AS THE eagerly-anticipated MDC congress looms large, alliances, vitriol and realignments are taking centre stage in the country’s largest opposition movement.
Deputy Chief Writer Tendai Kamhungira speaks to respected secretary-general of the 20 year-old party Douglas Mwonzora who is touted as one of the officials set to challenge interim leader Nelson Chamisa for the presidency.
Below are the Excerpts of the interview.
Q: Have you made up your mind on which position you will contest at the forthcoming congress?
A: The decision of exactly which position I will finally contest at congress rests with the members of the MDC themselves.
Through a democratic process, the provincial assemblies will nominate leaders to various positions. This process should be done through secret ballot to avoid the dangers of intimidation, harassment and undue influence.
Although I am not disqualified from contesting any position I have no knowledge of what I will be nominated to stand for.
However, the freeness and fairness of the lower structure congresses will among other things determine which I will accept.
Q: Do you have what it takes to be the MDC leader?
A: I have been a leader in the MDC at various levels. Having started as the treasurer for Nyanga District I was elevated to secretary for Local Government for Manicaland Province.
In 2008 I was elected to represent members of Parliament in the national council of the party.
In 2011 I was elected as the national spokesperson of the party at congress. In 2014 I was elected as the secretary-general of the party. I think I served well in my positions.
But I started my career in the opposition in 1989 when as a law student I joined the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (Zum) which was fighting the one-party State in Zimbabwe.
I was detained in Whawha Prison in 1990 for drafting the constitution of Zum. While I was at Whawha I was elected the national secretary for legal affairs before being elevated to presidential spokesperson.
This was before I even qualified as a lawyer. In 1992 Morgan Tsvangirai employed me as a legal adviser for the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
In 1995 I tried to stop the general elections in the Supreme Court citing the unfairness of the electoral laws then. I was not successful. In 1997 I took the government to the Supreme Court again challenging the Constitutionality of the Political Parties (Finances) Act. We won the case.
Earlier on together with the late Kempton Makamure, the late
Justice Sansole we drafted the Draft Constitution of Zimbabwe. It was, however, rejected by government.
Together with Morgan Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti, Lovemore Madhuku, Welshman Ncube, Priscilla Misihairabwi etc we formed the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) to fight for a new democratic people-driven constitution of Zimbabwe.
In the referendum of 2000 I was tasked to head the Manicaland campaign for the No Vote.
Coincidentally, Manicaland recorded the highest number of No Votes. Together with (Professor Lovemore) Madhuku we drafted the NCA draft constitution of Zimbabwe. This was, however, rejected by the government again.
After winning the Nyanga North parliamentary seat I was appointed co-chairperson of Copac. I was detained at Mutare Prison for 27 days ostensibly for insisting on a clause that sought to disqualify (former president Robert) Mugabe to continue holding office.
We successfully led the drafting of the current Constitution of Zimbabwe.
When the party split in 2014, I remained in the party and as the secretary-general I spearheaded electoral reforms inter alia through the formation of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera).
I was also part of the group that successfully persuaded (the late former UN secretary-general and chairman of The Elders) Koffi Anan to come to Zimbabwe to ensure peace in the 2018 elections. I therefore do know think that I lack capacity at all.
Q: What will you do if you contest, win or lose against Nelson Chamisa?
A: Democracy is basically a dictatorship of the majority. If I am nominated and I accept the nomination and contest but lose I will accept the verdict of the majority. I will support and serve the winner to the best of my ability. I will never leave the party.
If I were to win if I contested I would endeavour to unite and democratise the party.
All party candidates will be chosen through free and fair primary elections and not be handpicked by some leaders. All positions in leadership have to be begotten through fair contest through democratic elections. All mudslinging and hate language will go.
Q: How are the preparations for congress going because we hear allegations of intimidation and violence against your perceived supporters?
A: The preparations for congress were going on well. However, we have now received reports of violence, intimidation, discrimination on the basis of people who supported me in 2014.
