By Lance Guma
LONDON – Prominent former student leader and UK based lawyer Tinomudaishe Chinyoka has joined Zanu PF and immediately announced his intention to challenge fellow lawyer Jessie Majome (MDC-T) for the Harare West parliamentary seat in elections set for 2018.
Journalist Lance Guma spoke to Chinyoka.
Lance Guma: Many people would have thought you were a natural fit for the MDC given your background, what has motivated you to join Zanu PF?
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka: How much time do you have? True, when the MDC was formed, I too thought it was a natural fit for me. But, slowly, the mistakes and blunderings of the leadership started to shake my faith in their claim to be a Movement, to be Democratic or the harbinger of whatever Change we supposedly wanted.
My first problem with them was when they opposed the 1999 constitution. Granted, they were still in infancy, finding their feet, and contracted their policy on that to the NCA. But I said, they know better. Then they opposed the taking of farms and dismissed (Munyaradzi) Gwisai for saying take industries too.
I was appalled, because in 1994 as SRC President at UZ, I had been calling for the seizure of land and the giving of title deeds to our people kumusha. But I said to myself, maybe they knew better.
Then they violated their own constitution to let Tsvangirai remain president after his two terms, despite calling me a pessimist in 1999 when I warned against those term limits as overly presumptuous. But I stayed, still hoping for something.
Then the disaster that was their non-campaign this year, where in policy after policy they stood against the people that I call my own: against the 51-49 policy especially, ran a foolish campaign buttressed on making fun of the President’s age.
That, for me, was the final straw. You cannot claim to love Zimbabweans and yet place obstacles to their access to ownership of their resources at every juncture. And removing Mugabe might sound good by the fireside, but it is not an ideology.
Guma: The MDC policy has been clear, that they have no objections to the land reform policy and only criticised the violent and chaotic manner it was conducted. Haven’t subsequent food shortages and the hunger that has stalked the country for the past two decades borne testimony to the chaos and patronage attached to the system?
Chinyoka: The MDC policy on land was initially that they would conduct a land audit to find out what was there, and I was opposed to that. We did not need a land audit, it’s our land, we know how much we have.
The chaotic manner in which it was conducted as you say pales in comparison to how it was taken in the first place. Besides which, it is important to recall that this was a spontaneous movement, because the people, starting with the Svosve people on Marondera, decided that enough was enough, it was time to retake our land.
It was an idea whose time had come, and as Victor Hugo said, there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has arrived. You see I do not subscribe to this idea that this process was driven by some command proceeds within ZANU PF.
My two brother’s invaded farms, and they didn’t get some directive from anyone. What ZANU PF did was to not stand in the people’s way with some inane talk about audits.
And, as for the hunger and starvation, I think we must not be selective in our analysis. We had hunger and starvation in 1982. And again in 1992. There was no land reform then. As everyone knows, we have droughts in Zimbabwe. We also lost balance of payments support in a regime change attempt by the West.
All those things contribute to the hunger and starvation. Not one thing. Besides which, the new farmers couldn’t be expected to hit the ground running, as they didn’t have the same access to capital loans as the usurpers.
But, you know what Lance, all these arguments aside, even if the manner in which land was repossessed was chaotic or whatever, even assuming that the white farmers were better farmers than the new occupants, I will quote President Mugabe on that: “the fact that the person that stole my car has a driving license and I don’t does not justify him keeping it”. It was our land, it had to be taken, by any and whatever means necessary.
Guma: MDC members say the Constitution was altered after the split in 2005 to say once the president is sworn in as Head of State then his term is aligned to the two terms in the constitution that he will serve as President of the country.
Chinyoka: Yes, but that’s the same as bolting the stables after the horses have fled. The problem would have been avoided if they weren’t so arrogant. Back in 1999, I said at a meeting at (Fidelis) Mhashu’s house, before the very first congress, that the constitution should say exactly that, to which, that the terms start counting upon the MDC leader winning the national presidency, and you know what they said? ‘Chinyoka, you are way behind, Morgan will be president in 2002 and will be serving his second term as MDC President when he gets re-elected President of Zimbabwe, so that’s not necessary.’ Now we know.
