Interview: DPM Arthur Mutambara

Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara was a guest on SW Radio Africa's Hot Seat programme. In this first of a two-part interview, Mutambara talks about the progress and challenges facing the power sharing government:\r\n

Broadcast: October 9, 2009

VIOLET GONDA: We welcome Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara on the programme Hot Seat. Welcome on the programme Professor.

ARTHUR MUTAMBARA: Thank you very much for this opportunity Violet to share with your listeners.

GONDA: Thank you. Now let’s start with your thoughts or getting your thoughts on the progress of the inclusive government. How are things going?

MUTAMBARA: I think on balance we are making some progress. I must start by saying that when we evaluate the progress we must understand where the country was this time last year. This time last year our Minister of Finance was being charged with treason, I was in the court system myself, we’re just coming out of the farcical run-off, and the economy was in complete melt-down. And so today we have dollarised, our inflation is down to 3% from half a trillion per cent, we have brought about political stability in the country where the three major parties are working together, there is now economic stability of sorts and we are now working on economic growth and development. We have an economic recovery plan, we are working on a medium term plan, we are working on a national vision for the country, we are re-branding our country, we are working on a national constitution and we are working on national healing. So those are the positive aspects.

On the negative side, we have not fully implemented the GPA, there are outstanding issues on The Global Political Agreement, there are issues on our farms where there are fresh farm invasions in the country, there are people invading the conservancies in the country destroying agro-industries. There are challenges around the media, the State media is biased against the former opposition leaders like myself, Tsvangirai and others, so media reforms are very slow, the constitutional process is moving but not as fast as we would want it to do and many other issues that are outstanding but let me say that our view is that these challenges are expected, they are growing pains, there are teething problems and we hope that we should gather the political will across the political divide to resolve these matters. 

GONDA: Are there really just teething problems because you were reported recently saying that the two MDC formations have no power to stop these continued abuses of power by Zanu-PF and that the MDC parties have no control in the unity government. Can you confirm this?

MUTAMBARA: Yah well, you know we must always remember that the Agreement was a compromise arrangement. It was an Agreement which was tilted in the favour of Zanu-PF. So going in, if you look at the debates we had on Home Affairs, the debates we had on sharing of cabinet, the debates we had on the top ten ministries, on balance the Agreement was a major compromise for us coming from the opposition. So we expected to have problems and challenges.

So what I was saying in that remark was to dramatise that in this coalition arrangement we are coming from three different directions, we have to negotiate and sometimes fight on every issue and sometimes we coming from the former opposition do not win. I was just giving an honest statement that the things we want done sometimes are not done. For example we are saying we want a complete moratorium on land acquisition, we want to move away from land acquisition to land use and we have not succeeded in carrying out that programme.

So I was expressing my frustration and the frustrations of others we work with in terms of us not being able to achieve what we want. But that does not mean that we have failed and the government has collapsed. We must continue to engage with each other we must continue talking to each other and I hope in this conversation with you we can do some scenario analysis of what it means for the collapse of the government, what it means to pull out of the government and I think, I’ve seen a lot of comment and discussions, there’s not been any robust discussions of these scenarios, a short analysis of the scenarios and I hope you and I will be able to do that discourse tonight.

GONDA: I was actually going to ask that, because last week I spoke to Tendai Dumbutshena who is a Zimbabwean journalist and commentator who is based in South Africa and he was saying or he believes that the MDC should pull out of the inclusive government and he said Zanu-PF is totally devoid of fairness or good faith and that you are just wasting your time. He also…

MUTAMBARA: Yah I read that interview, there is nothing new, there is nothing of value and people like Tendai must go back home and be part of the struggle as opposed to pontificating over the radio with you. We need soldiers on the ground and he must become a soldier on the ground. Let…

GONDA: So are you saying, before you go on, are you saying that people in the Diaspora have no right to talk about the situation in the country…

MUTAMBARA: There have a right to talk but also they must put their money where their mouth is. We are speaking from the trenches. But let me analyse the work for you here. No, no, no you have a role to play but I’m saying that let’s not do too much talking, let us see more of action as well, and I’m encouraging the Diaspora to be active in particular Tendai to come back home and do some fighting from the ground.

GONDA: But the same can be said about the MDC, that there is too much talking…

MUTAMBARA: OK let me analyse, that’s fine, but I’m just encouraging all of us to do some work on the ground but you are entitled to speak. Now let’s look at the pull out. You pull out and do what? OK you pull out and then you hope that the regime of Robert Mugabe will collapse and then you walk into office without a fight. Of course you know that is not going to happen. You pull out and wait for the next election. OK what kind of election do you think you are going to get after pulling out? You know and on the Mugabe side you allowed the government to collapse and do what? Mugabe must realise that he is President of Zimbabwe because of the GPA. Without the GPA Mugabe is not President of Zimbabwe. Mugabe and Zanu-PF cannot run the country on their own. The sooner they realise this the better. Evidence – they waited from June 27th 2008 to 11th February 2009 without forming a government which shows that they could not form a legitimate government on their own. Havafanhiri kukanganwa chezuro nehope.

