Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

David Coltart speaks out on expelled rebels


HOT SEAT: Education Minister and Khumalo Senator David Coltart was a guest on SW Radio Africa’s Hot Seat Programme. He tells interviewer Violet Gonda that his MDC party had to act against three rebel MPs who have been expelled for defying the party leadership. He also reveals why he believes Paul Themba Nyathi would have made “an outstanding Speaker of Parliament”.

Broadcast: 14 August 2009

VIOLET GONDA: Senator David Coltart, the Minister of Education, Sport, Art and Culture is my guest on the Hot Seat programme. In this two-part discussion the Minister talks about the crisis in the education sector, the in-fighting in his party and the progress of the coalition government. I started by asking Minister Coltart to give us his position on the issue of the targeted sanctions.

DAVID COLTART: Well our position is governed by the terms of the GPA. The GPA is very clear that sanctions should be lifted. However, and this is an important rider, you cannot look at any provision in the GPA in isolation, it has to be looked holistically and we have to look at it not just in the way it is implemented as to its letter but also as to its spirit and this is a real chicken  
and egg situation – which comes first and I think that we’ve got to see a couple of simultaneous acts taking place.

We have to see good faith being demonstrated by all parties so it is up to the combined MDC to call for sanctions to be uplifted but at the same time, Zanu-PF needs to demonstrate good faith – so the governors should be sworn in, Roy Bennett should be sworn in, these prosecutions that appear to be done in a partisan fashion need to stop. We need to have a more objective process in deciding who should be prosecuted. Let me stress that I’m a lawyer, I believe in the constitution, I believe in the rule of law, I believe that if someone has committed a crime that person should be prosecuted but the trouble is that these prosecutions smack of partisanship, smack of subjectivity and the point I’m simply making, is that our calls for sanctions to be uplifted must be matched by acts of good faith demonstrated by Zanu-PF. And that’s not just in terms of our inter-personal relationship, it doesn’t matter how much we call for sanctions to be uplifted, those sanctions, in whatever form they are will not be uplifted by the countries that have imposed them unless those countries themselves believe that the GPA is being implemented in its full spirit. We can have as many trips as we like to Europe and America but, if whilst we are calling for sanctions to be uplifted, members of parliament from the MDC are being arrested and prosecuted left right and centre, our cries are going to fall on deaf ears. So the GPA is clear – we have to call for the uplifting of sanctions but we have to see this holistically and everyone has to act in good faith for sanctions actually to be uplifted at the end of the day.

GONDA: There are reports saying that MDC officials, like yourself, advocated for smart sanctions and ZIDERA – the Zimbabwe Democracy Economic and Recovery Act. What can you say about this?

COLTART: Well first of all I challenge anyone who can show that I advocated that ZIDERA to be implemented, but that’s another issue. All I have said in the past is that where there are clear violations of human rights being perpetrated by certain people, the dictates of justice have demanded that there be justice and if there cannot be domestic justice then there has to be international justice. But that is past, we are now committed to this new dispensation with all its flaws and in terms of this new dispensation we believe that the country should be given a chance for this peaceful method of achieving a transition to work and part of that, part of the demonstration of good faith is that whatever targeted sanctions were imposed on individuals should be lifted, but it is a matter of common sense that unless we can all, Zanu-PF and the combined MDC demonstrate that everyone is acting in good faith, it doesn’t matter what we say, other people are not going to listen to us.

GONDA: And of course the Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara reportedly told a meeting of the Commercial Farmers Union that the two MDC formations have no power to stop continued abuses of power by Zanu-PF and that he said the parties have no control in the unity government. Now as a government minister, what have been your observations, do you agree with this and to what extent is this coalition government working?