Guma: Is there any particular reason you have chosen to stand in Harare West or is it a particular issue with Jessie Majome given your recent article published in the Zanu PF controlled Herald newspaper criticising her?
Chinyoka: Well, as you know, all politics is local. I was registered to vote in Harare West when I left Zimbabwe. I lived on Horseferry Road, owned a house there.
In fact, in the elections of 2000, I queued all day in Harare West to go and exercise my democratic right to spoil my ballot at Haig Park Primary School: because I thought it insulting that the MDC had chosen an American citizen, Trudy Stevenson, to stand as a candidate when there were thousands of capable Zimbabweans, white black or coloured.
Harare West is where I lived, where I bought my first house, paid my first mortgage, where two of my children were born.
Second, it is because Jessie Majome is a very incompetent MP. This is not an attack on her personally, she is someone I have known since University and as an individual, she is a good person but, sadly, and this is true, a very bad MP.
Over the next four and half years, I plan on exposing that incompetence until it is patently obvious to all voters in Harare West that a vote for Jessie Majome is as good as a spoilt vote.
Guma: Seems to be a rather personal attack with a lot of emotion, is there a personal issue you have with Majome? Was she not re-elected convincingly by the same people you claim you want to represent in 2018?
Chinyoka: It’s not personal at all, as I think that as a person Jessie Majome is a fine human being. The only issue I have is that she is not a good MP. She is more interested in telling people where she has been, what she did there, how she refused to make the Pan-African salute at Mandela’s house because it looks like a ZANU PF salute, how she went to Arusha and has been voted into some plan-global initiative against gun violence or some such issues: these aren’t Harare West issues.
The ordinary person in Harare West wouldn’t give a toss who gave what salute while being pictured at Mandela’s old house in Soweto. An MP must do their work in the constituency, worrying about constituency issues, schools, services, creation of jobs and access to health centres.
Such things. Not sure how many people in Harare West are worried about gun violence, but I would bet they are less than those worried about making a living and sending their children to school.
Yes, she was re-elected, presumably because strangely, the mutating ballots failed to mutate in Harare West! Seriously though, she was re-elected because ZANU PF supporters stayed at home. They were not motivated enough to vote, I guess because they assumed we would lose.
That is why I (or whoever hopes to represent Harare West in the next Parliament in place of Ms Majome) will need to start working hard, so that whoever the ZANU PF candidate is, and I hope that will be one Tinomudaishe Chinyoka of course, has the people of Harare West believing that not only will they win with ZANU PF, but that things can only get better with their representation.
Guma: Are you confident you will get through the primary election stage within Zanu PF to even be able to get the chance to challenge Majome?
Chinyoka: Confident is not the word I would choose. Hopeful. As the last election cycle showed, while the MDC was busy imposing candidates east, north and south, ZANU PF was running a very democratic primary election process.
Comrade Varaidzo Mupunga was the ZANU PF candidate in Harare West, and she ran a good race, showing by her youthful zeal, verve and confidence that the “old-age” attack by the MDC is nought but hot air. I do not know if she wants to have another go at Jessie, I have actually written to her to find out.
I look forward to working with her, and others in the constituency but ultimately, the voters at a democratic ZANU PF primary election will choose their candidate. Naturally, I hope that will be me, but it might not.
Whoever is chosen, they will immediately have two advantages over Jessie Majome: one, they will have been chosen by the voters in Harare West and not through some deal done in Harvest House and two, they will be the better candidate.
But mark one thing, while the question of whether the ZANU PF candidate in Harare West in 2018 is going to be Tinomudaishe Chinyoka or Varaidzo Mupunga or anyone else is yet to be answered, one thing is certain in my mind, the winner will be the ZANU PF candidate, not Ms Majome.
