Basildon Peta talks to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangira

FULL TEXT INTERVIEW – Basildon Peta caught up with Tsvangirai for a more detailed review of the GNU’s first 100 days in office.

Peta: You have been congratulating yourself for the performance of the GNU yet it seems Zimbabweans are thanking you with their feet. The numbers of those streaming into South Africa since visa rules were relaxed have trebled. That surely is a vote of no confidence in this new government?

Tsvangirai: Please understand that these people are economic refugees and I can understand why they are flooding South Africa. They are coming here for job opportunities. This government has only been in place for three months. You cannot create jobs in three months especially with the level of economic decay we have experienced…..(interjection)

Peta: But surely they wouldn’t be leaving in droves if the unity government had ushered the change they can believe in?

Tsvangirai: What is needed is for us to create a reversal of economic misfortunes and then people can stop the exodus. But that takes time. The exodus is a natural tendency because of the economic difficulties we are facing……

Peta: You are realistically not going to have any reversal of these economic misfortunes without massive injection of aid from Western countries who are reticent to fund you because Mugabe is resisting major reforms to fully restore the rule of law?

Tsvangirai: There has been some positive engagement with them. They have moved from total disregard of what has happened to skepticism and now they are saying there is progress though not sufficient. So they all accept that there is change taking place and that change must be consolidated.

Peta: When do you therefore expect them to open their purses?

Tsvangirai: They will eventually open them but I can’t give a timeframe because they have their own benchmarks and assessments . But any delays in giving Zimbabwe lines of credit and balance of payments support delays the recovery process and worsens the people of Zimbabwe’s plight.

Peta: Is it safe to assume that they won’t open them any time soon with violence continuing on the farms, journalists being harassed and your supporters being jailed?

Tsvangirai: There are incidents in which it is reported that there are invasions on one or two farms but it’s all blown out of proportion… We have investigated examples of those so called farm invasions. .. We have asked the minister of lands (ZANU PF) to give us a detailed report of what has been happening over all these so called farm invasions and the outcry over that….We must also proceed with the land audit and setting up the land commission to resolve these disputes once and for all.

Peta: How would you generally rate the performance of the GNU in the first 100 days ?

Tsvangirai: You need to look at both the performance of the government and the implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that gave rise to the unity government. The two go hand in hand. Government has consolidated itself as a coalition government. But of course there are problems with the political agreement which I think are not insurmountable. The major concern has been the slow pace in implementing some of the outstanding issues in the GPA but we have hammered out almost 90 percent of them. There are a few conflicting areas but a large number have been resolved and we will be reporting to cabinet this week.

Peta: Why has it taken so long to clear the outstanding issues?

Tsvangirai: It’s a number of factors. I was away for almost a month (after the death of wife Susan) and also the fact that you cannot resolve some of these issues automatically as they need careful negotiations .

Peta: So can we safely predict seeing the backs of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney-General Johannes Tomana soon since their departure has been one of your key demands?

Tsvangirai: I don’t want to talk about individuals but the issue is being looked into by the inclusive government as a collective and as a procedural matter……We can’t all be pre-occupied with Gono and Tomana at the expense of all the issues that the country is facing . Mugabe has his own views on that. We have our own. At the end of the day, we all have to resolve and agree on a way forward.

Peta: And what about the governors unilaterally appointed by Mugabe whom you also want fired?

Tsvangirai: There has been an agreement on that, not only on the formula but also on the issue of termination (of their contracts) which had been a sticking point.

Peta: What are those few issues that haven’t been resolved. The 10 percent you referred to?

Tsvangirai: I am not at liberty to discuss that. All I can say is that we have covered a lot of the issues and there has been a meeting of minds on most of them.

Peta: Your critics are worried by your insistence that there is no going back on the unity government. They say you have put yourself at the mercy of Mugabe because he can remain intransigent and trample all over you knowing full well that you will not deploy your leverage to pull out of the GNU since you sound desperate to remain in it at whatever cost?

Tsvangirai: I am very much conscious of the leverage we have over the unity government. But our confidence in the interim government is not cast in stone. I am saying so far the government has consolidated. ….

Peta: And there also seems to be some concern about the way you have been praising Robert Mugabe? You seem to have transmogrified from being his staunchest enemy to his number one praise singer?

Tsvangirai: Whether you like Robert Mugabe or not is not the issue. I am saying so far the unity government is working and it’s working to the best interests of Zimbabweans and that as far as Zimbabweans are concerned, any other option is not acceptable because it disrupts their hope of a defined destiny they were looking forward to. When I say that for the moment it’s an irreversible process, I mean it but I cannot predict what will happen in future before the expiry of the transitional government.

Peta: Can we safely assume that if 90 percent of the outstanding problems have been resolved then there will be longevity to this unity government?

Tsvangirai: Absolutely. I don’t foresee anything that will cause its rupture or break its elasticity, particularly after we resolve all outstanding issues and you create hope for the people…..(interjection)

Peta: Even if your supporters continue being incarcerated, harassment of journalists and farm invasions continue?