COLTART: If you go back to what I wrote on about the 15 th of September last year when the Agreement was first signed, I said it then that it was an imperfect agreement, it is a flawed agreement, it’s a compromise agreement and inevitably when you have a flawed agreement like that, it remains flawed and it follows that I have always had the very low expectations. Now that sounds a very negative statement, I don’t have low expectations in the sense that I believe it’s going to fail, I have low expectations in the sense that this is a process and it’s a long, tedious process. But having said that, I’m not negative about where the process is at. My expectations are being met, I think that we’ve made considerable progress in terms of restoring the rule of law, in terms of bringing back respect to the people, in terms of stabilising the economy and opening up certain sectors but things haven’t changed overnight and that is especially so when we look at the situation prevailing on the farms. And I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur Mutambara that in many respects at this juncture we are powerless. We don’t have the Minister of Agriculture, we don’t have the Minister of Lands, we don’t hold the office of Attorney General, we don’t hold the office of the Minister of Justice and these are all the parties who could make a major difference when it comes to the land issue.

However it doesn’t end there. The GPA stipulates that there has to be a land audit, it’s very clear about that and that the land audit has to be conducted urgently and we’ve taken the GPA provisions in that regard a step further in STERP. STERP acknowledges that the land audit must happen and when that land audit happens as it must if the GPA is to be respected, I think it is going to reveal that there are multiple farm holdings, that there are vast tracts of land lying fallow and that there are other farmers, qualified farmers who have the ability to farm those fallow lands. We have the other imperative and that is to restore the economy, to get foreign exchange flows back into the country and all of these practical concerns combined with our obligations are joint obligations in terms of the GPA and are ultimately going to address the issues that we cannot address at present because we don’t hold those other offices.

But of course it doesn’t deal with the here and now, it doesn’t deal with the terrible things that have happened since February with on-going violation of the Agreement in that regard, but we mustn’t just take this snapshot, we have to see this as a process, as a progression. If we are still in the same position this time next year then I think we’ll have very serious concerns because then it will be demonstrable that there’s been no progression but I think that as a nation we have to wait for this land audit to take place and see what that yields.

Another crucial factor in this regard is the issue of governors. As we know from the history of the last ten years, the governors have largely and have often been those responsible for the coordination of the implementation of Zanu-PF’s land reform programme and I think that it’s going to be a very interesting exercise to see what happens in those provinces which have MDC governors, to see whether these abuses will continue. I think that they will slow down if not stop altogether.

GONDA: What about SADC’s role in this? We saw the Prime Minister travelling to South Africa to complain about some of these unresolved issues that you mentioned, but when are we going to see movement from SADC?

COLTART: That is a perennial concern. We as a nation have wanted SADC to deal with this problem a lot quicker and that goes back to March 2007 and even beyond that but once again we need to be realistic about this. SADC is not a homogenous body; there are different points of view within SADC. There are some countries that have not seen any problem whatsoever with what has happened in Zimbabwe because quite frankly what goes on in their country is arguably as bad if not worse and for any SADC leader it is not a matter of simply issuing a statement until one has built a consensus and I think that whilst that has been very frustrating for us as Zimbabweans we need to understand that we live in that context and we just have to deal with that.

But I think that if we look back at what SADC has done in the last couple of years, whilst it has been tedious and slow, SADC has in fact averted a civil war, has averted even greater bloodshed in our country and SADC should be given credit for that. The fact that we have stabilised the country, that we have dollarised, the schools are open, the cholera has ended, that peace prevails in most of the country at present, not everywhere but most of the country.

And I need to stress Violet that I get just as frustrated by the slow progress as other people but I recognise that SADC has achieved quite a lot and we need to continue giving SADC a chance to deliver on our remaining concerns. I have a lot of faith in President Zuma. I’ve taken a lot of encouragement from things that he’s done in South Africa in terms of the appointment of his cabinet. It seems to me that he’s a very practical politician who knows what he’s doing and I think that he will act in a very deliberate manner in resolving these issues and we need to give him a chance to do so. I don’t believe that he is ignoring our plight. I think what he’s trying to do is to ensure that this Agreement remains on track.

GONDA: Can you give us an insight into the fights within your party where several MPs have been expelled?

