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History will absolve me: Mwonzora

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MDC-T president Douglas Mwonzora (DM) has often been described as a sellout and likened to Rhodesia-Zimbabwe quisling Bishop Abel Muzorewa.

Mwonzora, nicknamed “Mwonzorewa” by critics who are determined to ensure that the Muzorewa analogy sticks for posterity, took over from Thokozani Khupe as party leader at last year’s congress.

He has been accused of working with Zanu PF to weaken the opposition by recalling MDC Alliance MPs and then conniving with the ruling party to make wholesale changes to the constitution in support of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s power consolidation and 2023 re-election agenda.

A man who is never far from political controversy, Mwonzora voted for Constitutional Amendment (No.1) while 11 of his senators voted for Amendment (No.2), which scraps the running mate clause and gives President Mnangagwa the power to handpick judges as well as extend their tenure beyond 70 years.

For Mnangagwa’s power consolidation and 2023 presidential election bid to succeed, he desperately needs Mwonzora to be on his side since Zanu PF no longer commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The NewsHawks reporter Nyasha Chingono (NC) interviewed Mwonzora (DM) to discuss his political ambitions, hear his response to accusations of co-option and the future of opposition politics in Zimbabwe. Below are excerpts of the interview:

NC: You have been MDC-T president for some months now. What is the current state of your party?

DM: The good thing is that I have been in leadership, senior leadership of the MDC for years now, having started as the spokesperson of the party. I was sitting in the national standing committee, then I rose to be the general secretary of the party.

I was basically in the senior leadership. Having worked with (former MDC leader Morgan) Tsvangirai and then having taken over as president, the office was not too new to me. We knew what was supposed to be done. We knew that we had, first, to unite the party, to stabilise it. It was not an easy thing, because some of the people who did not win were still fighting the result, but I went straight to business. 

The first business, of course, was to deal with the issue of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We were the first political party to talk about it and to talk about the need for people to be vaccinated. We are also embarking on the restructuring exercise.

Our restructuring meetings are being well attended. I also had to set the tone for the philosophy, the new trajectory that the party must take. We have changed from the politics of hatred, the politics of violence, propaganda, and so on.

And we are now embarking on the politics of rational disputation and tolerance. It is receiving good review from youngsters, from people who traditionally did not want to concern themselves with politics. So, it has been a very good term for me so far. I am in the office for, I think, the fourth month now. I have also been getting very good support from my technical staff mostly. 

So, we are there, we are getting there. We were written off by our opponents. But I am sure now they are showing signs of desperation in trying to contain us. They tried using hate language on social media, propaganda on social media.

Now they have resorted to cartoons on social media, daily cartoons on me. They are also now trying to physically target our supporters and to disturb our meetings. They did that even in Bindura, they did that in Harare West. Most of these people were coming from Mr (Nelson) Chamisa’s party (MDC Alliance). That is an act of desperation by people who had thought they could write us off. And we are only four months.

NC: You have had fierce clashes before with Thokozani Khupe over the MDC-T. What is the status of your relationship? 

DM: Well, I do not know about her. But for me, I viewed Dr Khupe as a very long-standing member of the party. She was the former acting president, whom I succeeded, and she is the most senior official after myself and I have personally treated her with respect regardless what her attitude towards me is. I would not know the private side of things, but I do know we buried the hatchet.

NC: Your critics say you have been captured and co-opted by Zanu PF to destroy the opposition in Zimbabwe.

DM: This is very wrong. There are people who are parading that falsehood. They are mainly basing it on the new political approach that we have taken.

We have jettisoned the politics of acrimony and violence. We have been extremely adaptable, and we know the politics that is appropriate now. At this point in time, there is no need to go back to the traditional, opposition politics that we had in the past, because it does not make sense now.

We are pursuing dialogue as a political strategy. And the reason why we chose dialogue is that it has a history of success in Zimbabwe. After the war of liberation, people sat down at Lancaster and negotiated independence, it worked.

After the Matabeleland massacres, people still sat down and concluded the Unity Accord, and it worked. After the 2008 violence, with the intervention of Sadc and the African Union, we sat down and concluded the Global Political Agreement and the lives of our people changed for the better. For us, it is a tried and tested avenue; it is a tried and tested strategy. 

Most of the people who are criticising us, especially from the opposition, are people who do not understand the essence of opposition. To be an effective opposition, you do not have to be rude to the opponent, you do not have to be unpleasant to the opponent.

You can still be effective and civil. We want to change the politics of this country, to make sure that Zimbabweans choose leaders that they want, free of coercion and we are succeeding in that politics.
We have not collaborated with Zanu PF in any way.

If you look at the Amendment Bill, the Hansard is there to speak for itself, and so on. We have a good explanation regarding why some of our MPs have voted the way they voted.

