'Externally funded civil society can’t represent people' – Gwisai

INTERVIEW – Former MDC MP for Highfield and University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Munyaradzi Gwisai, is the guest on Behind the Headlines and he talks to Lance Guma of SW Radio.

Gwisai was one of the presenters at the All Stakeholders Constitutional Conference, which was disrupted by ZANU PF thugs.

He also gives his thoughts on the current unity government and says the MDC gave Mugabe breathing space by entering into a coalition, when the ZANU PF government was on the verge of collapse last year.

Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to another edition of Behind the Headlines. My guest this week is former Member of Parliament for Highfield with the Movement for Democratic Change, Mr Munyaradzi Gwisai. Mr Gwisai is also a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. Mr Gwisai, thank you very much for joining me.

Munyaradzi Gwisai: Thank you Lance and manheru mhuri yeZimbabwe.

Lance: Right the starting point Mr Gwisai obviously is the constitution-making process that you yourself are involved in right now. Give us a summary of what you think is happening so far and your attitude towards it. I’ve had Dr Madhuku on the programme; he’s heavily opposed to this process saying it should not be politician driven. What’s your take on it?

Gwisai: I work under a coalition of progressive and people based civic groups called DUF the Democratic United Front for a people driven constitution. We are participating and we participated in this Stakeholders Conference, under protest but we believe that this is a very important occasion and an event that the ordinary people of Zimbabwe and those who seek to fight for democracy and progress must engage in as an important platform and terrain for democracy.

We do not think that the process should be boycotted as has been called for by colleagues who for instance are in the NCA, Madhuku and others. We think that’s just like the March 2008 elections, this is an important opening that democrats and all those who are fighting for a better Zimbabwe, especially those who are fighting for a Zimbabwe in which ordinary people can have a stake, and can have a say and can make a living in this country. It’s an opening that we must take advantage of and that we must push for change, so for that reason we have called for participation and we call upon for participation but under very strict benchmarks and conditions.

Lance: Is there not a worry then Mr Gwisai that you might, as participants to this process, not have control over the final outcome?

Gwisai: Oh well, the issue of control that you raise that people like Madhuku and others have said you do not want a politician process. We in DUF believe in a people-driven process but I think you must be very clear about what people-driven means. People-driven ultimately does not mean Parliament but neither does it mean asking civic society as well. It must mean the people of Zimbabwe. The ideal opportunity and ideal process for writing a people-driven constitution is through an elected constitutional assembly. That is in the experience throughout Africa and throughout the global south and not self-chosen personalities or organisation as is happening now or as would happen under some of these things.

The real thing at the end of the day I think, as to whether or not we achieve it will depend on the level to which the opposition, democrats, ordinary people are prepared to stand up and defend the space that is opening up and that is exactly what we did on the second day of the constitutional conference when elements aligned to hardliners in ZANU PF tried to obstruct and stop the conference precisely because they are afraid that if this kind of process goes on, just like in March 2008 they will be exposed and that the will of the people will prevail.

Lance: Let’s draw on your experiences of what happened on that day, the last Monday that the whole Stakeholders conference was supposed to be convened, I understand that you were also one of the presenters on various thematic issues there, just for our listeners who were not there, what exactly happened?

Gwisai: Oh well obviously what happened is that during the course of, when the event started, the many delegates were very clear and were pointing out very clearly their opposition to any process that would be driven by the political parties around their Kariba Draft. You must bear in mind that the three political parties, that is ZANU PF and the two MDC formations, had actually agreed in 2007 to a constitutional draft which they are going to try and then use as the draft that would be used as the foundation of the constitutional process.

Now this draft is completely unacceptable to most people in civic society, to most ordinary people in the opposition and most democrats because it was written secretively by six people, it seeks to perpetuate the executive presidency of Mugabe. It also excludes the bread and butter issues – the right to education, the right to jobs, the right to health, ARV drugs etc for ordinary people, so most people were opposed to this and were making this very clear and I think what was very clear in the mood of the meeting was that up to two thirds if not more of the conference was clearly in opposition to the Kariba Draft which one person, Mugabe, has been insisting that they were going to use.

So when this happened, the ZANU PF, elements of ZANU PF people started throwing, chanting down the Speaker of Parliament, Lovemore Moyo and causing disruption because they could clearly see that they were in a minority in the conference and that is what eventually led to the disruption. But we stood our ground, that is most of the ordinary people who were there in the opposition and the civic society and we insisted that the conference had to take place. We also insisted that proper security had to be provided and the conference did resume only partially the following day after the leaders of the three parties had also come out on television saying that they did not support the disruption.

So I think it was a very important test and this is where I think colleagues and comrades who are boycotting are making a mistake, the fact that people were able to stand their ground and insist that this process must continue but also insist that the constitutional process must continue, not around the Kariba Draft because that is what was won and then secondly that the constitutional process must also ensure gender parity with 50 percent of women, I think were important gains that were made and that we need to defend and go ahead and fight for in the opening process.

Lance: But some will point obviously to that chaos at the Rainbow Towers as evidence that this whole process is going to be dominated by partisan interests from the various parties.

Gwisai: Yah but how can you avoid a partisan political interest in a constitutional process? A constitutional process is a fundamental process of setting up values, principles and institutions of society and in that process, political parties are going to be engaged. So one of the issues that we have raised with colleagues, for instance in the NCA, is that their demand that political parties have 20 percent representation in the constitutional process is unrealistic. It’s unrealistic because the MDC, certainly the MDC-Tsvangirai and ZANU PF, between the two of them as shown by the March 2008 elections represent millions of Zimbabweans.