Tsvangirai: We want the full restoration of the rule of law. Yes the farm invasions and other issues have occurred but these have largely been isolated cases and they are all being attended to….

Peta: Some say your confidence in the GNU despite Mugabe’s erratic behavior is because you are now part of the gravy train and many of your ministers will want this government to survive at all costs so they won’t forfeit their newly found privileges like the much maligned Merces Benz regarded by Zimbabweans as the main symbol of the excesses of the Mugabe regime. Only David Coltart was decent enough to refuse to jump onto the Mercedes Benz bandwagon?

Tsvangirai: For goodness sake, we are all earning only $100 a month. Is that a gravy train?

Peta: Another sign of the gravy train syndrome is the snubbing of your order to your MPs to return cars unprocedurally dished out to them by central bank governor Gono. The open squabbling over cars and your MPs refusal to hand them back to the central bank is seen as ample evidence that your party is now caught up in the gravy train syndrome?

Tsvangirai: No, no. These are petty issues to focus on. Cars allocated to the ministers don’t belong to them but to the state. They are government property. So we are not going to spend time over which car a minister is driving, when a minister is earning only $100. As for MPs, we have said there is a government scheme for them to access vehicles. The scheme is administered by the Ministry of Finance. Our policy is not to continue with Gono’s quasi- fiscal activities. Gono had acquired these cars and they were all second hand. And we are saying to the MPs how do you get attracted by these second hand cars most of which are 150 000km on the clock, instead of accessing new ones through a legitimate government scheme. All we are insisting on is a proper channel of getting vehicles. Majority of the (MDC) MPs have returned these cars except maybe one or two. So there is no question of indiscipline in our caucus.

Peta: What about the insubordination of the army generals who still refuse to salute you which you spoke about at the Wits Business School?

Tsvangirai: I did not say there is insubordination. I said there is an attitude which is prevailing which creates an impression in the public domain that there is reluctance to accept the inclusive government. I have not seen anything that demonstrates that they are insubordinate. It’s all about personal attitudes.

Peta: But clearly they keep on refusing to salute you ?

Tsvangirai: Its immaterial as far as I am concerned. There has never been an occasion where I have said, salute me or don’t salute me…. I cannot worry whether somebody has saluted me or not when they are more pressing issues needing my attention.

Peta: There is a view that the sooner a new constitution is put in place and free and fair elections held the better the chances for a new legitimate government emerging out of those elections to raise aid for Zimbabwe’s recovery?

Tsvangirai: A constitution making process is now in place. You can’t achieve a constitution in one day. But while we wait for a new constitution and fresh elections, we can’t recline on our laurels and fail to do something about the immediate social problems the people are facing. You can’t say lets concentrate on a new constitution and forget about opening of schools, hospitals and clinics…You can’t do that. The transitional government has a democratization and economic stabilization agenda and it has to focus on those in the meantime.

Peta: When can we expect elections in terms of the GPA?

Tsvangirai: The GPA is very clear. We will consider the issue of elections after 18 months. Electoral dates were not defined in the GPA because we did not want to start in an election mode from day one in view of all that had happened.

Peta: The constitution making process itself seems fraught with problems with your ally Lovemore Madhuku (chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly ) accusing you of being an opportunist for abandoning the people driven route now that you are Prime Minister?

Tsvangirai: Who says that the current process is not people driven?

Peta: That is precisely what Madhuku is saying ?

Tsvangirai: Yes he says that but that’s not the truth. The truth is that we are instituting a process which is people driven. No one can argue that when we go through Parliament , it’s not people driven. Parliament is a coordinating body which will solicit the views of Zimbabweans. The constitution is going to be written by Zimbabweans and owned by Zimbabweans. Yes, Madhuku has his own views but to call others opportunists because you disagree with them is uncalled for. This constitution is not about Madhuku or about Tsvangirai. It’s about the people. I can as well claim that in terms of the vision for constitutional reform, I was at the forefront of that campaign. That’s why we formed the NCA. So I cannot be an opportunist now, when all my life, I have committed myself to a democratic process.

Peta: His argument is that the process must be done by a wider representative body, a sort of elected constituent body representative the masses and not Parliament which is dominated by political parties?

Tsvangirai: For goodness sake, Parliament is an elected constituent assembly. You don’t go to Parliament by appointment. You go by election. So you cannot say that Parliament is not representative. It ‘s actually the most representative body….Parliament is the reflection of the people’s vote. And we can stand up as Parliament and say, we are the legitimate representatives of the people….

Peta: He (Madhuku) has said his NCA would mobilize for the rejection of the new constitution if achieved through a parliament led process?

Tsvangirai: Well that is political posturing. It’s unfortunate. We have a process that is not closed to anyone…You cannot say that if you don’t go the way I want things to go, then everything is all wrong. You don’t do that. If in the end people choose to reject a constitution that they have participated in formulating, it’s their choice. We are not the ones who will determine the outcome of that constitutional process. It’s the people of Zimbabwe. I am sure the majority of civic society will find the process much more involving and broad. We have thematic committees that will go out and solicit the views of the people.