To that purpose, I intend to work very hard, starting now. We will campaign door to door, street to street, mbuya to mbuya, mwana to mwana, to make that happen. The idea that the MDC has strongholds in Harare is just a transient belief whose time is in the past.
Guma: In 2008 Mugabe lost the elections and sanctioned the mass murder of an estimated 500 people and the maiming of thousands under Operation Mavhotera Papi (Where did you vote).
In 2005 his government sanctioned Operation Murambatsvina which displaced nearly a million people and destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands.
In the eighties we had the Gukurahundi Massacres in which an estimated 20 000 people were massacred in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces. How do you sit easy in your conscience joining a party that has employed violence and murder to remain in power like this?
Chinyoka: You know Lance, while lawyers will tell you that these figures have not been proved, or that blame can only be assigned after a court or trial process, I have thought about all these things, and here is what I believe.
The death of one person, through anything other than natural causes, is one death too many. Every life, no matter how ‘worthless’ it might appear to some, is valuable to he that holds it, and must be cherished.
So before you even consider what those numbers are and who did what, any deaths, especially those happening between brothers, leave a painful legacy.
My own father was murdered by his own brother, who served a short prison term for it because, according to the judge, there were extenuating circumstances’, by which meant that my father was a drunk and therefore not worth much anyway. So I know the pain of loss.
And I personally regret the killing of any Zimbabwean by another Zimbabwean. However, as a people, we have to move on. Standing on the sidelines and megaphoning about ZANU PF did this, ZANU PF did that is not, in my view, the best way to deal with any national problems.
Problems are addressed when we get involved and work together to ensure that our country never has to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death again. To a time when all life has value, when all opinions have currency, and when as a nation, we can get a little bit of the reconciliation that we have exported to the world.
Guma: What’s your response to those who will say you are an opportunist who waited to see which way the politics would go before making up your mind and that your decision is not motivated by any principles?
Chinyoka: You know Lance, you can never legislate for what people think or say. As I have pointed out, I have fundamental policy differences with the MDC. They oppose the process whereby our land was repossessed in 2000 by the original owners, I am all in favour.
They think market forces should determine policies on resource ownership, that it’s okay for Falcon Gold to get 99% of their gold from Zimbabwe while holding shareholders meetings in Luxembourg because that’s where these shareholders live, and I don’t.
They fought an election against the 51-49 policy, and I would have advocated for 75-25. They think removing Mugabe is a cause, I say long live our President. They think the last election was rigged, I don’t.
They believe in mutating ballots, I don’t. They think Tsvangirai is fit to lead our country, I don’t. They think sanctions aren’t damaging our country, I think they are doing just that. They think Tsvangirai ndizvo, I don’t.
In fact, the question that should be asked is, why did I take so long to come out against them. That, in my view, is a valid criticism, and I will be the first to hold up my hands and say yes, why did I wait that long?
I sincerely believe, and have always said, I want to leave this world knowing that the destiny and trajectory of my country’s politics is what they are partly because I was born there, not in spite of me being born there.
Inevitably, that means supporting the one party that supports the Zimbabwe that I know and am proud of. That party is not the MDC.
Guma: There is a suggestion in some quarters you left Zimbabwe under a cloud and by joining Zanu PF you are merely engineering a soft landing for yourself. How do you respond to this allegation?
Chinyoka: To be perfectly honest Lance, I couldn’t tell you what the weather was like the day I left Zimbabwe, but I do recall the TV weather report on the night before saying that it was going to be ‘partly cloudy with scattered afternoon thunderstorms, it will be mild to warm later’. It was November after all.
On a more serious note though, no, I do not know of any cloud surrounding my coming here. I do not believe that I need a soft landing, unless that refers to the plane I will be on.