COLTART: Well what I will say is that the in-fighting is unfortunate. It’s hard to put any gloss on it, no matter what the rights and wrongs are; the fact remains that the public sees us bickering and it does not create a favourable impression of our party. I don’t propose to go into the rights and wrongs in this interview. I hope that we can resolve our differences and keep our party on track. I think that all true democrats will agree in multi party democracy, that even small parties with different views have the right to have their views expressed, have a right to participate in governments through proportional representation and other democratic measures.

And I think that if people look at the role of the MDC objectively, and I believe that history will prove this to be the case, without the MDC -M’s involvement in the last couple of years I don’t believe that we would have had the Global Political Agreement. I think that we had these two protagonists in Zanu-PF and the MDC -T and it was very difficult to bridge that gulf and it took the small MDC -M party to bridge that gulf and any people as you know Violet, have been critical of the role that we played but somebody had to play that bridging role and we played that role very effectively in the negotiating process. We were accused of wanting to go into bed with Zanu-PF and that we were going to join the Zanu-PF government – all of those allegations have been proved to be false.

That was never our intention. Our intention was to try to achieve a non-violent settlement to this great trauma that our country was going through. And I believe that we have a an on-going role even now, even in this transitional government and so to that extent I don’t think that people should smirk and be happy about the internal wranglings going on in our party but should be concerned because we are pivotal to the success of this agreement and it’s important that we stabilise the party so that we can make a useful contribution to ensure that the GPA lives out its life, that we get a new democratic constitution in place and then we go to the electorate and let the electorate decide who they want to govern them.

GONDA: But it’s the leadership that is firing the MPs so can you really afford to be firing MPs since you only have ten?

COLTART: Of course we can’t afford, we’ve got very little political capitol to spend and it’s a very difficult decision that the party has to make. The problem is that this wasn’t of our creation. We didn’t send colleagues to go to Gaborone to speak to Lovemore Moyo ( MDC -T Speaker of Parliament), it wasn’t our doing. We have not asked for our members to be attending political meetings with members of other political parties damning our leadership. To that extent I’m sympathetic to our leadership. Bear in mind that I’m not in the leadership. As you know, I on principle didn’t go to either congress in 2006 because I was so concerned about the split of the old united MDC so I’m not in the leadership of the MDC -M but I’m sympathetic towards them.

In many respects I believe they are between a rock and a hard place. We clearly have a cancer within our party and when you have cancer you have two choices – either you just don’t operate and let it spread throughout the whole body and it will kill you ultimately or you try and deal with the cancer and root out that cancer. It can still kill you after you have rooted out that cancer but at least you have a chance of survival.

Now my hope, having used that terminology, is that and I need to stress that I don’t refer to my colleagues like Abedinico Bhebhe as cancerous growths, these are people I have worked with, they are colleagues who I’ve had a great respect for in the past but some of their actions have been very damaging to the party. I hope that we can still encourage them to remain within the party but I think they need to make an election. We have leaders who were elected in a congress that they attended and voted at themselves, ironically which I didn’t attend or vote at and it is not time yet for our new congress and that leadership should be respected, that democratic process should be respected. If they believe that our party has deviated so fundamentally from our founding principles well then they have a democratic right to resign and join another political party and that is what they should do.

But as long as they want to remain within the party, the right thing to do is to fight for those issues within the party, not to go publicly, not to side with people from other political parties in criticising our party but to conduct a vigorous constructive critical debate within the party to ensure that those issues are addressed.

GONDA: And of course you said just a short while ago that many had said that your party was in bed with Zanu-PF and that has been proved to be false, but has it really because you have your own colleagues like Job Sikhala saying that he is now trying to rescue the party from being auctioned off to Mugabe and Zanu-PF and that the party has lost direction under the leadership of Professor Mutambara, and just a few days ago, Sikhala claimed he’s the new president of the MDC . What can you say about this?

