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MDC Renewal “can’t be an anti-Tsvangirai platform” – Grace Kwinjeh

GRACE Kwinjeh (GK), a founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) who is now based in Brussels, Belgium, spoke to the Financial Gazette’s Assistant Bureau Chief Ray Ndlovu (RN) and gave her assessment of the state of the country’s largest opposition party, which turned 15 years-old this month. Below are excerpts:

Grace Kwinjeh is a veteran MDC-T activist
Grace Kwinjeh is a veteran MDC-T activist

RN: You are a founding member of the MDC. Is the MDC which is there today still the same party which you had envisioned15 years ago?

GK: No. The party has gone through a rather dramatic transformation from its original values. Fifteen years ago, I think there was unity of purpose, self-sacrifice, and honesty in the way things were done, which is gone today.

RN: In what ways has the MDC changed either for the good or bad in the last 15 years?

GK: Well, the splits have not been good for the party, first in 2005 when the Welshman Ncube group broke away and now the Tendai Biti group. That weakens the party’s capacity to fight the ZANU-PF dictatorship. In that regard you find that a lot of politics is around personalities, people are busy trying to deal with personality issues and not the issues affecting Zimbabweans such as poverty and unemployment. Yet much of our time and energy is spent dealing with power games by grown men and women.

RN: Is the fact that Tsvangirai has undergone two unsuccessful palace coups from his secretary-generals who also were MDC founding members an indication that the core group of MDC founders is very unhappy with his present leadership?

GK: Sadly, when you look at the people who have left to join either the Ncube group or the Biti group, these are people you just cannot dismiss. You are talking of struggle veterans like Lucia Matibenga, a trade unionist who fought side by side with Tsvangirai.

It is unfortunate that an internal mechanism for conflict resolution could not be found. It also seems there are those around Tsvangirai who were only too happy to see these people go, time will tell, if these people truly love Tsvangirai and will fight for him to be Zimbabwe’s next President.

RN: In your opinion, has Tsvangirai’s leadership now become a stumbling block to the future of the MDC?

GK: Yeah, that’s a tricky one. I think the first mistake made was to tie the party brand to an individual, that was wrong and if the MDC is to survive the current storm, they have to deal with that one. Tsvangirai has his own weaknesses, one of them is the inability to deal decisively on matters of strategy.

Look at the issue of the Harvest House security personnel who were fired in 2010, he then became prime minister had time to see the potential threat in that situation and deal with it once and for all, but as always he starts to move when things get out of hand.

There are many other decisions as a leader he could have made at the right time and avoided attacks on himself and the party he leads. He also seems to have this naivety that Zimbabweans can never do without him, and that ZANU-PF needs him.

ZANU-PF factions are fighting for power to lead Zimbabwe, it is a do or die situation and its getting more ridiculous and even scary. Whatever mistake Tsvangirai makes takes everyone else down with it. He does not realise that we all suffer the consequences of his lack of leadership.

He listens to lies, so if someone whispers into his ear that I am now with Renewal Team he believes it and does not have the ability to pick the phone to call and ask a leader, are you with Renewal Team? The rumour mongers and not strategists have surrounded him, and no serious party can be run like that. They will tell him the demonstration by youths was a huge success and ZANU-PF is shaken. We look and say, really, his naivety at times is really shocking.

RN: Who do you propose to take over from Tsvangirai in the MDC, if that option was available?

GK: That is up to the party supporters to decide, there are many capable good leaders, male and female. I do not wish to mention names.

RN: Do you support the leadership renewal cause being put forward by the new MDC Renewal Team?

GK: I know the Renewal Team and understand some of their issues, but I have not had the chance to talk to any of them. I was very close to Matibenga, though I have not spoken to her in a while. I have also had contact with Roy Bennett, as he often understood my struggles here, but he has never spoken about the renewal agenda. My issue with them is that they seem to be making the same mistake we made when we formed the MDC, it can’t be an anti-Tsvangirai platform, that is not sustainable, look at how often the anti-Mugabe agenda has not been sustainable.

RN: After three election defeats, what does the MDC have to offer to Zimbabweans going into the next 2018 election?

GK: I do not know. The next election is going to be a tough one, as many players are in the field. I am hearing serious names being thrown around; if those names should be in the ring, then Tsvangirai has work to do. The arrogance and ignorance have to go, he must start reading for himself and not asking others to interpret for him.

For now even the way the so called traditional pro-democracy movement is split is not healthy, you have the Lovemore Madhuku’s, and many others forming parties. ZANU- PF may be fighting, but you can’t discount their ability to mobilise grassroot support.

RN: The West appears to have washed the MDC off its hands, how significant are those developments for ZANU-PF which on the other hand has seen thawing relations with the West in recent months?

GK: ZANU-PF has been on a charm offensive for some time now. They have made inroads even here in Belgium, you know Antwerp is the largest diamond centre in the world, so there would be a strategic interest even for them.

I think there is also fatigue with Zimbabwe, a lot of support was given to that country, many projects supported, SW Radio closed down recently, there are competing needs and interests, the opposition has tended to be blinkered to human rights issues alone, but then the global community is more complex than that, look at what is going on in Russia, and China’s support to the Zimbabwe government.

What is the thinking in Africa? Zimbabwe has many brilliant Zimbabweans in these areas who could have been useful to the opposition, but then when you limit yourselves to the ‘we have been arrested’ or tortured mantra you lose out to the enemy.

ZANU-PF is utilising these people, in strategic spaces, to speak their case and win over support. Tsvangirai has also suffered a crisis of perception, that he will not be able to win over the security services and ZANU-PF support. Sadly, his failure to deal with small matters at party level are being used to judge him.

RN: The MDC-T Congress is coming up in October. What do you see taking place there?

GK: That is going to be key for the survival of Tsvangirai and the party, however, it seems there are many hawks around him, who seem to be positioning themselves for a post-Tsvangirai period. It’s going to be hard, and unless Tsvangirai himself shows leadership, we might see more people leave, which would further weaken the party.

RN: The “Chinja” mantra even though it resonated with the masses has not succeeded in ushering change for the people in addition to the rigging mechanism which are still widely believed to be insurmountable. What model of politics, mobilisation or checks and balances do you think Zimbabwe needs?

GK: I think there needs to be a complete transformation in the way elections are run, it is unhealthy to have a party with vested interests calling the shots in the running of elections. Zimbabwe is a signatory of the SADC guidelines on elections, which spell clearly how democratic elections should be run.

It is about changing the institutional set up as well as the mentality of politicians in the ruling party. Look at how either the region or even the continent allow Diaspora to vote and yet we do not. The MDC while in the unity government should have pushed for key reforms, but they failed to reform the electoral act and other areas that have an impact on the credibility of elections and the public media for instance, it continues to be a ZANU-PF mouthpiece. The model that works is a democratic one, it is universal and allows Zimbabweans to chose leaders of their choice with no fear or favour. Financial Gazette