The reason why they waited from June 27th 2008 to 11th February was because they had no legitimacy to form a government on their own. They must play ball, they must do the right things, they must make sure that they engage us and they reach out to us so that we save this marriage. We must make sure that in this marriage, our co-business, our co-agenda is the creation of conditions for free and fair elections, new constitution, national healing, media reforms, political reforms, economic recovery, economic stabilisation, so that next time around our elections are able to deliver a government.

Our elections last year were inconclusive and if we pull out of this government without fixing the electoral space, levelling the political field we are going to go through another disgraceful election and that is not progress. And Zanu must understand this as well, that they cannot run that country on their own and no-one in SADC and no-one in the AU would tolerate that. So we are stuck, Violet, with each other. We’ve got to find a way to put national interest before self interest which means Mugabe must stop these activities we are seeing in the media where boards are being fraudulently appointed and the issues that are outstanding on the GPA must be fixed and the nonsense on our farms must stop forthwith. In other words, I am saying, yes we have challenges but we must find it within ourselves as Zimbabweans to craft an answer, to craft an understanding, in the short run we have to work together. No-one, Tsvangirai, Mugabe, Mutambara, no-one has a viable Plan B.

GONDA: You know critics of the coalition government also say like what you said earlier on – about commentators who are speaking from outside the country that there’s just too much talk and no action – so you’ve outlined all these problems that you are facing in the coalition government but how are you going to enforce this change? As you said decisions are being made unilaterally by Zanu-PF, how are you going to force Zanu-PF to be fair?

MUTAMBARA: Yah that’s a very good question Violet. I think the starting point is the realisation by all of us that we need each other. It’s a realisation by all of us that no one of the three political parties can run the country on their own at the moment and the only way forward is finding an accommodation among ourselves. I think it’s a mindset we need to build, a mindset that we need to embrace among the three of us. We need to move away from grandstanding and negotiating in the media to serious negotiations quietly and emphasising those areas of agreement, emphasising those elements that unite the Zimbabwean people, emphasising the importance of the common shared value system, the common shared vision of our country. We must find those areas of agreement and amplify them.

Now, how do we get progress? I think we get progress by Number One; understanding that for this government to be credible, Violet, we must implement what we agreed upon. No-one was forced to sign that GPA. We signed that GPA out of our own volition, so when we renege on these agreements and these positions we are undermining the credibility of ourselves as a people; we are undermining the credibility of this government. We are destroying the confidence that people have in this government. How can I convince an investor to come to Zimbabwe when I cannot keep my own agreement with myself? How can I say to an investor, come to Zimbabwe, I will respect my agreement with you when I can’t keep my own agreement with myself?

The starting point is to say the GPA, the Agreement we signed on the 15th September must be implemented without variation and without equivocation. Secondly we must make sure that the State media becomes a proper public media which is non-partisan, which is above parties. We can’t have the current situation where the Herald and ZBC are used by Zanu-PF to attack former members of the opposition, to attack the Prime Minister, to attack the Minister of Finance and many other people in this government. That is unacceptable.

We must be inclusive at every point, we must consult the Prime Minister, consult the President and make sure that the spirit and letter of the Agreement is lived up to. And more importantly, we must quickly work on this new constitution to make sure that the fundamental law in our country is democratic and people driven. And we must work on national healing so that we can say – never again in Zimbabwe should Zimbabweans victimise each other over political affiliation. You can’t question my patriotism because I belong to a different political party. So it is a tough question you are asking me Violet but I think it can be done, it can be solved if we all realise that we need each other. Yes we have differences, yes we might not like each other’s political dispositions but in this arrangement, in this short run, in the penultimate, we are going to sink or swim together.

GONDA: With all due respect, what you are saying is all rhetoric because people already know these things – about the Kariba Draft, how Zanu-PF has said that they will use the Kariba Draft as the reference point and I understand both MDCs are not happy with this and yet this was a unilateral decision made by Zanu-PF. The media reforms, the Boards that you’ve talked about and issues of investor confidence – people already know about these things. So the question is; what are you doing as the principals in this power sharing government? When you sit as the three principals, what do you say to Robert Mugabe when clearly he’s violating the Global Political Agreement?

