Perence Shiri and Sibusiso Moyo? Have they been retired yet?

David: Well, the Constitution is very clear in that regard. The old constitution was not clear but the new Constitution is very clear that ministers cannot hold any other office on becoming ministers. So, they are going to have to resign their commissions and end their service in the military. That of course goes across the board, for example, the technocrat; Winston Chitando will have to resign as Chairman of Mimosa Mines because the Constitution is very clear now that when you are a cabinet minister, you cannot hold any other post.

Violet: What is Mnangagwa thinking of in terms of bringing in cabinet ministers, who for a long time have been described as useless in government. Why should Zimbabweans be convinced that these ministers will do things differently – namely Obert Mpofu, David Parirenyatwa, Supa Mandiwanzira and even Lazarus Dokora. What can you say about those appointments?

David: President Mnangagwa’s problem is that he’s restricted to current ZANU PF Members of Parliament. We’ve just discussed that you can appoint 5 outsiders. So, he was restricted to those people presently in parliament, and of course, given the way he’s been treated by the G40 faction this year – two assassination attempts on him – so he obviously is mistrustful of a lot of his parliamentary colleagues.

So that would have cut down; that would have narrowed; his options even further. So, to a certain extent I’m sympathetic for him because he has to deal with the team allocated to him. And, he doesn’t, to be frank, have much choice, other than to recycle many of these ministers who have not performed particularly well in the past.

Violet: So, basically, what you are saying is that there are no new things that we can expect from these recycled Ministers, and that there is a lack of skilled people in ZANU PF?

David: Well, if you go through the list. As I say, Patrick Chinamasa has presided over the collapse of the economy in the last few years. Obert Mpofu was Minister of Mines when, according to none other than Robert Mugabe, the diamond sector was looted of $15 billion.

That came under his watch. He is now in charge of the Police, responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminals. So that doesn’t give one much confidence. My successor, Lazarus Dakora has courted a lot of controversy in the last 4 years.

I don’t think it’s really fair for me to comment beyond that regarding my own successor. But then, when you go through the rest of the list, there are very few people who I think the public will have confidence in. But, I reiterate, President Mnangagwa didn’t have much to choose from.

Violet: Yes, but still, are we moving forward or we are stuck in the same place?

David: I think that we are moving forward to the extent that we have prevented the emergence of a dynasty. That was a very important development. My real fear was that Grace Mugabe would take over from Robert Mugabe and that would have been very negative.

However, having said that having taken two steps forward, I think we’ve taken a step forward, I think that we’ve possibly taken two steps back, in that, this cabinet is heavily, clearly heavily, influenced by the military and that does not auger well for the future. We need civilian government that the military must recognize its constitutional role, it should stay in the barracks and should not get involved in politics.

One other point in this regard, is that given this cabinet, I think that the President is going to find it difficult to get the same support enjoyed by Robert Mugabe in Mashonaland East and West and Central Provinces. In the depths of those rural areas I believe there is still a considerable amount of support for Robert Mugabe as an individual. I think many of those rural dwellers will battle to understand why Robert Mugabe was treated in this way.

And, I think the reality is that President Mnangagwa will only be assured of considerable support in two provinces, namely the Midlands and Masvingo. I think he’s going to find it very difficult to get support with this cabinet in the metropolitan Provinces of Harare and Bulawayo, and I think he will battle in Matabeleland North and South Provinces.

And I doubt very much that he will manage to get the same number of votes in Mashonaland Central, East and West. And, traditionally, those Mashonaland provinces have formed the bulk of support for a ZANU PF Presidential candidate. Once they’ve done these numbers, I think they will realize that they are going to be hard pressed to win an election against a united Opposition.

Now, of course, at present, the Opposition is not united. I hope that now that we’ve seen, with great clarity, what President Mnangagwa’s intentions are, and that clarity in itself might encourage the Opposition to unite, because, if we don’t, it seems to me, that going forward, effectively, our country is going to be run by a civilian administration which has just a thin veneer over a military junta.

Violet: Critics of Emmerson Mnangagwa still say that these appointments show that the new President is still in a factional mode. Given what you have said – that he had no choice but to pick some of these people from Parliament and the military, do you think he is a progressive leader?