Look, I am aware that when you make a decision that disappoints people, those people will say things to assuage their disappointment, and what they say will not be flattering, for it is meant to wound. People will say things that aren’t true because they have an agenda. Fiction is written about our President all the time.
This is, after all, the country where a lunatic fringe believes that it is okay to make fun of Bona’s chastity just because of who she is, despite the fact that as far as we know, that child has done nothing but make her parents proud. The point being, people say things to hurt and discourage.
Except they won’t succeed. They breed them of sterner stuff where I come from. I take it as a compliment that people can actually spend time talking about Tinomudaishe Chinyoka.
It says they think I am worthy of their attention and notice. At the end of the day, in politics, opponents take no prisoners. If I didn’t know that, if I wasn’t willing to do the same, then I would have no business entering the arena.
Guma: By ‘leaving under a cloud’ I was referring to serious allegations that you abused your client’s monies in Zimbabwe as a lawyer and that is one among other reasons why you left the country?
Chinyoka: Yes, I have heard this claim myself, but to put it in the vernacular if I may, it’s all codswallop! When I left, I was working with about 6 lawyers, one of whom was in partnership with me. They are all still practicing law in Zimbabwe. They wouldn’t be, certainly my partner wouldn’t be if there had been any substance to those stories.
The Law Society got wind of those stories too and, as is their job, looked into them and issued a clean report. I have actually been in touch with the Law Society since I came here, and there has not been any suggestion that there was any substance to those fireside stories.
In fact, I wouldn’t have been able to be admitted to the rolls as a solicitor by the Law Society of England and Wales without a report from the Law Society of Zimbabwe, which report comments on a lawyer’s good conduct or otherwise.
These stories came from lawyers that had been in practice longer than me and who were jealous of the fact that I was doing much better than they were.
In fact, the stories were swirling around from the time I bought a top of the range vehicle, when my older colleagues were running around in old bangers. This doesn’t faze me, and certainly does not deserve the amount of time I have just spent addressing these allegations but, there you are.
Guma: It’s also alleged you left the country with children from a previous marriage without lawfully custody and as with the first allegation, it’s claimed this is another issue you are trying to have swept under the carpet?
Chinyoka: Well, that’s a new one, this is the first time I have heard that! I suppose I should feel flattered that my opponents know how deeply I love my children. But, the story is false. It is also one that I should not even have to address in the context of a political interview but, because it is out there as you say, I will address it this once.
When I left Zimbabwe, my children stayed behind. They only came to me some 10 and a half months later. And my marriage ended at that time. All issues in the divorce were agreed, and my former wife agreed to me having custody of the children because she was moving up to the USA at the time.
As it happens, those same children are now attending school in the USA, on full academic scholarships I am proud to say, in case those peddling this hogwash need their information updating. Having said that, I will be hoping that this is the last time I have to talk about my children in this process.
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is going into politics. Not his children. Just as much as I don’t talk about Tsvangirai’s children abroad, just as much as I am repulsed by the out of line comments you read about Bona Mugabe, just as much as you won’t hear me talk about Ms Jessie Majome’s personal life, I would expect that people realize that my children aren’t fair game.
Children are out of bounds. That’s just a fact. Those that think otherwise and carry on this path should expect to hear from me, and that too, is a fact.
Guma: Some say you were pardoned by President Mugabe as a student when you and others allegedly burnt the laboratory at Dadaya High School and that you owe him a debt of gratitude for that?
Chinyoka: Wow! So many wrong assumptions in there. I was not pardoned by President Mugabe or anyone, I did not burn a lab or any building at Dadaya or any other place, and I do not owe the President anything but respect.
Yes, I was one of the students arrested and charged by the police after the strike at Dadaya ended up with the school burning, but like the other 42 people also arrested, I did not burn anything.
The school was burnt by people that broke into the book room to steal books, then sought to hide the evidence (their fingerprints) by burning that room, except that it was next to a Chemistry lab, whose gases exploded and the rest is history.
