Munyaradzi Gwisai on Question Time: Part 1
In this two part series SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to Munyaradzi Gwisai, the radical leader of the International Socialist Organization in Zimbabwe. The former MDC MP is one of 6 activists facing treason charges for addressing a meeting at which video footage of protests in Egypt and Tunisia was screened.
Gwisai answers questions sent in by listeners including his treason case, factionalism in civil society, past problems in his own organization and the perennial question of whether he will rejoin the MDC.
Interview broadcast 20 April 2011
Lance Guma: Hallo Zimbabwe and thank you for joining us on the programme Question Time. My guest this week is Munyaradzi Gwisai, the leader of the International Socialist Organization in Zimbabwe.
The former MDC MP is one of 6 activists facing treason charges for addressing a meeting at which video footage of protests in Egypt and Tunisia was screened. We asked listeners to send in their questions via Facebook, Twitter, Skype, email and also text messages. Va Gwisai, thank you for joining us on the programme.
Munyaradzi Gwisai: Maita (thank you) Comrade Lance it’s always a pleasure, kunga tiri pamwe chete (to be together with you).
Guma: Let’s go back to February, the meeting in Julius Nyerere Way. A lot of questions from our listeners centred on trying to find out what happened, what exactly was the meeting for?
Gwisai: Yah obviously taking into account that this is a matter still before the courts so there are areas we can comment on and there are others that we are unable to but in general terms, in terms of the charges that we are facing – firstly we are facing charges for organising a treasonous meeting or alternatively a meeting to subvert a constitutional government.
But our defence outline is very clear – this was a meeting called by the International Socialist Organisation and were our members were invited along with guests from social movements, trade unions, to discuss the implication of the revolts in Egypt, in Tunisia and North Africa for ordinary people on our continent including Zimbabwe, in particular the struggle for democracy of our society as well as in Zimbabwe.
We’ve had a ten year crisis of lack of democracy, tyranny and authoritarianism so the question is what lessons can we learn from other ordinary people on our continent in terms of fighting for democracy. Especially taking into account the fact that we are in a constitutional process which is designed to create a constitutional and democratic government. So it was a lecture, it was a meeting, a consciousness-raising exercise amongst forces of ordinary people, the left and working people.
Guma: Now in terms of the way the meeting was disrupted, we were told everyone in the building was arrested including those who were just in the building, who were not taking part in the meeting. You were made to line up at the Harare Central (police station) car park and somebody was pinpointing the alleged ring leaders and we understand you took some rough treatment as the alleged ring leaders of this particular meeting. Just briefly talk us through what you went through.
Gwisai: Yah after watching a video which was a video made out of transmits from Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC and so forth – very public material – people were discussing that, that is when police moved in. But as the magistrate pointed out, magistrate Mutevedzi and one of the reasons why 39 of the 45 who were originally accused, were released and the magistrate refused to place them on remand was the reason that this was a bamba zonke exercise where any and everyone who was in the complex at Cross Roads House was picked up and arrested.
So that was that and then including some vendors who were selling their things outside but obviously what then also transpired once we went to court is that the police had placed a spy in, they’d placed a plant in the meeting who was then pointing out the people who are alleged to have been speaking at the meeting and these are the few people who were brutally assaulted on the Saturday and the Sunday that we were arrested, the 19th and 20th of February.
When there was people like Hopewell Gumbo the former president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, people like Welcome the current deputy General Secretary of ZINASU as well as others from the ISO including myself, Tafadzwa Choto and Tatenda Mombeyarara. So these were some of the people who were picked up for severe and serious assault once we were in police hands.
Guma: I covered this story and the one thing that stood out was the great lengths to which the state went towards delaying; at one time the magistrate didn’t show up, we were told he had a meeting with the Chief Justice and at every turn excuses were brought up. While you were locked up, were you aware this was what was happening in terms of the regime throwing spanners in the works?