NC: What motivates your idea to engage Zanu PF in political dialogue? 

DM: That approach which the MDC had taken did not yield much success. If you look at 2008, there had been discussions that took place, culminating in the promulgation of Amendment (No.18), that was collaboration between the MDC and Zanu PF.

The Kariba draft (constitution) was drafted while Mr (Tendai) Biti was the secretary-general and we had Welshman Ncube and Patrick Chinamasa, so they had already started working together.

The result was better conditions for elections in 2008 before the violence after 29 March. After that, we had the period of the Government of National Unity, where we saw the lives of our people changing for the better. That is, for me, the period that changed my mind regarding collaborative politics. 

NC: That brings us to Constitution Amendment (No.1). You voted for it, care to explain why?

DM: It was very inconsequential. In fact, it was in fulfilment of a Supreme Court judgement, which is simply talked about, not that the amendment itself was wrong, but it is simply said that the procedures were wrong. Besides voting for it, there is nothing of substance that my critics point to in Amendment (No.1). As for Amendment (No.2), I opposed it. On two occasions, I led my party in forcing a deadlock in the Senate.

NC: Your senators voted for Amendment (No.2), which has ramifications on democracy. Why the change of heart? 

DM: There was no change of heart. In fact, the amendment provided for about six main items. The first item was the extension of the women’s quota by another 10 years. The second one was the extension of the women’s quota to cover the local authorities. In other words, 30% of the councillors are going to be women. 

The third one was the introduction of the youth quota; one youth is going to be elected by each province to come into the National Assembly. The fourth dealt with devolution.

The fifth dealt with the removal of the running mate clause. And the sixth dealt with the extension of the term of office of the judges.

Of these six items, the MDC is in favour of four. It is against two. If you look at the end of the day, when the Bill goes to committee stage, this is the stage where the MPs vote or discuss clause by clause. That is where most of the debate happened in the Senate.

We argued against the judges’ clause, the extension of the office of the judges, and the removal of the running mate clause. Our argument was that the running mate clause was being removed before it was even tested. It was apparently to deal with Zanu PF power dynamics. 

On the judges’ clause, our impression was that it was illegal. When amending section 328 of the constitution, you must go via referendum. On the first day there was a deadlock and Chief Fortune Charumbira reported the progress.

When they say report progress, it means that there has been a deadlock. And then the second time there was a deadlock, people were then forced to vote. Regarding the judges, we were beaten by the sheer superiority of numbers. Now, the last stage, which was the voting stage, at the voting stage, MPs vote either yes or no for the entire Bill. 

So, if you say yes, you say yes to everything in the Bill, including those things you don’t like. If you say no, you mean no to everything, including those things that you like. Now, here was a value judgement.
Now, there were four items that the MDC favoured. They were two that we did not favour. But, most importantly, most of the MDC legislators who voted in the National Assembly and in the Senate for the Bill are women. And these women viewed the women’s quota, the 60 seats, as incremental gain and they did not want to lose that advantage.

They also voted for the youth quota, they voted for devolution, they voted for the quota of women in the councils. Now, that was not unreasonable.

That was extremely, extremely understandable. And I did not find it necessary to whip the MPs. Now, when you whip Members of Parliament, basically you also provide for punishment in the event of defiance. How could we whip women against their gender?

How could we then, after whipping them, punish them for voting to defend their historic gain? Remember, I was the head of Copac (Constitution Parliamentary Committee) in 2013 when we did the constitution, and it is us who brought the women’s quota. And we did it for a reason because of the treachery of Zimbabwe’s politics.

Less women participate in competitive politics and we found the women’s quota as a way of accommodating more women in Parliament and when the women continued to vote for that, it was very understandable to me.

NC: Did you explain to them the ramifications of voting for the Bill? 

DM: Yes, we did. We had a caucus, where we advised them of the party’s position regarding the six clauses, that the party supported the four that I have mentioned, it did not support the two. If you go to the Hansard and to the debate that the women did in the National Assembly, you will find that it follows that pattern.

But when it comes to voting now, it involves value judgement. I have heard people saying that the judges’ clause was more important than the women’s clause.

I do not think the women think so.

The women think their clause is more important. As a politician myself, I think women’s issues are more important than anything else because we are dealing with redressing a historic wrong that was created by our forefathers, that was created by tradition. We are also dealing with over 52% of the population and they must be represented in governance. 

NC: Do you think the MDC-T made a mistake by voting for the constitutional amendments?

DM: The MDC did not support the amendment. The MDC did not support the running mate clause. It does not support the judges’ clause and, when it came to voting, the MDC had what we call a conflictual vote.

