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Daniel Molokele joins ZINASU debate on BTH

Daniel Molokele, previously known as Fortune Mguni, was a founding member of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, serving as Vice President to the late Learnmore Jongwe in 1997 and 1998. This week he joins the debate on the factionalism rocking ZINASU and tells SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma that the students have lost their voice and have simply become pawns for the rival factions in civil society.

Interview broadcast 13 December 2010

Lance Guma: Hallo Zimbabwe and welcome to Behind the Headlines. Now most of you will remember last week the gloves were off when we hosted a debate between the two presidents of the rival Zimbabwe National Students Union factions – that was Obert Masaraure and Tafadzwa Mugwadi.

Now we had hoped to reach some form of amicable resolution where the two parties find a way of bridging the gap but of course there was a lot of mud-slinging so although we had promised a Part Two with the same two presidents, we decided to get former student leaders to chip into the debate and see if we can find a way forward.

One such person that we have invited this week is Daniel Molokele, many of you will remember him as Fortune Mguni, he was the vice president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union way back in 1997 up to 1998 and he was the vice president of course to the late Learnmore Jongwe. Daniel, thank you so much for joining us.

Daniel Molokele: Thank you for inviting me Lance.

Guma: OK now you’ve read the transcript of the interview that I had with Obert and Tafadzwa – let’s start off, what did you make of that?

Molokele: For me, I was grieving in my spirit because that was the last thing I would have imagined happening to ZINASU ten years ago because we really worked so much with the late Learnmore Jongwe, Charlton Hwende and others to ensure that the students had their own national platform that would allow them, as equal partners, to engage government, to engage the rest of civil society and so on.

So when we get to the point where we are today, it’s more of a regression in terms of purpose for the student’s movement.

Guma: Now from the debate last time, it seems to be more of a structural problem in terms of who derives the mandate from where. As a founding member of ZINASU, can you explain this to our listeners – how is ZINASU set up?

Molokele: OK, I was the chairperson of the committee that drafted the ZINASU constitution in 1997 and what happened was that we suggested that the National Executive Council be constituted of elected people at the congress which was supposed to be held every two years and then outside the National Executive Council were the General Council which was supposed to be two if not three I can’t remember exactly.

Two representatives from each college that was a member of ZINASU. So you’d have UZ, NUST, Harare Poly all sending two or three delegates to the General Council meeting so from what they were suggesting last week, the practice it looks like its the president and the secretary general are the ones that attend the General Council meetings. So that is the highest decision making body of ZINASU in between the congresses and the National Executive Council is accountable to the General Council.

Guma: That sounds pretty straightforward so why do we not have that General Council meeting and resolving this problem once and for all?

Molokele: I think what did not come out clearly in the previous interview with the colleagues, the two presidents, is that they inherited the problems. They came into office through parallel processes so the problem is from the previous leadership because when the previous leadership was elected there was no parallel structure and then during the course of their term of office, that’s when things went out of control.

I had an opportunity last year, at the beginning of the year to travel to Zimbabwe before it really went out of control and speak to the former president who is Clever Bere and others at that time and I noted that the issue was not, or it had nothing to do with the ZINASU structure itself at all and that’s my view at the moment, it’s still has nothing to do with the ZINASU structure.

Guma: OK the other thing that has been dominant of course is what seems to be the perception that ZINASU has lost its independence. From the reports or the way we’ve been reporting this issue, it seems to be a power struggle between the so-called handlers with one faction said to be controlled by the National Constitutional Assembly and the other faction, we are told, the Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe. Is this your reading of the situation or is it slightly different?

Molokele: I think my problem with ZINASU started even before the previous leadership came into office. I think two or three or four years ago, maybe during the leadership of Promise Mkwananzi if I’m not mistaken, where a ZINASU congress elected to support the MDC at that time.

So my problem was that it was a radical departure from the founding principles of ZINASU because we are supposed to be an apolitical structure and once you start to associate with political parties there is nothing stopping us from associating with civil society structures and this whole process has degenerated as you might know, that the MDC split into two halves at that time and ZINASU was forced to choose one of the MDCs.

