Grace Kwinjeh interview on Question Time
Veteran MDC-T activist and campaigner for women’s rights, Grace Kwinjeh, was last month honoured by her party for coming up with the name ‘Movement for Democratic Change’ at its formation. With the party recently turned 12 years, Kwinjeh joined Question Time to reflect on the political journey.
She speaks to SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma about her media work in Rwanda and draws some comparisons with Zimbabwe in terms of hate speech and how ultimately journalists can be prosecuted for inciting hatred.
Interview broadcast 28 September 2011
Lance Guma: Veteran MDC activist and campaigner for women’s rights, Grace Kwinjeh, was this month (September) honoured by her party for coming up with the name ‘Movement for Democratic Change’ at its formation. With the party recently turned 12 years, Kwinjeh joins Question Time to reflect on the political journey. We asked SW Radio Africa listeners to send in their questions for Grace via Face Book, Twitter, email and text messages. Ms Kwinjeh thank you so much for joining us on the programme.
Grace Kwinjeh: Thank you Lance.
Guma: Not many people knew you had suggested the name – Movement for Democratic Change, MDC in short – take us back to 1999 and how everything unfolded.
Kwinjeh: Well basically Lance if you remember the mood then in 1999 was that Zimbabweans were really getting fed up with the status quo and if you remember that is the time I think we had the most successful actions against the government in the form of the stay-aways that were being called by the then secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai and the president Mr Gibson Sibanda so I think the process leading to the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change was really one by Zimbabweans especially through the workers’ movement expressing their really, really, really dissatisfaction with what was going on in the country at the time.
Guma: But in terms of the inspiration towards the name, why that? Why Movement for Democratic Change? Why not Workers Party or something like that? Labour Party since it was predominantly driven by a lot of people who were in the trade union movements?
Kwinjeh: Well basically I think, yes while the workers’ movement played what I can call a significant part but you have those who were also in the civic organizations who played a tremendous role. You have unsung heroes to the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change; people who came from all kinds of backgrounds – you have people like Mr Roy Bennett who were coming from the farming community, you had people like Mr Tawanda Mutasa who were coming from the civic organizations, you had others who, the MDC was not just formed in a day.
You have people like Mrs Sekai Holland who were coming from the women’s movement, then you’ve got others like Dr Godfrey Kanyenze you know there were so many people who were representing different sectors of society so the idea of a Movement was really to represent all those voices, all those aspirations into some kind of people’s movement that would be geared towards change through democratic means.
Guma: Well I suppose since the split in 2005 a lot has changed in terms of name configurations and for election purposes, the party has had to use the MDC-T acronym – you being the person that initially suggested the name, any new ideas on how to handle the current split in terms of a name for the party?
Kwinjeh: I think that’s not about an individual, it’s not about me because the suggestion was a collective one, it was through a collective debate among many people and through consensus so I think it’s up to the party as a whole to, well for instance now they’ve agreed to move with the acronym MDC-T, then you have MDC-N, and you have the other MDC but I think that is something for public debate, public discussion and I think it’s part of the renewal after 12 years, people have to get back to basics and say okay we are moving forward how do we rebrand, how do we renew ourselves to take on the next phase of the struggle.
Guma: Well you say it was a movement and it drew on people from diverse backgrounds, it’s 12 years since that movement was formed, do you think as a party you have been able to maintain all your alliances and partners? The party had the backing of students, workers, academics and many in business, obviously it’s not easy to keep everyone happy.
Kwinjeh: Yes it’s not easy to keep everyone happy but I’m totally convinced that the MDC remains very broad based and its support remains very broad based and I think that even when you look at the 12th anniversary celebrations, the participation of civic groups, key civic groups such as even the National Constitutional Assembly, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and so on shows you that it remains a partner of civic society and it is the only party in Zimbabwe at the moment that is truly representative of the aspirations of those different organizations.
So yes, the relationship is tough at times; there’s tough love and I think that’s part of democracy. It is part of democracy, I mean you can’t expect everything to be rosy and smooth all the way so civic organizations will have one or two issues to pick with the way the party is doing things but they remain partners and I think that is part and parcel of a healthy relationship.
Guma: The one incident that has defined your determination and resolve took place of the 11th of March 2007 when more than five baton-stick wielding riot policemen beat you up at Machipisa police station in Harare – let’s go back to that and talk us through what happened.