COLTART: Well Job Sikhala is one of my oldest friends in parliament. We were elected together in 2000 and I’ve always enjoyed his very colourful contributions to debate in parliament and this is a continuation of that tradition. He’s a very colourful politician but once again one needs to be grounded in reality. The fact of the matter is that he hasn’t been elected in any congress; he has no more right to declare himself as President of the MDC than I have to declare myself President of Zimbabwe. He has a democratic right to express his views but if he doesn’t like the party and where it is headed, well he has two choices. He should either conduct a vigorous, constructive, critical debate as I say within the party and try to get those issues resolved or he should resign and join another political party.

Now I too have concerns about the way our party is run as I have concerns from the outside looking in to Zanu-PF and the MDC -T, but so long as a political party is made up of fallible human beings there will be problems associated with political parties. Ours is not a perfect political party but the correct thing to do is to work, it’s a bit like a family – you’re part of the family, you work as hard as you can within that family to correct the mistakes that have been made and clearly we have all made mistakes within the MDC -M as have people in other political parties. But until one has made that election, or that decision rather that ones efforts are not going to bear fruit, you’ve got to fight within. When you get to that position of deciding that you can’t go any further, well then your democratic right is to resign and join another political party.

GONDA: And you mentioned MP Abedinico Bhebhe we spoke to him a couple of weeks ago and he’s saying that he’s being victimised by the leadership because he was one of those MPs from the party who refused to go along to endorse the Zanu-PF candidate for Speaker of Parliament because the person was not the people’s choice.

COLTART: Well I think once again one needs to go back to the facts of the matter. This so-called Zanu-PF person for Speaker was none other than Paul Themba Nyathi. Now those of us within Zimbabwe who know Paul Themba Nyathi know that if there was ever a genuine democrat, a person genuinely committed to transparency and respect for human rights it is Paul Themba Nyathi. His track record speaks for itself, going back to Zimbabwe Project and all the work he did in the rehabilitation of ex-combatants and all of those people including Abedinico Bhebhe who know Paul well, know that he is a man of absolute integrity who would have made an outstanding speaker and by resolution in the MDC -M, not with Zanu-PF, we resolved that that person would be our candidate for Speaker.

I’m not going to cast any aspersions against my other friend Lovemore Moyo but my own subjective view is that Paul Themba Nyathi would have made a better Speaker. Forget about any subjective considerations, think about this – had Paul been elected Speaker by choice, Lovemore Moyo would have retained his seat in Matobo. There would be no need for a potentially damaging by-election in Matobo, no need for the resurgence of violence and so I think that was has happened is that people have twisted the facts , they’ve distorted the history of this matter, they’ve tried to paint Paul Themba Nyathi as some devil and not recognising the quality of the man. And the fact that Zanu-PF were prepared to back Paul Themba Nyathi last year should not be seen as some negative thing, I think it should be seen as a very constructive development that they too recognised the need for someone who was going to settle parliament down, take us through this very difficult transition in an orderly fashion which I have no doubt that Paul Themba Nyathi would have done.

GONDA: We talked a bit about the election of leaders and you said you were not at the congress, but what are your thoughts on how your leaders have been chosen in the last few years, especially Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara as some reports say he was invited because Professor Welshman Ncube and others had accepted that no Ndebele person could ever lead Zimbabwe – and some are saying that if this is the case, then this is a fatal flaw left over from Zimbabwe’s history. What are your thoughts on this?