Part of our members voted for the Bill and others did not. Those who did not vote for the Bill felt strongly, including myself, I felt strongly about the judges’ clause and the running mate clause. These are what we call power clauses.

Those who voted yes felt strongly about women’s advancement, youth advancement; what we call empowerment clauses. So, there was a vote for power clauses and empowerment clauses, and I could not say, as a leader of my party, that empowerment clauses were less important than the power clauses.

There is a mistake that mostly Chamisa people are making. And it is to assume that Mr Chamisa lost the presidential election petition because Justice (Luke) Malaba was the Chief Justice. As everybody saw, Mr Chamisa lost the election petition because his case was badly presented. It was badly prepared, and I pointed it out because I was the secretary-general. 

That is why I was not made part of the legal team because I had told them that it was unwinnable. Now, if you compare his election petition to the election petition in Kenya, to the election petition in Malawi, you will see the difference in quality. 

NC: You were part of Copac during the constitution-making process in 2013 and was instrumental in the success of the process, don’t you think that Constitution Amendment (No.2) is setting a wrong precedent by giving the President too much power, the very same power you wanted whittled down? 

DM: I do not support the eecond amendment, by the way. That is why I voted against it. That is why I spent all those minutes on the Senate chamber floor, arguing and leading my team in arguing against the offensive clauses. But having been the drafter of the constitution, we did not seek only to limit the President’s powers, we also sought to advance the cause of women and youth.

When the amendment came, it touched on the things that we at the end of the day saw as the advancement of women. Saying no to this amendment also meant saying no to the advancement of women that we struggled to get into the constitution.

Of course, saying yes also entailed accepting what we did not agree with. It was a value judgement that was involved and the MDC did not make a mistake. The MDC was correct because it allowed the people to vote using their conscience. And in the process, it did not oppress anyone, the majority prevailed.

NC: Do you think that this will set the wrong precedent and maybe lead to the removal of presidential term limits? 

DM: As I argued, in terms of section 328 of the constitution, if there is a need to extend a time limit, that extension does not benefit the incumbent. We inserted that clause and I personally insisted on that clause at the drafting stage, because we wanted to disincentivise presidents who would use their popularity to extend their terms of office as is done by some African presidents, by then saying that if you extend that term of office, it does not benefit you.

Now, unfortunately, this clause then extended term limits to benefit the sitting judges and that was a terrible mistake. But also important is that an amendment of that section should be done only via a referendum. It was not amended via referendum.

There are three clauses that should be amended via a referendum in the constitution: the clauses dealing with human rights, the clauses dealing with land and the clauses dealing with term limits, so we are still fortified that it was wrong to bring that amendment.

In fact, that amendment had not been gazetted, that bit of the amendment, was not gazetted, it was not in the original Bill. Therefore, we accused the minister (of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs) of smuggling that bit into the constitution, and I still believe that it is illegal. It was a mistake. Yes.

NC: Some Zimbabweans say history will judge you harshly for betrayal and they liken you to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia’s quisling Bishop Abel Muzorewa. How do you feel about that? 

DM: That is tribalism and it is because we both come from Manicaland, there is no other reason. They liken me to Muzorewa because Chamisa likens himself to Mugabe. Now history will judge who between the two was correct. And I think in the fullness of time the Zimbabweans will answer on who ruined their economy more than the other.

They will also answer on who murdered people in Matabeleland, black on black more than the other, they will also answer who destroyed the political ethos of this country? And they will also answer on what brought hate language in this country. The leadership of Muzorewa and Mugabe is going to be a matter of future debate for generations. 

NC: What do you think your legacy is going to be as a politician in Zimbabwe and do you think your party will pose a formidable challenge to Mnangagwa? 

DM: My legacy will be of a person who has persevered in bringing change to Zimbabwe. I am the longest-serving member of the opposition right now, having started in 1988 as a young student at the University of Zimbabwe. I was involved in fighting against the one-party state. I was involved in three attempts to draft the constitution of Zimbabwe.

The first one was the draft that we did under Margaret Dongo. Then we had the NCA (National  Constitutional Assembly) draft that we did with the then Dr Lovemore Madhuku, it was rejected by government. 

And then I was involved in Copac. And when I was involved in Copac, I was instrumental in bringing the rights that you see in the constitution right now. So, I am a constitution maker, I am a reformer, and I am against hate, I am against tribal prejudice.

I will obviously go down in history is a very adaptable politician and as a politician who will cause major upsets in this country. People are talking very disparagingly against my person and so on, but they are not looking at the history.

What I know is that history will absolve me, one day they will eat humble pie.

I am not worried, but why do they despise me on the social media? That is hate. And hate is the greatest weakness that a human being can ever have.

I am very happy that I do not possess it. As (Nelson) Mandela says, we must never allow bitterness to get the better of us. I do not have bitterness.

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