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Q&A: We are putting citizens at the centre of everything: Chamisa

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THOUSANDS of Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) supporters were at the Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield, Harare, for the new opposition party’s inaugural rally addressed by its leader Nelson Chamisa.

The rally was Chamisa’s first since he lost the MDC-Alliance, the party headquarters and had his members of Parliament and councillors recalled by Douglas Mwonzora following the March 2020 Supreme Court ruling.

The NewsHawks’ Moses Matenga (MM) spoke to Chamisa (NC) on the new party, its ideology, alleged internal rifts and the crisis in Zimbabwe, among several other issues:

MM: For someone who politically lost almost everything since March 2020, what went through your mind as you walked to thousands of your supporters for the first time after all the troubles?

 NC: I gave glory to God and felt so humbled by the citizens’ emotional, emphatic and eloquent endorsement. My Christian faith has taught me that mortal man can never impede God’s sovereign plans for a people whose liberation is imminent. What God wants to happen will always hap[1]pen, regardless of the schemes, plots and conspiracies of mortal men and women.

When I saw that determined crowd, I simply said this is it and the day that the Lord has made, the day that the citizens have welcomed our ‘citizen first’ and ‘citizens at the centre’ philosophy. Citizen-centred politics is the new trajectory.

For me, the cardinal lesson of that day is that while some among us are purchasable, the enduring and unstinting desire for transformation in this country has no price. The people’s quest for change is not for sale. It is that cardinal truth that a people’s collective desire cannot be bought; that showcased itself that historic Sunday afternoon.

MM: You now have what you call a completely new party, the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC). What does the party signify in Zimbabwean politics and was it not tantamount to con[1]ceding defeat from those who successfully fought for the control of the party you previously led?

NC: CCC is a turning point in modern politics. It puts the citizens, and not the politicians, at the centre of all political decision, policy and law-making. We are a new, fresh, modern and radically different citizens’ project, not a rebranded or repackaged toxic old.

 Everyone is a champion and a leader until we have substantive elected positions. All positions are up for contest when we then choose leaders. CCC is the natural home for all citizens, home to everyone. The citizen has been peripheralised over the years, particularly in this country. Whether that citizen is a civil servant, an army officer, a villager or an orphan, they have all not mattered in government’s decision-making matrix.

Leadership has always been about looting and power retention by the leaders. We must consign such leadership-centred politics to the dustbin and restore the citizen to their rightful place at the centre, nay at the fulcrum of the decision-making matrix. You shall see from our New Great Zimbabwe Promise policy blueprint and the Citizens’ Charter that the citizen is at the epicentre of all our political transactions.

Our policies and manifesto will talk to Citizen Health, Citizen Education, Citizen Welfare and Benefits, Citizen Dignity and other citizen-centred dictums.

MM: You spoke of congress, when is the party going to have its congress given reports that there is currently no structure to talk about?

NC: We are a citizens’ movement. We do not advise our opponents on our next steps, but the citizens know because they drive the process. Nothing teaches better than history and nothing educates better than experience. We have learnt that we have infiltrators and we cannot always whisper strategies into the ear of those who stand opposed to us. The citizens are driving the pro[1]cesses. We are so excited.

 MM: A lot happened to you and the party you represented in the last two years. What is your re[1]flection of all that has happened and where you are now?

NC: Indeed, we have lost all except ourselves. The robbery has been a blessing in disguise. We are now new. The chaff is gone. God told David, ‘You shall pursue, overtake and recover all’. We shall recover our all that has been taken away from us.

And it is not me making that statement but the citizens themselves. And indeed, they made their statement by their sheer numbers on Sunday. That stoic determination to attend the rally against all odds, to overtake brutality and all state impediments thrown their way, is bountiful testament to the fact that the citizens are pursuing their adversary and they will recover their all next year.

No one at that rally was paid any money as they do in other political parties, no market women were forcibly coerced, no one was bused or transported and most of those citizens walked to that venue of their own volition to make a strong statement. We are almost there and 2023 will definitely be the Year of the Citizens’ Victory.

MM: Coalitions are winning elections across Africa and the world over. In the Zimbabwean context, are you likely to unite with other opposition parties and other so-called democratic forces ahead of the 2023 elections?

NC: We are the next government in Zimbabwe, a citizens’ government. Let me restate that the citizen agency is the currency of our new politics.

CCC is a coalition of citizens for change. It is a convergence and coalition of citizens and not a coalition of political institutions. Just being a Zimbabwean citizen is the qualification to be part of our new brand of exciting politics. So ours is a coalition or an alliance of ordinary citizens and not political confederations.

MM: You have expressed reservations with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and insisted that reforms are needed before elections are held. Are you positive that Zec will be reformed before the polls and conduct free, fair and credible elections?