COLTART: Once again, people have got very selective memories. People conveniently forget that Arthur Mutambara for example was detained before Morgan Tsvangirai was detained way back in 1988 and in fact Morgan Tsvangirai was first detained when he protested about Arthur Mutambara’s detention. Those of us who recall the events of those years, of the late 1980s will recall that Arthur Mutambara was a strident student leader who demonstrated a great passion for his country and for human rights to be respected in Zimbabwe and he hasn’t changed. The fact that he went out of the country to further his education should not be held against him. In fact what is remarkable about Arthur Mutambara is that unlike so many people who have left the country, he was prepared to come back, face the music and put his shoulder to the wheel in terms of resuscitating Zimbabwe, so I just want to make this first point that I reject those people who say that Arthur Mutambara was parachuted into Zimbabwe, that he’s a political nonentity, people are simply disregarding history in that regard. Turning to another of your points and this notion of needing a Shona speaking person to lead the political party, well once again I stress I wasn’t at the congress, I wasn’t part of any of the discussions that brought Arthur Mutambara in so I don’t know whether that is true or not but let me say this, that once again we need to be rooted in the political reality of the country and there sadly are a few realities – let me take an easy one – one of the realities is that it would be entirely inappropriate to have a white person, so soon after independence run for the presidency of this country.

Whilst that may seem a racist statement it is still too soon after the end of colonialism for this country to contemplate having a white ruler. That is just a political reality. And sadly, whilst it is not as strong a political reality as for example having a white leader, it remains a reality that the vast majority of Zimbabweans do not have Ndebele as their mother tongue and will gravitate towards a Shona speaking leader. That is a political reality that we simply cannot ignore and if that was the calculation, well it was a reasonable calculation but it wasn’t as if anyone was selected.

Arthur Mutambara who had a long history of commitment to human rights and of courage was elected at a congress that was duly called, that people had the right to nominate others but he was elected by acclaim as part of a democratic, transparent process within that political party. And once again I just conclude by saying that that is a factual position, a political reality that people simply cannot ignore.

GONDA: How would you respond to people who say that Professor Mutambara talks like Robert Mugabe but walks like a reformer?

COLTART: Well Professor Mutambara ironically is criticised by all sides because he is very outspoken. As you may know, just last week in the Herald he was criticised for being too pro-west and on other occasions he is criticised because he is perceived as being anti-west. Now I don’t see how one can be a person who speaks like Robert Mugabe when the Herald as the government mouthpiece will say at the same time that he espouses views that are totally contradictory to what Robert Mugabe believes in. So once again I think that this generally comes from people who make subjective, partisan comments, who are not prepared to consider the truth and the factual reality.

People who will perhaps take statements in isolation, out of context but who are not prepared to consider his statements in their full context and holistically. I think that when you look at Professor Mutambara’s comments regarding what the business community needs to do, his position on the Kariba Draft constitution, his position on land invasions you will see that he holds to positions that are completely at variance to what Robert Mugabe believes and speaks about. And so in essence those who allege that he is indistinguishable from Robert Mugabe are just ignoring the facts before them.

GONDA: What are the political parties or the political players thinking about Gibson Sibanda, your Deputy President, where is he now that he is no longer minister?

COLTART: Once again Gibson Sibanda is one of the politicians I respect the most in this country. I think that he is in many respects a father figure, not just within the MDC -M, within the MDC -T; I think he is deeply revered by many people and I think that his position is going to be rectified. I think that all people acknowledge especially in the context of this healing organ that he is pivotal to the success of that. I hope that that can be resolved through an MP standing aside to allow him to contest a seat so that he can take his rightful place in parliament and I look forward in the next few weeks to that issue being resolved. I think that we owe it to Gibson Sibanda to deal with this issue but I think as well that the time has come for the nation to realise that in Gibson Sibanda we literally have a national treasure. We have a rare politician who is not materialistic, he’s not corrupt, he’s the same person he was when he was the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions over a decade ago and to that extent it is incumbent upon all of us, on Zanu-PF, on the MDC -T and on the MDC -M to ensure that we create a position for him to make what I have no doubt will be one of the most meaningful contributions to the peaceful transition we are going through.

GONDA: That was Minister David Coltart on the programme Hot Seat. Next week we look at the fact that teachers’ unions say there are too many centres of power in the Education Ministry and that important decisions made by Minister Coltart are being ignored or reversed by his Permanent Secretary or the Public Service Commission. To what extent is Mr Coltart in control of his ministry? We also discuss the issue of youth militia in schools and ghost workers on the payroll.

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