While all this was happening, those of us taking part in the strike were on the other side of the hill, singing outside the houses of the teachers we had complaints against. We came back to the main school buildings to find it burning.
The police came and picked up Form 1 kids and asked them a simple question, ‘who did you see talking and agitating for a strike’. As I had been one of those doing most of the talking, my name was second on the list. The police decided that if you agitated for the strike, then you were responsible for the fire.
Some would call that fair, I prefer to think that striking is not illegal while burning buildings is not. And I did not burn any buildings. Neither did the other 42 punished for exactly that. And we weren’t pardoned. We won an appeal at the High Court before Mr Justice Blackie and were released.
In fact, I should tell you that because the trial itself didn’t happen for a year and a half, we were out of school from when we were in second term Form 5, and wrote our A Level exams from home, a fact that impressed Justice Blackie and led him to order that we be released and be allowed to go to University (we got our UZ offer letters the same day that the magistrate sent us down) forthwith.
As a former teacher at Dadaya High School, I suspect that the President would never have pardoned anyone that burnt the school, if any of them had in fact been caught. We now know who burnt the school, but during our two year ordeal of blame and court hearings, we did not.
Guma: As president of the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) Students Representative Council (SRC) you got a vote of no confidence after going to the United States allegedly using and abusing SRC money. Your critics say that shows you are not a man of integrity fit to be an Honourable MP?
Chinyoka: Again, that is not true at all. There was never a vote of no-confidence, and no misuse of union funds. Petina Gappah, Brian Kagoro and myself won the right to represent our country at the Philip C Jessup Moot Court competition in Washington DC where, if I may say, I saw for the first time that Ms Gappah was the most intelligent human being I have ever known, and that she would have won the completion instead of just getting to the semi-final rounds had the two companions with her been as gifted.
I should observe here that Ms Majome competed and lost. Now, the university was able to fund our air-fares, including those of the two lecturers we had to take with us. But not the accommodation. So we sent out letters of appeal for money, to everyone and anyone we could think of.
From the USA embassy to the Iraqi Embassy and, as it happened, the SRC. The SRC had a procedure for helping students in urgent need of support, and so we applied to that too. As anyone that knows the SRC at UZ will tell you, the Vice President, not the President, was the Chairman of the finance committee.
He signed cheques and made finance decisions. I was President, so not in the Finance Committee. The Finance Chairman had gone to High School with Petinah, so they knew each other. He agreed to see her, and told me about it.
I said I would not be involved in the decision. Petina met the committee, I recused myself because I was an interested party, and the committee agreed to contribute to our trip. I should repeat here that the finance committee did assist other students too, so it wasn’t just that one off.
However, for reasons I will never know, while we were in the USA raising our country’s flag high (or while Brian and especially myself through limited ability were undermining Petina’s attempts to do so, if I am honest), someone in the SRC got the cheque, made out not to myself mind you, and spread the story that I had taken Union money for a trip to the USA.
On my return, I found this allegation swirling around, called a meeting and resigned. As it happens, a few months later I was back in the SRC, not only elected by a landslide, but having had my nomination papers completed on my behalf against my wishes by people that wanted me to be in the SRC.
In addition, Brian Kagoro, in whose name the cheque was actually drawn, was voted Vice President of the SRC and, you guessed it, Chairman of the Finance Committee. Would that have happened if there were questions of integrity around the trip?
As you can see, there is no issue here. So these so called critics saying I am not a man of integrity are blowing hot air, from a position of no information. But, as I have said before, I expected this. I know more will come. I imagine that these silly stories pale in comparison to what others are routinely falsely accused of.
It’s not only par for the course, but demonstrates the desperate depths that people will plumb to when faced with a better candidate. That, at the end of the day, is what I will want Harare West residents to know:
I will be better than Jessie Majome, and will serve them better. Because I am the better candidate. From the better party. With a better President. And a better plan for Harare West. That, at the end of the day, is what matters, is it not?