Now in terms of decision making processes they were compromised so a few years later it’s even worse because when a position is taken within ZINASU, one of the groups will get support from a civil society organisation or a political party that supports that position and then the other group will also get support.

So the situation as it stands today is that ZINASU does not have the moral capacity anymore to make decisions on its own and that is where the crisis is because there are external dynamics that are more important in the decision making processes. That’s why I said the problem is no longer a factional issue, or a structural issue.

It’s how to deal with the other role players who are not supposed to be part of ZINASU in the first place, they are supposed to be partners of ZINASU in the first place but now they have more active role in terms of decisions in ZINASU.

Guma: Well as was raised in the previous discussion with Obert Masaraure and Tafadzwa Mugwadi, in May this year a meeting was organised in Harare at St Lucia Park with the view to amalgamating the two factions and come up with one united faction.

But reading through that, why in your view do you think Mugwadi for example walked away saying he was still the president? A lot of people thought, that was like a watershed moment and all these problems would go away, so why in your reading do you think the unity never took place or has since disintegrated?

Molokele: As I said this problem is no longer limited to ZINASU structures or the ZINASU process – there are other parties outside ZINASU that are involved and sadly so. So the outcome of that meeting had to further their interest so naturally maybe some of the interested parties did not derive any benefit from that meeting so morally it was fundamentally flawed.

It is outside the constitutional process of ZINASU, it was a conflict resolution strategy. I’m not against any solution but what I want to emphasise is that the students themselves no longer have that capacity to resolve their problems because this parallel leadership has been in existence for almost three, if not four, years now.

So obviously ZINASU needs help to go beyond its constitutional processes because we are definitely operating outside the constitution when we have two parallel structures.

Guma: But isn’t the frustrating thing Daniel, the ZINASU constitution clearly states that the General Council is made up of course by the president and the secretary general from each of the colleges that make up the union, so there are no factions in terms of the General Council.

So even if we are to say there are parallel structures in terms of the executives but surely I do not think the presidents and secretary generals, in the various institutions are divided. You do not have two presidents and two secretary generals, so there are no factions at that level, so you could still get that same singular body within ZINASU meeting and resolving this?

Molokele: That’s why I’m saying Lance that it is outside the ZINASU constitution because how do you call a meeting of the General Council today? ZINASU does not have the financial capacity to call that meeting so the outside parties who have an interest get involved.

So whoever attends that meeting is suddenly furthering the interests of that outside party, so even in that interview it was clear that there were accusations, the other group saying the NCA has a vested interest and the other group saying Crisis Coalition/MDC have a vested interest so you can see that this is not a problem of ZINASU anymore.

It is bigger that ZINASU, it is about a contestation of influences of the student movement which is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve more than ten years ago. We wanted ZINASU to be recognised among equals with the rest of civil society, with the labour movement and so on, but today it’s the other way round.

People see ZINASU the way they regard the youth in the country, that you can further them and sponsor them and you can use them to further your own political position in the national agenda. ZINASU should be at the table, it should not be where it is today where it is used to run and promote other people’s agendas.

Guma: OK what role then can former student leaders play in trying to resolve this mess because you are indeed painting a bleak picture and I think people listening in will say well there’s no hope of resolving this situation then? What role can people like yourself play in resolving this?

Molokele: There is polarisation within the student movement. The question is how much polarisation from the rest of the civil society is influencing that process? And that is where the answer is because if a meeting will be called today to discuss ZINASU, who going to mobilise the resources for that meeting? Who’s going to fund it?

And that’s where the moral issues of legitimacy will come in because whoever tries to fundraise they will be pointed as belonging to this faction and the other faction. So I think it’s beyond ZINASU at the moment. What is important – it’s an open challenge to the rest of the civil society who are actively involved with ZINASU right now to say that ZINASU needs you now more than ever.

You need to take your personal interests outside ZINASU and as civil society I think we need to develop a strategic process of engagement with the students in such a way that we are the ones who should create a platform for reconciliation for them because we know the people who have a vested interest in ZINASU – they are the ones who should be meeting, not students.