Kwinjeh: Well basically because the situation in 2007 was getting even more, we were really confronted with a dire political and economic situation in our country, I think our church leaders decided to intervene through the Save Zimbabwe campaign where they organized a national day of prayer so they invited us all to a morning prayer on Sunday morning and while we were preparing to go for that prayer, of course things did not turn out the way we had anticipated, that is when we were brutally tortured at Machipisa police station.
Guma: Dewa Mavhinga one civic society leader, he works for the Crisis Coalition, he says congratulations dear comrade sister on the honour by the MDC and on fighting on through trials and tribulations that included a vicious attack by state security agents. He says what is your source of inspiration and how would you advise young democrats growing impatient to see a new Zimbabwe?
Kwinjeh: Well my source of inspiration is actually people like Dewa himself. Being in exile is not so easy but you can’t help but be inspired by those at home who continue every day even when situations get tough, who continue to stand up and actually continue to fight against the brutality of the Robert Mugabe regime.
So I’m inspired by them and I draw my inspiration from them so inasmuch as at times I feel like licking my own wounds, I feel bad and I feel tired, battle weary, but you know the fact that, even when you look at the Anniversary celebrations, that thousands of Zimbabweans came out under the most difficult circumstances, that would inspire anyone in any part of the world so I would like to really give the honour to Zimbabweans and their resilience and I think that is what keeps most of the leaders going, that is what keeps most of us out here in exile going.
Guma: In various capacities you have represented the MDC in Europe; you were at one time the deputy secretary for International Relations. Currently you are the Global Advocacy Campaign representative in the EU; what does your role involve?
Kwinjeh: Well basically the Global Advocacy Campaign is there to just reinvigorate international interest in what is going on in Zimbabwe and in one area for instance we’re focusing on is peace because we believe that a peaceful election is possible in Zimbabwe and right now we’ve just had the experience in Zambia where there’s been a very, very peaceful handover of power from the incumbent to the opposition so we believe that in Zimbabwe peace is possible and we are focusing on issues to do with peace; we are focusing on getting the Diaspora involved in campaigns related to the peace initiative and we are saying another Zimbabwe is possible and that’s to get the international community having a consensus, having one voice on the situation in Zimbabwe, not just a European voice or American voice or African voice but we believe that all the leaders of the international community, all those who are interested in democracy, can unite in actually saying a new Zimbabwe is possible and that not one person should die for it again.
Guma: Being part of a coalition government has brought its fair share of complications; some accuse the MDC of giving Mugabe and Zanu PF a lifeline in 2008 – what is your take on what happened?
Kwinjeh: Well basically I’m one of those who were never for us joining the government of national unity or signing the Global Political Agreement but when you really look at the end of the day what makes sense at that time, you find that the options were very limited for our leaders and actually I think that they’ve just proved a point of the kind of society that Zanu PF is in the sense that no amount of goodwill even in its own favour can it actually reciprocate with the same amount of goodwill towards the citizens of Zimbabwe.
So if you remember the whole issue of government of national unity was going on and on, the whole idea was being pushed from different circles, others were pushing a third way option and so on and I think when the prime minister and the leadership of the MDC finally agreed and went into the government, they really, they went in sincerely, hoping that this option would give some kind of reprieve to Zimbabweans and I think there has been temporary reprieve.
If you look at the economic indicators for instance, you find that our economy really is doing better than it was doing back then in 2008. If you look at some of the political indicators you find that things are not where they were before so while it’s not the most perfect deal, while we are not in the most perfect situation, but I think that we can claim victory in a number of areas and the GNU, you have to talk, you have to, everywhere around the world where there are warring parties, they have to get down and talk.
You have South Africa – they had to talk and come up with some kind of agreement so even if we at the next election, there’s a dispute, they will have to talk again and come up, I think Dr John Makumbe has made that point very clear. So we can’t run away from talking to Zanu PF, we have to talk to them especially more so that they are controlling the security apparatus and so on but I think that is of course a very unfair framework which gives legitimacy to an otherwise very unpopular political party.
I think it’s really unfair that Zanu PF should use the state machinery to force people to its own vile agendas and so on but really I think that we need to weigh and say how many options were there? I watched Morgan Tsvangirai almost being killed; actually by the time I went to the cells on the 11th of March 2007, I thought he was dead and everybody else thought he was dead, so you can look at this man and really think that, after that what is there?
