Tichaona Zindoga The Interview
Members of the Tendai Biti-led MDC faction were this week kicked out of Parliament for having crossed the floor from the MDC-T party on whose ticket they were elected during the July 2013 elections. Our Political Editor Tichaona Zindoga (TZ) spoke to the opposition politician (TB) to hear what his next steps will be.
TZ: Parliament this week made a ruling expelling you and 20 others from the august House saying you no longer belong to the MDC-T on whose ticket you were elected. You say you want to challenge that in the courts. What gives you the confidence that you will succeed?
TB: The issue of the expulsion of the 21 Members of Parliament is a tragedy for democratisation politics in Zimbabwe. It is also a tragedy for national politics. It is unprecedented in any part of the world that democratically- elected Members of Parliament can be eliminated as we saw on Tuesday. But the country will continue moving on and the challenge is how do we rescue and save our country? Just because 21 MPs were fired I don’t think we suddenly got $40 billion in direct investment in the country. It won’t happen. So nobody except the forces of evil benefited from this. What it means is that unless we are able to focus on things that put bread on the table, we are wasting time. The expelled members have got a constitutional right to bring litigation to the courts of Zimbabwe. No one can take that away from them. The decision that was taken is clearly illegal for two reasons. First, there is no right of recall in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The Constitution recognises that a Member of Parliament is elected by thousands of people so a little party or a little committee can’t have a right of recall over that. Secondly, on what legal authority did the Speaker act? Who is the real MDC? On the 8th of May and on the 14th of November 2014, he had made rulings to the effect that he needed to be told who the legitimate MDC was. There is clearly a battle of legitimacy in the MDC and what has changed? There is no court order that says this is the real MDC. There are two centres of power. So clearly the Speaker must explain before a court of law what has changed and why. You cannot make political decisions and hide them under the cloak of legality.
TZ: Earlier you questioned the legality of recall but there is Section 129 (1) (k) that is being extensively quoted these days and was cited in the cases of Temba Mliswa and Didymus Mutasa who were expelled from Zanu-PF. How do you interpret it?
TB: Section 129 (1) (k) simply says that if a member ceases to belong to the political party he was a member of and belongs to another political party, he will be recalled. It was a provision that was put into our Constitution in 1988 after Edgar Tekere had formed ZUM. You see, ZANU- PF had a problem and thus his is a “floor-crossing” provision. Basically, somebody has to join another political party. We have not, nor has Didymus Mutasa nor Temba Mliswa. So there is no right of recall. It does not apply at all. There are constitutions with the right of recall around the world and they are specific, clear and unambiguous. This one is not, it is a Tekere provision after he had formed ZUM.
TZ: But recently you convened what is known as the UMDC, United Movement for Democratic Change. Did you not see any possibility that it would be inferred as your having crossed the floor?
TB: My friend, the country is in the middle of a recession and there is depression. The country is in the middle of massive stagnation and deflation. The growth rate in 2015 will be between 0,8 percent and 1,2 percent. So we are the worst performing economy in Africa at the moment, including Somalia and South Sudan. That is the challenge we are facing. It is not the challenge of 21 MPs or 40 MPs or 120 MPs, we are facing this challenge of Zanu-PF’s failure, which is the challenge.
TZ: If you would indulge me, I would like a context around this political game. The economy, yes, but what of this kind of traction going on in the MDC and I was asking…
TB: It does not matter to the ordinary average person in Dotito, in Chiendambuya or in Nkayi. It does not bring food to the table. It is elitism that brings nothing of substance to these people. The average Zimbabwean is worried about where he is going to get the next meal and that is what the Government of the day should be doing. The ordinary average person is worried about his miserable crop that is in the field now that he cannot harvest because there were no inputs and the rains were horrible. The average Zimbabwean is sitting on A-Level results, he knows he won’t get a place at university. The ordinary average Zimbabwean is worried about a degree certificate when there is a sea of unemployment. Those are a few things that the average person in Zimbabwe is worried about at the moment.
TZ: Okay but they are also worried about the opposition which ordinarily must put checks on the ruling party. Perhaps let me put it another way. You are on record as having said only a united opposition could actually tackle Zanu-PF. So perhaps the UMDC was your ideal but did you at any point harbour the idea of uniting with Morgan Tsvangirai in a united front?
TB: We are on record saying that the people of Zimbabwe need to form a united or popular front to confront the challenges of illegitimacy, lack of democracy and abuse of the rule of law in Zimbabwe. The only solution is to form a united front and so that won’t change now and won’t change in the future. Unless such a front is formed, Zanu-PF will continue to misgovern this country until donkeys have horns.
TZ: Obviously this expulsion at the behest of Morgan Tsvangirai puts a damper on that ideal or vision that you had?