Peta: You recently said government was broke. With hindsight do you regret having promised foreign currency wages in the first place?

Tsvangirai: No, no, no. We said we would pay civil servants allowances in foreign currency, which we have done. We will continue to pay that. ……But I have said that at the moment the government cannot move to define salaries in foreign currency outside the US$100 allowance. I have called for more time. We will make an assessment at the end of May and as the revenues of the government increase —-remember that no one is paying taxes —- then we can look at the question of salaries. What people were talking about was that they wanted US$1,500 salaries a month and I said lets be realistic. That kind of money is just not there.

Peta: Where have you been getting the money to pay the allowances?

Tsvangirai: The government has got its own revenue. There has been revenue build up in the coffers of the government and that has largely been the source of paying the allowances. And I want to tell you that Zimbabweans are grateful for the allowances we have instituted because they can now go and buy something. The goods are back in the shops. With one thousand rands, people can use five hundred to buy groceries and live with their families….

Peta: One of the issues that had stalled the introduction of the GNU was your demand for control of Home Affairs and the police until you reluctantly agreed to co-minister with ZANU PF. How has that worked?

Tsvangirai: It has worked fantastically. The two ministers have worked well. I have not had any tension. They work very cooperatively together …..The only problem is the issue of resources to institute those measures that are necessary to achieve cohesion in the ministry.

Peta: Arrests of your supporters have continued despite your presence in Home Affairs and yet you say co-ministering has worked well. It could be said you minister is powerless to control the police and halt these arrests?

Tsvangirai: The recent arrests were not political arrests. They were procedural matters. If you are given bail in a lower court and then indicted to a higher court for trial, you have to negotiate a new bail condition. This is the mishap that occurred especially with the case of Jestina Mukoko and others. These were not re-arrests but just a mishap to deal with their being indicted to a higher court. Either existing or new bail conditions had to be instituted.

Peta: Surely there is no way Mukoko and all those arrested can be legitimately accused of plotting to overthrow Mugabe: One would have hoped you would have used your muscle to stop all this harassment?

Tsvangirai: Once the state has charged people and you try to interfere, there will then be accusations that you are trying to interfere with the due process of the law. And we don’t want to be doing that. We say, well let the law take its course but it must take its course not selectively but in all cases. I don’t believe the charges (against Mukoko and others) are valid. But they have to go through the due process. If it’s harassment , it will be proven in a court of law. I went through the same process..being accused of treason…but in the end I was acquitted. But the issue is that if the state believes it has a case, then it should bring people to trial speedily.

Peta: Mugabe has been refusing to swear in Roy Bennett as deputy minister of Agriculture. Will he ever take up his post?

Tsvangirai: Yes, Mugabe has been resisting. He is saying Bennett is facing serious charges. But we have been saying that yes he is facing charges but you don’t find him guilty before he has been tried by a court of law. Those are some of the things that have been irritating but eventually, we are not going to budge on the question of Bennett being deputy minister of Agriculture. We have other ministers who have been charged. Biti and Matinenga are facing charges (but he swore them into office). It’s therefore a question of personalities. My appointments in terms of the GPA are my sole prerogative and Mugabe cannot veto them. I hope we don’t continue to create arguments over straight forward issues.

Peta: Your deputy Arthur Mutambara once said he did not have a job description. Are your job descriptions now clearly spelt out?

Tsvangirai: The job descriptions of the offices of president and Prime Minister are well defined in the GPA……The powers of the deputies, be it the deputy prime ministers or deputy presidents are not defined because they assist their principals. I have my two deputies to assist me in the office of the Prime Minister. Mugabe has his deputies to assist him in the execution of his office.

Peta: The issue of the job descriptions also arose because Mugabe appears to be doing whatever he wants. He appointed permanent secretaries in complete disregard of you……?

Tsvangirai: Those are among the outstanding issues which are now being resolved. We are dealing with that. In terms of the GPA, we are supposed to appoint these people together in a consultative process. Yes people might not have definitive job descriptions but the powers of the offices of president and PM are clearly defined and it is in that context that people fit in their roles.

Peta: Lastly. How does it feel working with a man (Mugabe) whom you defeated in elections and who continues sitting in a chair that is rightfully yours?

Tsvangirai: Yes, lets accept that we were bitter rivals. There was acrimony and vilification across the political divide, between us as two personalities. But we have agreed. We have negotiated in a protracted way and we have agreed. Once you have agreed, you have to work together. We are certainly working together in the spirit of advancing the GPA. My only personal views don’t matter but I put the national interests first. The GPA defines the destiny of Zimbabwe.

Peta: How is your personal relationship with Mugabe?

Tsvangirai: It’s a workable relationship and respectful. Yes we disagree but we don’t disagree to the point of shouting at each other. We disagree by dialogue and searching solutions to the problems at hand.

Peta: And your working relationship with Mutambara?

Tsvangirai: I think we have a healthy working relationship. Although we belong to different political parties, I think the objectives are still the same.

Peta: Is he therefore considering dissolving his faction to join you so that you now fight as one.

Tsvangirai: You better ask him that.