Violet Gonda interviews Glen Mpani

Swradioafrica Interview – The discussion on the programme Hot Seat this week looks at the effectiveness of the main MDC party in tackling the Mugabe regime.\r\n


Violet Gonda: Glen Mpani is my guest on the programme Hot Seat. He is the Regional Co-ordinator for the transitional justice program at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Cape Town , and he is also studying towards a PhD in political science. Glen is doing his PhD research on the Tsvangirai led MDC – a party he has been studying for the last 4 years, and we have invited him to get his thoughts on the happenings in the MDC . Hi Glen.


Glen Mpani: Hi Violet it’s good to be on your programme.
Violet Gonda: Thank you. Let me start by getting your overall impression of the party that is the MDC .
Glen Mpani:
I think that the overall impression of the MDC can be judged by its output and I think the only barometer that we can use at this point in time is to judge it based on the successive elections that the MDC has participated in over the years and you would agree with me that they have been able to consolidate their gains on the ground by increasing the numbers of their representatives within local government and within parliament. And secondly if you look at their supporters, in terms of the numbers that they have been able to get at the Presidential elections – you will also concur that their support has been increasing.

But political parties are not only judged by the numbers of people that vote for them within elections. I think you also have to judge the party in terms of its institutional structure, the dynamics, the way in which they are able to mobilise their cells, their branches, how they coordinate themselves. And I think there are some glaring weaknesses within the MDC on this line where you have seen some mixed messages coming out from the political party. And we have also seen in terms of failure to capitalise on their links at grassroots level leading to different party members working in discord with what would be the main agenda of the political party.

Violet Gonda: And Glen how significant is the MDC ’s victory in Parliament, what’s your take on it?
Glen Mpani: The MDC ’s victory in parliament has basically emboldened the MDC in the sense that it is coming on the backdrop of the reported pact between Mutambara and ZANU PF and it was more or less a foregone conclusion that the alliance was going to win the Speakership. So for Morgan Tsvangirai to win the Speakership what it simply reflects is that he has got people within the two parties – the MDC Mutambara formation and ZANU PF – who are aligned to Morgan Tsvangirai or who believe in the values or the issues that he is trying to put across.  It also reflects on party divisions that are within the two formations – the Mutambara formation and ZANU PF, and it erodes the confidence of those who are inclined towards Mutambara in the sense that if the members of parliament have rebelled against him what one now needs to question is his relevance on the negotiating table. Who is he representing because he doesn’t have a constituency?

And the other issue of what it does is that it also creates two centres of power. We have parliament that has got MDC majority and we have a senate that has got a ZANU PF majority. So what it simply does is that there is conflict within the two houses and we are going to see the MDC using the parliament more effectively to block anything that is not progressive and I foresee them blocking all budgets and everything else until ZANU PF really yields to what they would want.

Violet: You know there was excitement within and outside Zimbabwe over the   MDC victory in Parliament. Do you think it was strategic though for the MDC to field a sitting member of parliament for the Speakership?

Glen:  I would say yes and no to that Violet. I think the choice of a sitting member of parliament could have been motivated by  the levels of polarisation that exist between the MDC and ZANU PF. So it was necessary for them to choose a senior member in the party who might be endowed with experience, political astuteness and understanding the characters and dynamics in the House. I think Lovemore Moyo being the chairman of the party was the ideal candidate for that and he has been in the parliament since 2000. They could have taken other option of choosing from outside the House but in terms of the experience that they needed possibly that individual couldn’t have been able to discharge those duties effectively, so they didn’t want to gamble and that is why they settled for Lovemore Moyo. And also they might have thought about the fact that Matobo has been a constituent that they have won successively and they thought that they could easily win it if they go for another by-election.

But I think the downside of it is that unfortunately they yielded a seat or created a by-election in the same vein and I think that gives an opportunity for ZANU PF to be able to use that by-election to get that seat back. And we have noted the history of ZANU PF with by-elections that they usually win them and they invest a lot in these by-elections, capitalise or use violence and all other extra measures to ensure that they get back this seat. So I think on that turn it was not strategic.

Violet: And you mentioned earlier about the failure of the MDC to use its links on the ground. Can you elaborate on that? And in terms of the strategies of the MDC have they shifted their strategies from grassroots based into relying in institutional processes such as parliament and elections?

Glen: The MDC is a mass movement that was formed based on the support from the students, the women, the churches and largely from the labour movement. And the MDC defined itself as the people’s movement that represents the interests of all people. But during the course of it developing and moving out of being a mass movement it has run on the banner of a movement that is championing change. So it basically represents everything to anybody – everybody depending on how those individuals would look at change.  And I think the challenge for them over the years has been to transform from being a social movement into a political party and how to aggregate these different interests that they have into one goal – into an ideology that they can work towards.

And in that process you’d realise that they are trying to shift from being more grassroots support into cutting across all the layers of structures that are represented within society. The downside of it is that unfortunately they are alienating themselves from the grassroots support and they are only using their support base when it comes to elections. But over and above during the interim period when there are no elections there is nothing that is taking place with their structures.