Gwisai: Yeh, our lawyer Alec Muchadehama gave us constant updates as well as his team of assistants including Mandevere and Edzai Matika from the Zimbabwe Labour Centre but obviously, and some of it was happening just right in front of our eyes. We were able to see that clearly, delaying this, in order to prolong pre-trial pain was one of the objectives of this. But look, we as people who are confident of our position and so forth, it did not break our spirits and our resolve.
Guma: We have a question from Edina who sent us an email from Mutare, they want to know from your own assessment how did you rate the sort of solidarity you received from the broader civil society, the political parties and everyone else involved in the pro-democracy movement?
Gwisai: Well every time we were in court we had quite a lot of people who were coming through as well as outside the court, many organisations, many civic groups gave us support in Zimbabwe, including but obviously not limited to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights which has provided us the legal cover.
We’ve also had support from those who were able to look after many of our comrades who are positive and who needed drugs and things like that. The CSU, the Crisis Coalition was also quite supportive, the ZCTU, the unions but we are quite inspired I must say by the support that we received internationally, regionally I think which continues up to this day, to the various solidarity marches we had in South Africa, Australia, America, the UK.
What it shows is the struggle against dictatorship, the struggle against tyranny is now an international affair. Dictators can no longer hide under their legal perches and say this is my country, I do what I want. It is this spirit of international solidarity that is going to break the resolve and stubbornness of every dictator on this continent.
So we would want to really commend the various working people, the socialists, trade unionists who have supported this struggle because it’s a struggle for all in the sense of building a better world and a better society out there and we would want to continue urging people to make this level of support, to continue with it as we move towards trial but also generally in terms.
We hear the sad news of the 82 year old headman who was charged along with (Douglas) Mwonzora who has died from wounds received from his assault so we have to continue with this solidarity and with this fight. And indeed as we know, events in Tunisia it was Mohammed Bouazizi who started it but this was able to spread regionally precisely because the ordinary people of the world today are able to offer each other solidarity and move forward.
So we really wish to thank the various individuals, organisations, I not mentioned some, all of them here who stood with us and we hope that they continue standing with us because this trial is on and the issue of lack of democracy and dictatorship remains a real issue in our society.
Guma: I just want to pick on one issue that in a previous interview with Hopewell Gumbo he raised where on one occasion you were taken on what was called a honeymoon drive through Rhodesville or some other suburb and ostensibly this was because Finance Minister Tendai Biti had come over to try and visit you. Can you talk us through that?
Gwisai: Yah I wouldn’t know whether it was thing, but definitely they were going to move us, we were not told where but rumours were saying they were going to move us to Chikurubi but fortunately at that very moment Tendai Biti arrived and that is part of also the solidarity we received, we appreciate the solidarity that was offered by people like Biti and Nelson Chamisa.
So whether or not they had any nefarious plans up their sleeves which they were then afraid to put into action because there was a high ranking official of the government, we don’t know but that’s what, yah they took us around and eventually brought us back.
But still you must know that two, three days later, they pushed us back into solitary confinement at the prison, at the Harare prison so their effort was obviously clearly aimed at trying to break our spirits and to divide us but luckily that did not succeed.
Guma: From Masvingo we have a listener who calls himself Mr Dube – his question is basically an update on what’s the latest regarding this matter? He’s saying are you still facing treason charges?
Gwisai: We’ve just come from court; we were in for remand today; we now have been placed for trial on the 18th of July. That’s when the matter will come for trial. According to the prosecutor the matter is going to be before the regional magistrate court but our lawyer has already pointed out that that doesn’t make sense because the regional magistrate court does not have jurisdiction under the Magistrate Court Act specifically Section 49 thereof to try treason matters or matters that carry a death sentence or anything beyond ten years because the maximum jurisdiction of a regional magistrate is ten years, as far as I understand the law and I don’t really think it has been amended.
So this could either be one of those delaying tactics again or if it is going to be before a regional magistrate then it would have to mean that it is no longer a treason matter, but then there’s need to formally advise the court. So given what has been happening, we hope that’s not one of the tricks.