TB: Look, the people of Zimbabwe are bigger than the 21 Members of Parliament that were expelled. The people of Zimbabwe are bigger than Morgan Tsvangirai who is way past his sell-by date. What is an issue is that the people of Zimbabwe must find convergence and form this united and broad front which in turn will put bread on the tables of the people of Zimbabwe.
TZ: Isn’t this is a battle of egos? Do you consider it a personal fight between yourself and your former boss?
TB: The only relevant fight in Zimbabwe is the fight between the people of Zimbabwe and poverty. The fight between the people of Zimbabwe and underdevelopment. The fight between the people of Zimbabwe and a system of cronyism and patronage that is represented by Zanu-PF. That is the only true fight in Zimbabwe.
TZ: Going back to the UMDC, what is your conception of the UMDC and how do you intend to move forward?
TB: I have already told you that the people of Zimbabwe must come together and form a broad front to fight the issues that I have referred to. That is simply the issue, all the democratic peace-loving Zimbabweans must do that. It does not matter whether you belong to the Anglican Church or the Catholic Church or AFM or Wapusa Wapusa or Pastor Magaya’s church, Pastor Makandiwa’s church, there is a duty for one to do that.
TZ: So are you encouraged by the fact that Professor Welshman Ncube has joined hands with you?
TB: I am answering you for the umpteenth time, the people of Zimbabwe must come together.
TZ: All right, going to the future of opposition politics in Zimbabwe at the moment, what is your prognosis and what are the chances of success?
TB: It is not just opposition politics you need to talk about. It is all politics in Zimbabwe. At the present moment all politics is caught in the intensive care. Zanu-PF is caught in probably four factions right now and tearing each other to pieces. It is concentrating on internal divisive issues and not the issues of governance and the issues of the rule of law. Equally, the opposition movement is not covered in glory either. Our opposition parties are divided and weak and run by sycophants whose time has gone. So we are all in a bad shape so what we need in Zimbabwe is to come together, that is all we need. It does not matter whether you are a peasant farmer in Dotito. It does not matter whether you are an artisan in Glen View, a mechanic in Siyaso.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a former employee of the National Railways of Zimbabwe this is our country and no Zimbabwean is bigger than the next one. The question we should pose to ourselves is how can we craft a sustainable Zimbabwe? And I would say part of our challenge as Zimbabweans is that we have always looked to politics and politicians to serve us. That is nonsense! We need to go beyond politics and craft a vision of Zimbabwean-hood because unless we do that, we are accelerating on auto-pilot to a position of oblivion. Zimbabwe’s politics is dominated by intoler-
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I’ve played my part: Biti
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ance and by hatred. I shudder to open any newspaper because what you read there is hatred and vitriol and diatribe. But newspapers don’t create this, they are just a mirror image of the society that they are from – a reflection of what we have become, a miserable group of going nowhere, people stuck in hatred and bitterness. We need to convert these predatory and vicious cycles of exclusion into virtuous circles of inclusivity and that is the challenge and obligation on this generation.
TZ: You have been speaking about a new paradigm and you have spoken in other forums about “making peace with the liberation struggle”. But now one thing that has haunted opposition politics, or at least the perception thereof, has been the hand of foreigners and at the moment Morgan Tsvangirai is in the US on whatever business he is conducting. How do you see politics in Zimbabwe vis-à-vis foreign entities and influence?
TB: Well, the danger about your matrix is that when you speak of foreigners it is only the British and the Americans but the Chinese are not foreigners as far as you are concerned. I don’t mean you personally but I’m sure you understand what I am talking about. So in some circles, the Chinese are not foreigners, the Russians are not foreigners. The bottom line is that the challenges being faced by Zimbabweans must be resolved by Zimbabweans and we cannot outsource our challenges to anyone whether the Chinese, the Russians, the British or the Americans.
But we also live in a globalised world so we have to interact with the international community. Now the thing is the international community is not only China and Russia. It is also Brussels, it is also London it is also Ukraine. We have to interact with the international community. What is not acceptable is for any foreigner – Chinese, Russian, and American – to dictate the agendas for Zimbabweans. That clearly is unacceptable and I don’t believe that should happen. I reiterate that we must belong to different political parties, it is our right. We must belong to different churches, it is our right. We must support different cricket teams, different football teams – it is our right. But in those differences there must be something that brings us together. A common revelation of Zimbabwean-hood that must bring us together irrespective of whether or not you support Platinum Mine (Football Club) over Black Rhinos. Whether or not you are member of the Anglican Church as opposed to the Methodist Church.
TZ: Perhaps, lastly, I am sure in other forums you have talked about what you call depersonalised politics. I just want to know, Tendai Biti the politician, where to from here?
TB: I have played my part as a Zimbabwean. I have been in the trenches since my time at the University of Zimbabwe. I think that it is time that others played their part too, I have played mine.
TZ: Does that mean you have retired from mainstream politics? Are you going to focus on your business interests? What does that mean?
TB: I have not said that. I have just said I have played my part.
TZ: Ok. Thank you Mr Biti.