Violet: So do you think they still have the capacity to deal with civil mobilisation?

Glen: I think they have never invested their time in dealing with civil mobilization. They have used civil mobilisation when they want people to go and vote but they have never as a political party explored other options that they can use for civil mobilisation. That is why you have seen that for them even calling for democratic protests or stayaways of late has been very difficult for them because their support base cannot be able to grapple with the way they are strategising it.

Putting it simply Violet, if you want people to protest over an issue at a national level people cannot protest over legal issues, abstract issues, human rights issues because those are the issues that they don’t identify with. They would need to identify with day to day issues. They don’t have electricity, they don’t have water. The moment my mother is able to identify with those issues it is easy for you to engage in order to be able to put pressure or to mobilise to address those issues. But if you talk about the fact there are no human rights and people are being beaten – yes they can identify with them but those are not immediate issues that they would want to be addressed.

Violet: There are some observers who say the MDC is deflating the potential of the people on the ground by focusing on the wrong options like the talks. What are your thoughts on that?

Glen: They are quite right. They are not only deflating the potential of the people with the talks – elections can also be viewed as a way of protesting. People can look forward to an election as a way of venting their disgruntlement with the regime and so over the years people have been waiting for five years so that they can get their chance to vote. And in that way all the energies and disgruntlement is channelled towards voting.

Similarly to the negotiations everyone is waiting because the leadership has said it is optimistic something is going to come out of it and failure is not an option and in that thing all the structures and all the energies of the people have been demobilised.

Violet: There are others who argue that possibly the MDC should have accepted the agreement with ZANU PF as a way forward rather than its either all or nothing approach?

Glen: There is no alternative to negotiating ultimately both parties have to sit and talk but what is important to assess is whether this is the right time for the talks? Is ZANU PF seriously ready to engage with them and what other avenues can they explore to get ZANU PF to negotiate with them sincerely?

We need to be very wary of this thing because ZANU PF can never negotiate itself out of power but what ZANU PF can be pushed to be able to do is to negotiate sincerely and be able to ensure that the reforms that Zimbabwe badly needs are instituted. And the important thing for the MDC is that they should not put all their eggs in one basket.

So in terms of this deal that is in front of them those who advocate that they should have accepted the deal and worked within the structures would need to interrogate what sort of structures did they have. Did they have the capacity to manoeuvre and to implement those changes? If they did not that was a limitation for them because that would in effect erode their support base and make them unpopular. So that might have possibly informed them in terms of saying ‘should we accept this deal or not accept it?’

Violet: And you mentioned that they would also have to push ZANU PF to negotiate sincerely. How do they do that?

Glen: Pushing ZANU PF to negotiate sincerely – I think the important thing that we need to understand is that other than the negotiations that we are having in terms of the inter party talks, we also have to understand the intra party dynamics within ZANU PF and one would appreciate that ZANU PF is not only negotiating with the MDC but is also dealing with the party dynamics within itself. There is a succession issue that has not been resolved within ZANU PF, there is the Mnangagwa and Mujuru issue that is there. The party is basically facing a lot of conflict internally. So that in itself informs the strategies and the positions that they are likely to take.

So for the MDC in terms of how they can push them to negotiate is to provide space – I know this would draw a lot of criticism – but to provide space in a strategic way and in a way in which they can deal with their dynamics but in such a way that they can also be able to make some gains.

In these negotiations there were key issues that were on the table; the issue of the constitution. I think that is a gain that the MDC could say ‘let’s move on the constitution, let’s reform the constitution,’ without even talking about the structures that they would want. That is a very important gain that they can put on the table and have that constitution reformed. So there are some issues that they can deal with in the interim without destabilising or without affecting the dynamics of power that are within ZANU PF because as long as those issues are not resolved ZANU PF will not negotiate sincerely.

Violet: And from your research of the MDC , in the process of negotiating has the MDC effectively delegated the advocacy role to other groups and to even representatives in its party because others believe that they are disengaging from their own support base. And the reason that I am also asking this is because observers say it appears everything revolves around the negotiators and the president of the party, whilst on the other hand when you look at ZANU PF – ZANU PF is using its foreign services, it’s using its war veterans and all these groups within ZANU PF have been  activated to advocate ZANU PF strategies. What are your thoughts on this?

One thing I would like to say is that it was very unfortunate and quite retrogressive for both parties to sign an MoU that blankets or that pushes for secrecy of what’s happening in the negotiations. Unfortunately the MDC has disengaged and only goes at intervals to civil society to inform them what is happening. But ZANU PF consistently within its structures ensures that they are informed of what is happening. SO the MDC regardless of the MoU, it should have created a chain of command within its structures where these issues are debated from their cell to their branch to ensure that no one says ’we don’t know what is happening.’

Now the public waits for the media to inform them – whether they are misinforming them – but that is what they have in this point in time and I think that is a tragedy. When the talks collapsed even if there was an agreement at these talks they would have had a lot of explaining to do to say this is what we had to accept and for these reasons. So it is a top down approach and you are not coming from the ground. And even if they say they are consulting their Standing Committee, it is a committee of representatives but what are your structures saying on the ground? How are you consulting them? And even the teething issues that came out of the MoU, you could hear the war veterans bringing out a statement saying ‘we are not accepting you to cede anymore power.’ So you can actually see how the structures are being used to push for an agenda. If that is happening within the MDC privately then we don’t know about it but we have had many instances where their supporters are complaining that ‘we don’t know what is happening.’