David: President Mnangagwa’s history doesn’t give one much hope that he is a progressive person. My friends often describe me as a pathological optimist, so you’re going to have to excuse me for a while as I revert to my pathological optimism. And it’s by saying this, that I have been encouraged by some of Mnangagwa’s statements in the last couple of weeks.

I said it earlier, his statement from exile, just prior to coming back, was very positive. He said that ZANU PF could not do this alone and his inauguration address as well was very constructive in many different ways. So, I was expecting better of him in the appointment of this cabinet.

However, as we all know, politics is the art of the possible. And, he has had to deal with a party in which there are very high expectations. He has had to deal with war veterans who feel that they have been minimized and rejected, and he’s had to try and balance all of these competing interests. He also knows that this is an interim government, that he faces an election in July next year and he would have had some concerns that if he had brought in people from the opposition, that it would have compromised his own ability to prepare for an election as the ZANU PF candidate.

So, in essence, what I’m saying is I’m not sure that this cabinet reflects what Emmerson Mnangagwa would have wanted to do had he had the power alone to do it. I think that this cabinet reflects the reality that he has to accommodate these different groups, who, at the end of the day, have seen him ascend to power.

Without the military intervening in the way they did, without war veterans organizing that march in Harare on the 18th November, he would not have had the momentum to come back and to assume the office of President. And now, it’s payback time. He has had to accommodate people and it’s resulted in this very disappointing cabinet.

Violet: And what about the issue of his human rights record and issues of corruption?

David: Those are issues that he has to confront. I have also taken some hope from his children; he’s got some very nice children and those children can’t come out of a vacuum. And I am also sad to say I had taken hope from his own statements and I thought that he had turned over a new leaf. This cabinet has set people back, has set my own hopes for him back, and I think he is going to have a very difficult time of it now convincing Zimbabweans and the International Community, that he does intend to embrace democracy, to embrace the Constitution and take this nation forward.

Violet: You know a post shared by a Mr Bhajila, shared on social media, who said: “With EDM as President while his wife is the Chirumanzi MP and now Chris Mutsvangwa is Information Minister while his wife Monica is Minister of State for Manicaland Province, the days of dynasties are far from over”. You mentioned that the Mugabe dynasty is now over, but what about this point that Mr Bajila is raising – is this a worrying development?

David: I did see that comment, and it is a valid one. I’m not sure that it counts as a dynasty; I don’t think that there is any chance of President Mnangagwa’s wife becoming President in future. But, yes, it is a worrying development that you’ve got these families that have been bought into positions of great power. It’s a negative development, it’s not a dynasty at present, but it always of danger of developing into that and Zimbabweans have to guard against that.

Violet: And with Chris Mutsvangwa being made Minister of Information, are you hopeful that we will see media reforms sometime soon, or even before elections?

David: As you know, Section 61 of the Constitution makes it very clear that the country should have an independent media and it makes it equally clear that state media must have an independent editorial policy and must allow a diversity of views. That hasn’t happened in the last 50 years. It hasn’t happened under the Rhodesian Front or under Robert Mugabe’s rule.

I’m afraid I’m a bit of a pessimist in that regard. ZANU PF know that they are going to be in real trouble in the run up to this election, even with the state of the Opposition, and, it’s hard to imagine that they are now going to level the playing field to make things better for the Opposition and to enable the Opposition to explain its policies to the public. So, I don’t expect him to comply with the Constitution.

Violet: On the issue of the new President offering a 3-month amnesty for people who illegally externalised money to return it back, will that apply also to those who are in government today, and, who is checking on issues of transparency and accountability?

David: That is a critical question. We hope that when President Mnangagwa said that he was determined to tackle all people, it won’t just be Ignatius Chombo who faces corruption charges but that others, even some in this cabinet that he’s just appointed, should be investigated. But unfortunately, I fear that that even that pronouncement is all to do with factional politics within ZANU PF to justify the illegal actions taken by the military in this coup, rather than a determination to respect the rule of law and to ensure that all criminal elements are investigated and prosecuted.