You can’t just dream and wish them away and neither can you just wish that civic society groups, many of whom are small groups that are run by volunteers and that are funded externally should then seek to represent the will of the people. You come to South Africa where the most democratic constitutional process in Africa, that process was done by seven political parties after an election. You go to Uganda, you go to Ethiopia. So, but the reality is that I think, those of us who seek change within the political parties and outside must fight for benchmarks that allow genuine consultation and engagement of the people and defending the space that is there.

So I don’t buy the argument that you must marginalise political parties. Political parties are legitimate expressions of the will of people and you can’t just wish them away in favour of civic groups.

Lance: OK Mr Gwisai, I’ll move slightly to another topic just setting aside the constitutional debate and focusing on the coalition government that we have had since February. What do you make so far of this new arrangement?

Gwisai: Well this arrangement just proves what many of us on the left have been arguing that this was a compromise, elitist arrangement between elites in both the ruling party ZANU PF and elites in the opposition MDC to reach a compromise that would allow them to sit down and share the cake of Zimbabwe among themselves while the people are suffering. So the reality is that the conditions and lives of ordinary people, of workers, of people in the rural areas, of our students, our children, life has continued to be extremely harsh, extremely hard whilst politicians across the divide are busy looking after themselves as seen by a situation where the University of Zimbabwe remains closed, as seen by a situation where water, electricity are unaffordable for ordinary people but MPs demand and are given $30 000 for their cars.

So this is an elite arrangement. The dollarisation of the economy has also brought untold suffering but at the same time, it’s an elite arrangement that leaves the ZANU PF dictatorship in power. The power of Robert Mugabe as the President of Zimbabwe remains intact despite the fact that he lost the election. So as far as I’m concerned the arrangement has allowed a bit of space in terms of democratic opening but fundamentally it has not changed the character of an authoritarian and dictatorial regime in power.

Lance: Do you think the opposition had a choice? Is there any other alternative that maybe you would have recommended and say right, this is the route that you should take?

Gwisai: Well certainly they had, by the end of the year, by December 2008 general election 2009, Zimbabwe was grinding to a halt. Virtually everything was coming to a standstill in terms of public services like electricity, like water, education and when you have a situation where members of the armed forces, junior soldiers were now revolting in the streets you can then know that the regime is on its back. So what was required I think was the courage and vision to mobilise the ordinary people, the working people of our country and the same remains now which is indeed one of the reasons why we still support participation in the constitutional process, we’re simply saying we must use this space to reorganise, to remobilise, knowing fully well that this government and regime that is in power right now is not going to surrender power on a silver platter.

We are going to have to wrest power, we are going to have to fight in the streets of our country and use the current space to build towards that confrontation. Anyone with illusions that Mugabe is going to go peacefully, anyone with delusions that ZANU PF is going to go peacefully is just dreaming or is fooling the people of this country. The real struggle remains ahead. What we must do is to mobilise and organise from the working people’s perspective.

Lance: OK Mr Gwisai, we’re running out of time but I’ll ask one final question, in your own assessment of this arrangement, obviously both parties to this agreement have something that they want from it, in your assessment, let’s start off with ZANU PF and Mugabe what do you think they want from this coalition government?

Gwisai: Mugabe needs breathing space. ZANU PF and Mugabe need a breathing space. As I said that their backs were on the wall as a result of a collapsing economy and as a result of isolation regionally, internationally and also growing working people unrest. So what he wanted was and what he still wants is a breathing space that Tsvangirai gave him, the MDC gave him and to be able to reorganise and after that, re-impose the dictatorship of the regime, so this is why the security operators of the regime has not been dismantled. This is why JOC is still meeting so the dictatorship is still there and will crush the opposition including Tsvangirai when the time is right, when it feels that it has gone over the hill.

Lance: And what about Tsvangirai and the MDC, what do you think they are seeking to benefit from this arrangement?

Gwisai: Well I think they are just naive. I think they are naive, I think they believe that, they naively believed and that Tsvangirai still proceeds to argue as he did when he was recently on his Western trip and tour that things have fundamentally changed in Zimbabwe. Now I think for most of the leadership of the MDC, many of them are tired, exhausted, some are just outright rank opportunists who are prepared to make their bed out of this new arrangement, but in terms of the ordinary people of the MDC, of the opposition, I believe that obviously there was an element of that tiredness and exhaustion but I think that to continue trusting and for them to continue putting complete faith in their leadership would be disastrous.

I think that for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe in the opposition, they must take the slight opening up of democratic space that is there now, including the current constitutional process, to reorganise, rebuild in order to take, head on, this dictatorship. I think a united people of Zimbabwe, especially from an ordinary people, fighting from a working people perspective, centred on bread and butter issues can in fact take on and defeat the Mugabe regime.

Lance: Now Mr Gwisai a lot of people are curious, you are a former member of the MDC and people would want to know is there is any chance of you rejoining the party?

Gwisai: Well not necessarily in the immediate but what brought us together I think is also what still can allow us to work together. The desire and goal of fighting the dictatorship in Zimbabwe and the fight for democracy in particular, the democracy that would make ordinary people have better lives as opposed to the elite, and that is what we are doing in the constitutional process. More so that the MDC leadership has now come out renouncing the Kariba Draft and we are going to be ready to work with them in that process as long as they are fighting the dictatorship and as long as we are saying the many fronts on which to fight. What matters is that our goal remains one of fighting for a people based democracy against a dictatorship by Mugabe and by the capitalists.

Lance: That’s Mr Munyaradzi Gwisai joining us on Behind the Headlines. Mr Gwisai, thank you so much for joining us.

Gwisai: No, thanks a lot Lance.