They are the ones who should be meeting and then they should agree on a plan of action that they will engage the students with because the students have lost that moral capacity to have representation because as far as I know, if I stand up today as a student leader, I say something, someone will say it’s because I am pushing the agenda of the NCA or of the MDC so there’s no moral voice within the student movement.

But the good news as you are saying – we still have the SRCs and it’s possible to bring those General Council representatives to create a unified ZINASU but to do that we need first to engage the key players who have a vested interest in ZINASU at the moment who are funding ZINASU administratively. They are the key people who need to reconcile first.

Guma: I was talking to one former student leader who expressed the opinion that ZINASU is suffering an image or perception crisis and that students are now apathetic towards it. Do you think that’s also now part of the problem where, as you are rightfully pointing out, you have each college and university with its own SRC, and maybe the students are relying more on their SRC, on their individual SRCs and really saying well who needs ZINASU?

Molokele: When I arrived at the University of Zimbabwe in 1995, that was the same situation. ZINASU had ceased to exist administratively and SRCs like UZ said who needs ZINASU? So the first meeting that our SRC hosted in September 1996, I was the only member of the University of Zimbabwe SRC who managed to come for that meeting.

And one thing I learned was that as long as there is no sense of purpose within the national executive council of ZINASU the legitimacy at the college campuses across the country will just die a natural death, so this is not the problem, this is the symptom of the problem.

There is no confidence in the national executive council. So that national executive council is existing in a bi-polar mode, there are two parallel structures. Once that issue is resolved they will be able to work with the students in campuses and the confidence will be restored.

Guma: There was also some suggestion that donors have played a part in this and have contributed to the mess and I think the first debate on ZINASU I hosted, the suggestion came up which was that they should introduce subscriptions to make ZINASU self supporting and once this reliance on the donors is removed, it’s able to move forward and the influence of the so-called handlers is diminished. What do you make of that?

Molokele: My understanding of that is that donors are related to the civil society partners of ZINASU, from what I have read of the situation so far so if the civil society partners of ZINASU reconcile among themselves, it’s easy to deal with the issue of the donors and for someone to suggest in 2010 or 2011 that subscriptions are a viable option for ZINASU is not fair because as you know the funding system has changed over the years in universities.

Students are struggling so ZINASU needs to evolve in terms of its capacity, in terms of its resources so I think government or donors are supposed to support ZINASU administratively in my view. Subscriptions will never be enough. Or maybe basic subscriptions to give a semblance of contribution but it’s not easy for students, they are already struggling so subscriptions are not a viable option. Donors will be influenced by civil society in my view.

Guma: OK and final word Daniel, if Tafadzwa Mugwadi and Obert Masaraure and Dr Lovemore Madhuku and those at the Crisis Coalition, those in the MDC are listening to this programme, what’s your message to everyone involved in this mess?

Molokele: I would like to appeal to the people of Zimbabwe, to the civil society in Zimbabwe, the political parties, to the legacy that my colleague Learnmore Jongwe and others left of a unified students union that we need it back and I would like to appeal to all former student leaders, especially people who have been in ZINASU executive positions, that we need to start to engage among ourselves.

I’m available to talk to anyone to start to look for ideas to see how we can help as former student leaders to create a road map that will ensure that there is a credible, unified student leadership in Zimbabwe. We still have an opportunity to reconcile the two parallel structures.

All we need is to be determined because Zimbabwe needs a unified student body because as long as it is operating like this, ZINASU is not going to add value to the national agenda. I think it’s beyond the students now. It’s a moral issue that needs to be addressed by especially the political parties and the civil society who are having a slice of the student movement at the moment.

Guma: Well that’s Daniel Molokele, formerly known as Fortune Mguni. He was the vice president of ZINASU in 1997 right up to 1998. Of course he was the deputy to the late Learnmore Jongwe. Daniel I don’t know how to thank you for your time but hopefully those who are listening have ears and will take on board what you have had to say.

Molokele: Thank you so much Lance.

Feedback can be sent to lance@swradioafrica.com  http://twitter.com/lanceguma or http://www.facebook.com/lance.guma

SW Radio Africa is Zimbabwe’s Independent Voice and broadcasts on Short Wave 4880 KHz in the 60m band.