Violet: What about rallying regional support from SADC & also from the African Union, has it worked for the MDC ?

Glen: It has partly worked for the MDC but you can only do so much. But one needs to understand that the MDC is working within the context where previously it has been projected as a foreign party with foreign interests. It has had to work very hard to identify itself as an African party and they can only push so much because within SADC we have leaders that are so loyal and so attached to Mugabe that they will not shift in terms of their positions, and I think the Communiqué should show evidently that from now on there is nothing that SADC can do.

The Communiqué addressed Robert Mugabe as the Head of State regardless of what SADC had said about the elections – the Pan African Parliament had said about elections and even advising him about the convening of parliament. It shows where the balance of power lies. Morgan Tsvangirai can only do so much but I think for now most of the work now needs to be done in the country by using the structures and the support base that they have right now.

Violet: How then do you think the MDC needs to position itself to effect a change of government? You mentioned it needs to work more with the civil society but in the last eight years the MDC has been working with all these groups but nothing has really changed and some say even the grassroots, the people on the ground are failing to participate in national politics. What are the options for the MDC ?

Glen:  I thinking working with the civil society should not only be symbolic. It should also be at a strategic level. The first thing that the MDC needs to work on is that they have won the local government elections, they have the majority in most of these councils and they should start capitalising on those institutions and structures to entrench themselves.

Secondly when you are talking about working with civil society it is for them to support all the initiatives that the civil society is doing because that is where their support base is. I think we have been more absorbed in capturing the Executive but there is more that we can do at a local level, at a grassroots level that can entrench the party into a position where the ZANU PF has no option but to negotiate with the MDC .

Violet: But what about the civil society itself, why is it failing to also come up with strategies?

Glen: The civil society in Zimbabwe has also been decimated. I think the levels of repression within the country has also made it very difficult because you would agree with me that even in terms of human capacity most of the people who have been in civil society have also moved out of the country and they have taken up jobs elsewhere. Secondly there is also donor fatigue, donors are tired of rolling out money to NGOs in Zimbabwe and thirdly we are dealing with challenges that are changing over and over again.

So in terms of capacity to deal with that you also need a way in which the civil society can be rejuvenated. And strategically the civil society is planning as things are happening. They are also caught up in not being proactive to say ’this is what the regime is doing.’ How can we think ahead in terms of planning to deal with the current political environment. So the impact of the problem on the MDC has also equally affected the civil society in Zimbabwe .

Violet: And you know Glen SADC has been under attack for enabling the ZANU PF policy especially on the issue of not putting pressure on the regime to allow humanitarian aid. Now the state media has reported that the regime has lifted the food aid ban and if this is true and if food will be allowed in – does this mean Mugabe’s powers are slowly chipping away?

Glen : Not necessarily. You will understand that the block on food aid is not only supporting the MDC supporters but is also affecting the ZANU PF supporters so in all intents and purposes what they have simply done is that they have noticed that their people are suffering. But the lifting of the ban was strategically done the day after Morgan had sent in a letter which might be viewed as the ZANU PF being magnanimous but this has to be treated with caution. And thirdly what is more important is that we would want to see under which conditions these organisations are going to be allowed to distribute food because we can get a public notice saying this has been allowed whilst the evidence on the ground is contrary.

Violet: And observers have said the MDC does not have a plan B and that Morgan Tsvangirai may be forced to sign this power sharing deal with ZANU PF. What will this mean if they sign?

Glen:  If the deal is signed in its current framework – as it’s being reported – I think that will alienate Morgan from his constituency base because it will basically be viewed as a sell-out and it will basically be a reversal of the gains that they have made over the years because I don’t see him being able to influence ZANU PF within that structure and he really has to convince the people why they have decided to sign if there are no changes or there is no shift from ZANU PF, in terms of their original position to make him a symbolic Prime Minister who doesn’t have any powers.

Violet: What if ZANU PF does shift and allows Morgan Tsvangirai to share executive powers with Robert Mugabe?

Glen: I think that would be a different scenario if they allow and give him significant sharing powers – despite the earlier positions that has been given by civil society and Zimbabweans that it is unacceptable. I think that in itself can give him room to manoeuvre and I think – in my opinion – it might be a starting point in him accepting to take that up.

Violet: And a final word?

Glen:  I think what is important in the current context within Zimbabwe right now is that the struggle doesn’t only need to be confined within the MDC . The fact that the negotiations have only put the MDC and ZANU PF on the table but we have some Zimbabweans who are affiliated to civil society, to different organisations who can be able to broaden this process. The moment its only limited to two political parties we are likely not to get the best deal out of it. So one hopes that all the stakeholders who are outside continue to put pressure in terms of ensuring that at least even at this late stage the process is broadened.

Violet: Thank you Glen Mpani.

Thanks Violet.