MUTAMBARA: The starting point is to make sure that he understands in no uncertain terms that he is President of Zimbabwe because of the GPA. Without the GPA he is not President of Zimbabwe. If he understands that, then we can have progress. Now the constitution you refer to, that’s another point of disagreement, a point of conflict. But however we are saying again let’s keep talking, let’s keep discussing and accommodation. The Kariba Draft is just one document; there are many other documents in the country. As we write our constitution we must have a doctrine that says – we the people shall write our own constitution – not we the major political parties. So there must be a way to reaching out to people who are not in government, who are not in the three political parties, there must be a way of reaching out to civic society, to the churches, to the labour movement, to industry.

A constitution by definition is a national consensus document. Everyone in Zimbabwe must respect and buy in to the constitution – that is the desire. We don’t want to win a referendum by 70% or 80% we want a referendum which is won by 99%, by 100% which means we remove the need of a new constitution from our political discourses in campaigns. We must make sure that we find a way of accommodating the three parties, those outside the parties the three of them and those who are in civil society. So I think the disagreements you have outlined on Kariba are correct but they do not mean that we cannot find a way of accommodating each other but more importantly accommodating Zimbabwe. The Kariba Draft can be used for example to unlock areas of disagreement between the three political parties, but Zimbabwe is bigger than the three political parties. Zimbabwe must be given an opportunity to craft a constitution which all Zimbabweans will be able to say this is our constitution – the way the Americans defend their constitution is what we seek to see in our own country.

GONDA: There are some who say the two MDC parties seem to be the only ones who are willing to compromise in this set up. Critics say you seem to be giving this impression that you do not have a plan to get out of this cycle of compromise and appeasement and they ask what happens if the next election result is contested and you have a similar situation like we have today?

MUTAMBARA: So first and foremost you are right on the money in terms of the next election. We must make sure that next election is measurably free and fair. That’s why we emphasise remaining in this arrangement in so far as we can work on levelling the political field because if we don’t solve the challenges around the elections we’ll be back to square one after the next one. So on the elections for example, the question is not when is the next election – that is the wrong question – the question is what kind of election are we going to have next time around and what are we doing to make sure we achieve that type of election.

In terms of compromise – no we are not compromising all the time. For example on the Zimpapers Board, on the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe Board, we have said those are null and void, the Minister was misdirected, the procedure was illegal and a farce. We don’t recognise those structures, we are going to reverse those structures.

On land we don’t want and we don’t endorse the current invasions happening in Conservancies, we don’t endorse the harassment of people in the courts at the moment and we are saying we are taking positions, we might not be effective in terms of getting what we want but we are not going along, we are not taking anything lying down.

We are taking a position of condemning the specification of Meikles for example. You know the individual companies, individuals are being violated, we are taking a position of principle and we are doing so within cabinet, we are doing so within the threesome and so our presence in cabinet, our presence in government is part of the struggle and we are fighting a good struggle. Yes we are not winning all the time but I think that we must keep up the fight and we must not compromise on fundamental matters, more so when it comes to issues that are important in terms of creating a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe.

GONDA: So there has to be some kind of a timeline to this and on the issue of the Media Commission for example, when are the Media Commission appointments going to be formalised?

MUTAMBARA: In fact last week the Prime Minister and the President sat and finalised that Zimbabwe Media Commission. So it’s a question of announcing it now, so the agreement has been struck on the Zimbabwe Media Commission, it’s a question of that being announced. What we are saying must be reversed is this illegal and un-procedural appointment of the Board of Zimpapers and the Board of the BAZ. But the Media Commission Violet has gone through the SROC, gone to the President. The President and the Prime Minister have looked at those things and have agreed. It’s a question of the announcement. But we are not happy about the way the media, the State media is operating in the country, in particular the Herald and the ZBC. We want to make sure the ZBC becomes a proper public broadcaster, not a partisan instrument of propaganda. We want to make sure the Herald becomes a national public newspaper not an instrument of attacking members of the government of national unity. So this is work in progress.

GONDA: But Professor Mutambara, still on the issue of the Media Commission, it’s reported that George Charamba, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Publicity actually revealed at a media conference in Harare this week that the Media Commission will only be announced or set up when all other commissions like the Anti-corruption Commission, the Human Rights and the Electoral commissions are actually formed, is this correct?

MUTAMBARA: Yah that is not correct and these are the individuals who are damaging the standing of the government by speaking out of turn and by speaking without authority. We do not take that very kindly. He has no authority to speak as he has done and I’ll not dignify him with a response save to say he is not qualified to speak in that way and he is incorrect. He is a civil servant but he is behaving like a political commissar which is a travesty of justice in our country.