Look at the violence in 2008 – so there are certain decisions that leaders make. At times they are not so popular, at times they raise a lot of emotions but you look at the options and say okay so what would could have been done?
Guma: On Twitter comes a question from Donald. Donald wants to find out from you in terms of your assessment – what are the prospects for a free and fair election possibly next year?
Kwinjeh: I think if we can get some, I’m quite happy with the way that SADC is moving especially that that is one of the main victories we have scored in the recent months, the fact that SADC has changed its tone and its rhetoric. SADC is accepting that there is an issue in Zimbabwe and the issue is one Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF party and that the issue is still to do with violence and the role of the security sector.
So I think that if we resolve the issues to do with the role of the security, to do with security sector reforms for instance, to do with some of the reforms with media freedom and so on, the prospects of a free and fair election are very, very high and I think that right now what has happened in Zambia only shows us that whatever has been happening in Zimbabwe and that whatever the Robert Mugabe regime might be planning it’s very, very un-African and that elections, free and fair elections are very possible in Africa, in particular in Zimbabwe because we are more advanced than Zambia.
In many respects we are more advanced, we might not have had the kind of leadership renewal that they have had, much to their own credit but I think that institutionally, in terms of institutions that can deliver democracy, Zimbabwe really, really is a country that is way ahead of many countries, not just in the SADC region but in Africa as a whole. So I think that it’s time that SADC leaders in particular should really put their foot on the ground and see these elections have been the final elections that resolve the issue, the crisis in Zimbabwe once and for all.
Guma: Now you spent several years working in Rwanda Grace; Lindiwe in Harare is rather curious to know what you’ve been doing all those years in Rwanda?
Kwinjeh: Yah okay it was, I went to Rwanda as a journalist, actually first as a training manager then as a managing editor. You know after the genocide in 1994, you had journalists who were either involved in the killing of journalists or who themselves were killed so there has been a very thin base in terms of journalists on the ground, in the media and they have had a lot of programmes on the ground to actually start rebuilding the media, both print and electronic media and I actually enjoyed my stay in Rwanda because I learnt a lot of things.
Not only was I really privy to the kind of horrors that went on in 1994 in terms of the brutality of the killing, in terms of the role that the media can play in inciting such killings, in terms of hate-speech and so on but I also found that it is possible to actually stand up for the leadership, to stand up and to start rebuilding a nation and I think they are doing great things even now when it’s only about 15 or 16 years after the genocide but they are doing tremendous things in terms of developing their nation better than other African countries that have never suffered the magnitude of violence that they suffered.
Guma: You talked of course about the polarized environment in Rwanda at that time; Zimbabwe has a similar polarized environment. Should democracy, or real democracy come to Zimbabwe, what do you think needs to be done to get rid of that whole polarized environment where you have journalists from the state media on one side and the independent journalists on the other?
Kwinjeh: I just think hate-speech is so wrong and you see, if you just compare to Rwanda as at 1992 and compare to Zimbabwe right now, just look at some of the articles, look at how they denigrate the prime minister or the MDC president, Morgan Tsvangirai for instance, it’s the same kind of hate-speech culture. It is really wrong the way they incite citizens against fellow citizens and it’s all so wrong and I think that we as media practitioners, I’m talking also as a journalist and yourself Lance, there’s a big job, there’s a big role for us to play in actually transforming our media into a professional media that serves the interests of the people and not the interests of different political parties and political interests.
So many of them have actually been tried at the International Court for, in Arusha, those are the Rwandan journalists and I think when our time for justice comes, you’ll find that journalists are going to stand in the dock, there has to be justice and I think what they are doing is so wrong and I think that they should just learn from history.
It’s not just about journalists in Rwanda who incited the genocide, you even have journalists here in Europe who have been tried for similar crimes to do with hate-speech so they should know when they write all those libelous articles and where they denigrate others and when they incite hate-speech that their days are numbered and that the day of justice is not just about the politicians, they will be made to account too.
Guma: Well Zimbabwe that’s veteran MDC activist and a campaigner for women’s rights Grace Kwinjeh joining us on Question Time and I hope that she has answered some of the questions that you have sent in to the programme. Grace thank you so much for joining us on the programme.
Kwinjeh: Thank you Lance, thank you.