When we see some of the people in this cabinet, who, for reasons of defamation laws, I can’t name specifically, but when we see them being investigated, we’ll know that this is a genuine drive to combat criminal elements in our society. But, until that happens, many of us will just be left with the impression that it’s to further a factional agenda.

Violet: Many are quite critical of the Opposition right now, and many are saying the Opposition needs to reinvent itself if it wants to maintain relevance as ZANU PF is now on a serious charm offensive. What do you make of calls for Morgan Tsvangirai to step down and help groom a successor for the 2018 elections, because people feel that with the way things are going, no one will be able to defeat Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2018?

David: Well, I think that was right prior to last night’s cabinet announcement. I think if Emmerson Mnangagwa had continued this charm offensive and had put in some more exciting people in cabinet, or even just putting people in different positions, as I mentioned with Minister Chinamasa. I think he would have been far more attractive to the electorate. So, I don’t think he is as attractive today as he was yesterday because of this cabinet.

Turning to the nub of your question regarding Morgan Tsvangirai. You know, I think it’s unfair, at this stage, for us to be dictating to Morgan Tsvangirai what he should or shouldn’t do. He hasn’t been well and what we do know is that whatever position I might have adopted in the past regarding Morgan Tsvangirai, the fact remains that he is arguably still the most popular opposition politician in this country.

And, until there is someone who has similar charisma and similar political appeal to him, it would be foolhardy – if, and this is a big if, – if he is still fit enough to run, to get someone else. Bear in mind that in the Presidential election coming up the person has to get, in the first round, 50% plus one. I think it’s going to be incredibly difficult for President Mnangagwa to get that 50%. That will mean that whoever comes second, let’s assume that Mnangagwa gets 35 or even 40% and Morgan Tsvangirai gets 30% – you know, I’m speculating.

The point I’m simply making is that we will go into a run-off election which will compel the opposition to rally around one person, and it may be Morgan Tsvangirai, it maybe somebody else who gets a higher percentage of the vote. But, just a conclusion on this point; I think all of us hope that Morgan Tsvangirai will get healthy again. He has bravely gone through this chemotherapy and operations.

He is clearly weak at present, but people do recover, and that’s my prayer. Forget about the politics now. He’s been a courageous person and I really pray that he does get healthy, whether he stands for office again or not. He deserves our respect and our support in that regard.

Violet: Yes, I’m sure many Zimbabweans would wish Mr Tsvangirai well. But do you honestly believe that the military will offer election victory to the opposition on a silver platter?

David: No, I don’t believe the military is going to offer election victory to the opposition on a platter, I think it is going to be incredibly difficult. All I’m saying though is that it’s going to be harder for Emmerson Mnangagwa to fight an election than it was for Robert Mugabe to fight the elections in 2008 and 2013. Robert Mugabe, for all his faults, was more respected country-wide than Emmerson Mnangagwa is amongst the rural vote. 70% of the population is in the rural area.

We mustn’t be fooled by the turn-outs that ZANU PF would have us say were the turn-outs in the cities, in Harare and Bulawayo, there are some ZANU PF MP’s trying to argue that they turned out in support of Emmerson Mnangagwa. They wanted Robert Mugabe gone. That doesn’t translate necessarily into support for Emmerson Mnangagwa.

I concede that many of the unemployed young people don’t have close allegiances to the MDC. They want jobs. That is what is critical, and if Emmerson Mnangagwa can deliver jobs to them in the next few months, then it may well be that those young people vote for Emmerson Mnangagwa, which would make it easier for him. But, I think it’s going to be incredibly difficult for him, especially because of this cabinet.

Had he appointed people like Nkosana Moyo and Simba Makoni and others, who would have inspired not just Zimbabwean people but also our friends in the international community, I think that a lot more international support would have been forthcoming which, in turn, would have enabled him to create jobs and to give people hope. I think that this cabinet does just the reverse. It has depressed people domestically and it is going to make our international friends very cautious about supporting this administration.

Violet: Thank you very much David Coltart for speaking to us on the programme, Hotseat.

David: Thank you Violet

To contact the journalist email [email protected] or follow @violetgonda on twitter. See more at www.violetgonda.com

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