We, are far as we’re concerned and what the prosecutor said is that the treason charges still stand as well as the subversion of a constitutional government charge so it that’s an issue that still remains: 18th July in Harare and we hope that all democrats and those who support real change will come to support us at court on that day because it is only by showing that the people of Zimbabwe are not intimidated and that they are not going to cower under and go under the carpet, that is what is going to ensure that we bring democracy to our society.
It is the constitutional, the legal and fundamental right of citizens to be governed by a democratic political authority and that is why thousands of people lost their lives in the liberation war, that is why we took on the colonial regime to ensure that our governance is based on the true will of the people and that people are not faced with treason for merely watching a video. So we are looking forward to the 18th of July because we believe we have no case to answer but obviously that’s for the courts to decide.
Guma: From Gokwe comes a text message from Noel. Noel wants to find out, given what you went through, what’s your attitude to the current coalition or unity government?
Gwisai: Well look, what we’ve gone through is nothing in isolation. I’ve already given the example of what Mwonzora is facing, the co-chairperson of COPAC and they treat him the way they have, and an 82 year old headman, this is what our society has come to – no respect for the elderly, no respect for anything.
I think we currently have a minister in charge of Reconciliation, National Healing again being arrested for very similar things for holding a meeting, so I think what it shows is that this is not an inclusive government at all.
This is just a dress-up for continuation of the old dictatorship and authoritarian regime and that the struggle for democracy in this country has to continue and that hopefully colleagues in that, indeed I think in many ways if we’d not had this kind of thing, the struggle for democracy would have travelled much further than what we have now.
What has allowed, what has happened in the last two years is that this pretence that things are changing has in many ways delayed change but be that as it may, the reality is that the people are suffering; thousands of workers have lost their jobs, prices of basic goods have gone down, millions of young people do not have jobs.
This government is only really serving the interests of the wealthy, the rich and the business people. This is why therefore when you talk of government civil servants, they take their instructions from the IMF and the World Bank which has instructed that there should be no pay increment for teachers, for our nurses but what we know is that the rich are able to charge prices that they want, you go into the streets of Harare, you see the kind of vehicles that they drive, you look at the kind of salaries that top managers are earning and so forth.
So it’s not yet uhuru for ordinary people, economically or politically and what must therefore be clear is that I think it is important for people to accelerate, we must be inspired by events that are happening across north Africa, across Africa, to move forward and now finally push for a true democratic transformation of our society politically as well as economically.
So I hope that the colleagues in the GNU must not fool themselves to think that they’ve got real change. They must be ready to be at the forefront of the struggle, they must be ready to go into the trenches. If it means that people are being arrested and being taken, filling the jails – so be it – because democracy and true independence for working people is a costly thing, it’s not going to come on a silver platter.
So as we move to the new constitution, if it does not bring about provisions that allow real change, that bring an end to a dictatorial executive president, that does not bring about socio-economic rights, labour rights, living wage for workers, the right to strike, inputs and land for farmers and so forth, we must have the guts and courage to be able to fight for that.
And as we move to elections we must be ready to defend the people’s right in elections, the people’s will and not just accept the imposition of a leader. So it is a very important time for our people, the major political party in this country, the MDC-T will be holding a Congress very soon and we hope that they use that as an occasion to build their forces and that the ordinary people use it as a basis for ensuring that we fight for real change in our society.
So it’s a very crucial critical time for our society. Dictators across Africa and the world are on notice now that they will not be able to get away with butchering their people, with imposing their will. So we hope that the struggle for change can only move forward. Its aluta continua as far we’re concerned in the ISO.
Guma: Well Zimbabwe that concludes part one of our interview with Munyaradzi Gwisai, the leader of the International Socialist Organization in Zimbabwe. The former MDC MP is one of six activists facing treason charges for addressing a meeting at which video footage of protests in Egypt and Tunisia was screened.
Don’t forget to join me next week for part two of this interview.
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