NC: Reforms must happen. Elections must be free and fair. There is just no debate on this. But on account of Zec’s professional deficiencies, absence of probity and deficit of professional in[1]dependence, Zec has fertilised vote cynicism and skepticism rendering citizens despondent.

Their handling of the voter registration process and controversy around the voters’ roll is a cause for concern. Zec has a constitutional obligation to conduct free, fair and credible polls. That is their sole remit. They don’t have to be stampeded to exe[1]cute their constitutional mandate, but if they are yearning to be so stampeded, then the citizens will gladly do so within the parameters of the national constitution. MM: There have been fears of infiltration of the opposition and now, with the new outfit, are you not afraid it has been infiltrated already and how to you hope to deal with that?

NC: You can’t cut a giant baobab tree using a razor blade. We are indomitable. They may try and think they have infiltrated us but the collective power and aspirations of an entire citizenry are not going to be stopped by one or two purchased souls.

Some such purchased souls recently showed their true colours and they disgorged themselves from a determined people’s tenacious march to their destiny. By the time we reach Canaan next year, the citizens’ movement will be highly purified.

MM: Civil servants have declared incapacitation while the military and police are also living in abject poverty, with the government seemingly turning a blind eye and even threatening to fire them in their numbers. What is your position regarding the welfare of civil servants in general as the CCC?

NC: Civil servants are citizens first. My message is that I know your predicament and your incapacitation. And if there was political will, I know government would have dealt with your legitimate concerns by giving you a living wage, which you deserve.

 You are incapacitated. But we are collectively capacitated to deal with these issues. Just that there is no government willing[1]ness to do so. The only willingness and appetite in government is to fight and repress citizens, to loot and pursue luxuries. But don’t worry, your problems will be history in a few months’ time, after the next election. We will fix your night[1]mares, care for your needs and restore your dignity.

 Check our record in the inclusive government. And you know we do it so well. We are tried and tested in that area. We deliver.

MM: The government is crafting laws observers said were targeted at opposition actors and civ[1]il society. What is your position on the proposed Patriotic Bill and the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVOs) Bill?

 NC: I see all these as signs and symptoms of desperation. And it’s not just about Chamisa. When everyone is an enemy to you, then you are the worst enemy. My brother ED sees an enemy in everyone: in Chamisa, in the citizens, in the war veterans, in workers, the church, in civil servants, in PVOs, in vendors, in journalists, in the doctors in social media users, in artistes and even in school children and their parents.

They see enemies in every sector of the country’s citizenry. That is why they are crafting laws against everyone. They know their days are numbered and they are now in panic mode.

Great nations are not built on persecutions and suspicion against the citizenry who are the sole turbines to unleash and pivot a nation into greatness. In the 2023 plebiscite, the citizens want change. And change is coming. It can no longer be denied or delayed. It’s time.

This time we will not accept any funny games, rigging or any other such uncharitable tomfoolery.

MM: How has the new party been received in the Sadc region as it is yet to speak on its policies on international relations and all?

NC: We are so excited. The new is reverberating across the African continent. We have a Glob[1]al Advocacy for Change and Democracy Campaign. We are providing leadership. The most important thing is mobilising our brothers and sisters on the African continent for continental and regional solidarity.

 We are focusing on these two pillars of the strategy, which is the regional and continental solidarity. We believe in African solutions to African challenges. There is no problem too big beyond our capacity to solve as Africans anchored on promoting dignity and rights. Governments in Africa must honour and respect a greater government, the citizens, who are the ultimate government of all governments.

MM: You also lost the funding allocated to the opposition parties under the Political Parties (Finance) Act despite you getting the numbers in the 2018 elections. The CCC is said to be struggling financially to finance its programmes and mount a strong challenge to Zanu PF that has millions of dollars at its disposal, including state resources.

 What is the position on the funding of the CCC? NC: One thing Zimbabweans are excited about is that we are different from the “chinhu chinevene vacho” Zanu PF mentality and we are articulating a new philosophy that speaks to citizens being owners, authors and drivers of their own destiny. We are so excited and it shows Zimbabweans united can solve anything.

We have a resilient citizen at the centre of all this. Do you believe that at the Zimbabwe Grounds, everything was catered for by the citizens? We did not buy anything, even the T-shirts. Some were even innovative enough to put on cardboard boxes, if you saw the one in a ZimGold box, some just waved yellow shoes and bananas and it shows the revolution is unstoppable.

You cannot fight people and win. People walked, we did not provide transport for them. Everything you saw was a product of the citizens’ sacrifice, both in the diaspora and lo[1]cally but more in the diaspora.

MM: What is your reaction to issues of intimidation, arbitrary arrests of your supporters and many others by the regime and don’t you think that will scuttle your mobilisation because of the fear factor?

 NC: We are unstoppable and unshakable. Dictatorships never learn from their predecessor’s failed templates. The world over, all dictators seem to have a hymn sheet they sing from. (Ian) Smith did this to the citizens during the liberation struggle.