GONDA: You say he is not qualified to speak but to a large extent George Charamba has played a huge role in changing certain things that you would have agreed as the three political parties. One of the allegations is that he was one of the people who also helped set up the controversial Media Boards that were announced by the Minister of Information recently.

MUTAMBARA: That’s the point I’m making precisely, I’m not saying that he’s not playing a role, but we are saying that we do not approve of his activities as an inclusive government and as Deputy Prime Minister and as Prime Minister we take a strong exception to these quasi-political activities that a civil servant is carrying out. But anyway we will deal with that at the right forum but we don’t approve of those activities.

GONDA: How are you going to deal with that?

MUTAMBARA: Well in cabinet, in the threesome, we got to keep talking, we got to find a way of doing what is right for the country. As I said at the beginning, what is important is for all Zimbabweans and for all the leaders to understand that this is national interest time. This is about Zimbabwe, it’s about how we can salvage our economy, how we can grow our economy and how we can build our democracy. It was never going to be easy. It was a compromise Agreement, it was tilted in favour of Zanu-PF, we’ve said this before, we have said it when we were walking in and so we are not surprised by these challenges but we are saying let us take them in our stride but let us not start contemplating moves that we have not analysed in terms of their consequences. Let us keep working so that we can do the right thing for our people.

Remember we signed the Global Political Agreement to resolve the challenges being faced by our people. We did this for the people of Zimbabwe. We did not do this for ourselves. We did this because of the guidance and advice from SADC and the AU and you cannot succeed in a struggle in Africa without African support so we need to remain within the framework of the SADC and the AU activities and we need to make sure that we do whatever we can to save our people.

GONDA: But when are we going to see movement from SADC?

MUTAMBARA: I think you can check with them to see exactly how they are going to move but you know after the meeting in the DRC, the matter was taken to the Troika. But let me emphasise that we should not be going for grandstanding; we must be going for solutions. We must not be going for scoring points or humiliating each other but rather going for compromise. Compromise is not a bad thing if it’s done on both sides. So I think that even SADC, even the AU as we try to resolve the Zimbabwean situation, let us be more concerned about solutions than grandstanding and scoring points. And I’m sure if we do that at SADC level, at our level in the country we’ll be able to achieve some results.

GONDA: There are some who are saying you are trying to prolong what should be a temporary arrangement and you are saying that the coalition government should run for at least five years. Is this just hearsay?

MUTAMBARA: Yes, no that’s not correct, I’ve never, let me explain my position. My position is very clear and it has been distorted. There’s nothing in the GPA that says the government will run for two years. What it says in the GPA is that we are going to work on a new constitution, once the constitution has been adopted through a referendum we are going to sit down and then say are we ready to go into an election? Now this question is very important by the way. Remember the discussion we had a couple of minutes ago – there’s no point in going into an election which you know is going to be fraudulent, which you know the official losers are going to challenge, which you know is going to be unfree and unfair – because if you do that you are going to go back to where we were on March 29th last year.

So the discussion we must have in the country is what kind of election are we going to get next time, not when is the next election. We had elections in 2000 that were problematic, in 2002 they were problematic, and I’m being polite by using the word problematic, in 2008 – problematic. Now, so an election in itself is not the answer to our challenges. It is the nature and the calibre of that election, so what we can try and do in this arrangement, in this marriage, is to make sure we work on the quality and calibre of our next election. So meaning that we must be more concerned about the content and character of our next election as opposed to when does it take place.

So what I was emphasising that after the referendum, if we do our referendum in two years and it is adopted, we hope that by those two years we will have done our national healing, recovered our economy, reformed the media, political reforms and our country will be ready for an election. That is the best case scenario – that we are ready for a proper free and fair election in two years time. If we are not ready it would be folly to go through an election like we had in 2008 because we are going to be back to where we were last year. That is the position.

There is no desire, there is no aspiration on my part to extend this arrangement more than is necessary. But I’m a pragmatist and I’m a national leader and leadership is about making unpopular decisions popular. Leadership is about leading from the front. Let us not subject this country to another fraudulent and farcical election – that would be a travesty of justice in our country. Let us be concerned about the quality and calibre of our next election – that is the question.

GONDA: Next week we bring you the concluding interview with the Deputy Prime Minister, where he says he believes targeted sanctions against individuals in ZANU PF should be removed. Should individuals responsible for the murder of hundreds and the torture and displacement of hundreds of thousands be removed from sanctions? Where does the Deputy Prime Minister actually stand as he appears to flip flop from being Mugabe’s biggest supporter and then the next minute his harshest critic? Many observers also doubt Mutambara’s credibility as a leader, as he was not elected by the people. How will he ever become the people’s choice, and does he still believe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is a ‘political midget?’

Feedback can be sent to violet@swradioafrica.com