We have had to deal with congress-related suspensions and expulsion at lower structures. If these are true then it is wrong, unfair, anachronistic and therefore totally unacceptable. I hope the organising, elections and chairperson’s departments have to bring reports on these issues to our next Standing Committee meeting.
Q: You were recently booed at a rally in Mutare, why?
A: What is clear is that the debacle in Mutare was stage-managed with people being bussed from Chitungwiza, Kwekwe and Harare for that purpose. Some of these people have now confessed to us after failing to secure the payments that had been promised.
As a leader I don’t mind people booing me if they think that I have done something wrong. It is part of freedom of expression and some form of speaking truth to power. However, this particular incident was stage-managed by people who simply wanted to see us embarrassed. I therefore, am not really worried much about it. I think the people who did that don’t realise how they have made people in Manicaland very angry.
Q: The MDC Constitution says only four posts are open for contest but we are hearing talk of all the positions being up for grabs, where is this coming from?
A: There are going to be more than four positions to be contested at congress. The issue was extensively debated at the last national standing committee meeting. An announcement will be made soon as regards which posts are going to be contested.
Q: How is your relationship with the current president Nelson Chamisa as well as the other leaders like Tendai Biti?
A: I have always respected all my leaders. I had tremendous respect for Tsvangirai as our founding president. I have always respected Chamisa even before he became president. When he became our party candidate I campaigned for him without anybody having to supervise me.
I have never sought to undermine him at all. Where we have had disagreements with Chamisa we have always resolved same through one on one dialogue. As regards (Tendai) Biti he was my senior at Goromonzi High School and at Law School. He represented me when I was being registered as a legal practitioner. We both realise that we have an important national duty to perform than to allow ourselves to be bogged down by petty issues. The good thing about my relationship with Tendai is that I totally understand him.
Q: There are allegations that you are getting support from Zanu-PF, is this true?
A: I have never received moral or material support from Zanu-PF because I don’t need it.
The allegations that were made against me after the declarations of the congress date were meant to frighten me and dissuade me from contesting certain positions. I have challenged some of the leaders to prove their allegations.
They have failed because they know it is false. The mudslinging and personal abuse are outdated political weapons. I am grateful to the objectivity and maturity shown by David Coltart who came out and rubbished these allegations.
Those people who say that I am weak and will not be difficult for Zanu-PF don’t seem to notice that I have a history of success against Zanu-PF. The electoral reforms, the fight for a new constitution and the fight against partisan political party funding are just examples. I have been part of every MDC demonstration.
I have been arrested and detained on more occasions than most of my peers but I have not given up on my key beliefs.
Maybe some people think that for one to look strong they must be rude and rough to the opponent. That is wrong. You can be very strong without being uncivil.
Mahatma Gandhi was soft spoken but he had an unfathomable inner strength.
I believe in planning, strategising and bringing results. My friends and opponents alike know that I have the capacity to listen to their criticism of me without any danger of retribution on my part.
I believe that I am a friendly but difficult opponent. Unlike many people I have duelled with Zanu-PF in difficult rural constituencies and won both as a member of the National Assembly and as a senator.
Q: What do you think of the idea of bringing back comrades who left the party such as Thokozani Khupe?
A: The MDC family must come together without conditions. Thokozani Khupe is Morgan Tsvangirai’s longest serving deputy who possesses an internal party memory that we cannot just ignore.
In terms of transgressions of people who split from the main MDC one cannot argue that Thokozani transgressed more than others. I think all the MDC members must come back and prosecute the struggle together.
Q: It’s a year after Tsvangirai died, do you think he is lying at ease given the current state of the MDC?
A: Tsvangirai’s vision was to see a more united MDC. While other people have come back into the party a lot of other people remain outside.
I know Tsvangirai hated the vitriol which some party members direct at each other.
He won’t be too pleased to learn that there are party members who are using hate language against other party members.
Tsvangirai wanted a party that always looks and pays attention to its founding values.