This is what is now being done by the incumbent, but the moment the regime starts fighting citizens, then its end is near. It is not sustainable to suppress people and it means their days are numbered and, ultimately, repression will have to give in. These are signs of the times and they are showing they have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Zimbabwe is ready for change and that hunger can never be satisfied through repression.

The demand for change cannot be postponed. All they are doing, their determination to oppress, is met by an equal determination and resilience to resist.

MM: President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Monday threatened you in many ways and dared you to mount protests against Zec and accused you of inciting teachers. What do you make of such threats?

NC: Threats never build nations. We must trade ideas, not threats and insults. We must exchange thought, not dross or junk. What is clear and what is good is that as a citizen, Mr Mnangagwa is following what we are doing but the sad thing he is not paying attention to detail.

He is not listening attentively, he distorted what was said. The whole nation listened to what we said on inviting investors to Zimbabwe. It is him who said Zimbabwe is open for business when it is actually shut for business. His business means removing people from Chilonga in Chiredzi, in Mutoko, in Tugwi-Mukosi — and are the people doing that local?

Propaganda has destroyed this country. I talk about turning the streets yellow on account of the people’s constitutional rights and instead of him accepting that rigging is not entertained, he is saying if we rig, we will defend ourselves. It shows his bad attitude to our country. Let us respect the people and the people have a right to protest.

He chooses to be my spokesperson, I don’t need him as my spokesperson, I don’t need an interpreter, I don’t need a message messenger. Zimbabwe can only be built when people trade ideas, not insults and exchange thoughts, not this dross and propaganda.

MM: Zimbabweans in South Africa and be[1]yond are yearning to come home while others are under attack in different countries. In your view, what is the lasting solution in addressing the plight of desperate Zimbabweans across the globe?

NC: The so-called immigration crisis is not an immigration crisis, it is a Zimbabwean governance crisis.

The only thing we have to do is to help fix Zimbabwe, let the region help to fix Zimbabwe by ensuring the holding of free and fair elections, respect for the rule of law, independence of key institutions, including commissions like Zec and ensuring an independent judiciary. If all this is sorted, if Zimbabwe’s dignity is restored, they will never see any Zimbabwean in South Africa or any country as economic refugees.

We are ready to make Zimbabwe the most hospitable in the region and provide sanctuary to others. Our dignity is eroded by politicians destroying our key attributes as a nation. We will fix that and it is the simplest thing to fix. We have resources, smart, hardworking people, excellent climate and everything.

 Our education system can be resuscitated and all we need to do is to fix the leadership issue. We have everything in this country except leadership. The good thing is we have it (the leadership) in the alternative and we are ready to provide it.

MM: What is your position in terms of ideology as a new party?

NC: There is no action without a theory. There can never be development or transformation without a philosophy. We believe in practical communitarian and utilitarian democracy that delivers the greatest wellbeing to the greatest numbers. We believe that our first duty, primary accountability and ultimate obligation is to the citizens, the people we lead and serve. Our politics and policies are centrally tethered on citizens. We are clear on our beliefs. Our idea is anchored on ‘citizens first’ and ‘citizens at the centre’ of all decision-making. We believe in an ethical state, ethical business, ethical market upon ethical and inclusive society.

Our philosophy is citizens’ consensus for transformation. Our persuasion is driven by the transformation consensus. The transformation consensus is a continuation and validation of both the liberation consensus and the democratic consensus.

That is our embedded ideological disposition, our central doctrine driven by our revolutionary theory. Theory defines a trajectory, but practice benchmarks the achievement of that. Leadership must have an anchor.

The change must be embedded in citizens and a trajectory agreed upon by the citizens. We will articulate in fuller detail on that at the right time, but whatever we do and stand for is about restoration and reclamation of citizens’ dignity, authority and rights. Everything is centred on the citizens.

 MM: We have heard reports of fights in the cockpit and confusion on the state of cohesion among leaders of the CCC and you are said to have dissolved the whole leadership and your critics say this is confirmation of that rift. What is the position?

NC: Which cockpit? You are thoroughly mistaken and misconceived on that one. When there is no structure, how do you dissolve anything? How do you dissolve nothing? The MDC-Alliance is our history and you can’t resurrect the dead.

Do not resurrect the MDC-Alliance dis[1]course, it’s our history. We have just formed a new movement, so which structure are you saying has been dissolved when there is nothing? Structures are a creature of legal processes and for now we have just introduced the party. We are yet to have the national launch.

I am the caretaker change champions’ leader and all others in the team hold caretaker positions. We are starting from afresh. Do not conflate the past with the future, the old and the new. I was leader of the MDC-Alliance which was controversially taken away and we have a new kid on the block together with other change champions.

 Some people see confusion or division where there is none. Do not put the cart before the horse. They say so and so has this position. Who gave them that position? Everyone is a change champion as we build the new glorious citizens’ movement.

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