SW Radio Africa Hot Seat Transcript interview with Nelson Chamisa

Please note this interview was broadcast on Friday night, before ZANU PF announced its cabinet posts.

Broadcast: 10 October 2008


Violet Gonda: Nelson Chamisa the spokesperson of the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai is my guest on the programme Hot Seat. How are you Nelson?

Nelson Chamisa: How are you Violet?

Gonda: We are fine here in London but things are not the same there in Zimbabwe . What is the latest on the talks?


Chamisa: The latest is that there is a deadlock, in fact this afternoon the Principals of the three political parties represented in the dialogue met and agreed to disagree. In fact it is just the tale of deadlocks ever since we met. You are aware it is now exactly 25 days after the signing of the global agreement but there is no agreement in sight, in terms of the cabinet positions as well as the issue of the governors in the country.

Gonda: So what does this mean now? You say they have agreed to disagree what happens now?

Chamisa: I am sure you are aware that ZANU PF were reluctant to have this matter declared a deadlock and were also reluctant to have this matter referred to the next port of call – that is SADC. You are aware that in the deal the clause that deals with the insurance mechanism in the event of any mischief – sights SADC and the African Union as the guarantors to the deal.

What we have to do is that we have to take the matter to SADC and the African Union, and in this case the mediator Mr Mbeki would have to try and intervene to try and assist as a matter of necessity as well as an inevitable outcome of the impasse and logjam we find ourselves in.

Gonda: So at present you are waiting for the facilitator the former South African President Thabo Mbeki. So any word from him?

Chamisa: Well, there hasn’t been any communication by way of when he is coming. There has just been communication in regards to the acknowledgement of our notice of disagreement and impasse because we indicated to him as well as SADC and the African Union that we had hit a logjam in terms of the key posts in the cabinet as well as the issue of the governors. So he indicated to us that he was aware and he had taken note of our notice. Now what is left is for him to make the necessary steps to make the shepherding of the process possible.

Gonda: It appears the roles have now been reversed. Before the signing of this power sharing deal Mugabe was for Thabo Mbeki facilitating, but now it’s the MDC that is calling for Thabo Mbeki to come back. Are you aware of the irony of begging Mbeki to return to mediate?

Chamisa: Well, what you have to understand is that we have absolute faith and total confidence in African institutions in terms of the ability and capacity to deal with any mischief in the consummation and implementation of the deal itself. So in that regard we have written to SADC and Mr Mbeki is the point man in terms of dealing with the situation in Zimbabwe . So we have confidence in the point person and in institutions that are mandated and given legitimacy by our own institutions to try and resolve the problems.

So I understand what you are saying about the irony but what you have to understand is that we have a nation on fire. We have people who are suffering, we have people who are hungry, we have people who are almost overwhelmed by the anger and anxiety. So we need to respond to that desire and the only way is to find somebody who is going to unfreeze the impasse.

Gonda: Some media reports allege that Morgan Tsvangirai was forced to sign this agreement. Was he forced by Thabo Mbeki to sign the power sharing deal?

Chamisa : Well, forced I think is too heavy a word. But what I would say is that we had insisted, through our President, that signing this deal without being conclusive would invite a lot of problems, in particular the problems we are seeing. But there was insistence on the part of the mediator as well as other authorities to say please go ahead we are going to be the guarantors in terms of any other outstanding issues.

This is why President Mbeki insisted on mentioning that there were outstanding issues and in particular he mentioned the issue of ministries – the allocation of the cabinet as well as the issue of governors – to say those matters were still outstanding.

So those are the issues that are supposed to be dealt with. In addition, Violet, there is also the issue of the actual agreement that was signed. It has some omissions which are still to be corrected because you will find that certain distortions were actually identified and detected well after the signing. And I think this is not going to be a big mountain to climb for the concerned parties.

Gonda: But how could you sign an agreement that had omissions? Even Mr Tsvangirai mentioned this at his press conference in Harare on Thursday. And some people are describing it as an extraordinary disclosure that the agreement was signed but that some of the things in the agreement were not included – the full details. Are you not worried about that?

Chamisa: Well it is a situation that is worrisome but what I must also indicate is that you are aware that the actual signing was done on the 11th of September. What was done on the 15th of September was just the public relations and a public ceremony. So the document that was signed on the 11th of September is different from the document that was signed on the 15th and what we seek to do is to harmonise and eliminate discrepancies in terms of certain omissions that were inadvertently effected in the document that was signed on the 15th.

So that is what we really seek to correct because what was signed on the 15th is the public document but in fact it has some omissions.

Gonda: So can you tell us what some of these omissions are and also when will it be made public?

Chamisa: Well, just the issue of the numbers of various political parties in terms of the allocations to the Senate as well as the replacement of people or persons who are either Vice Presidents or Vice Prime Ministers within the House of Assembly, as well as the issue of the appointment of Ambassadors and other key government officials.

Gonda: Did this also include the issue of the cabinet posts and the governors – the stuff that was taken out?

Chamisa: The issue of the cabinet posts and the governors was just a shared understanding but those are issues again that are going to be managed separately. What I am referring to are the issues that I have just cited. These other two issues there was an understanding and there is some kind of documentation to prove that understanding was valid and it has to be pursued to its logical conclusion.

Gonda: So who removed those details in the final agreement?

Chamisa: Well it’s not about the removal of the details. I suppose its typo errors and hopefully it’s going to be corrected. This is why we are not interested in making a mountain out of a mole hill.

Gonda: But Nelson are you seriously saying those were typo errors? Typo errors can happen maybe once or twice but you have listed quite a few things that do not appear in the final agreement.

Chamisa: Well, I am a super optimist. I am very positive that it’s not possible to have people who would come with ulterior or sinister motives. This is why I am saying it was a typo error. If it is that it was mischief we hope that it is going to be eliminated, and this is why we are just taking note of it to make sure that we eliminate any zone of differences or confusion. I think it’s in good order.

Gonda: You were quoted in the South African media saying it was a big mistake singing before the deal had been concluded. Do you still stand by that statement?

Chamisa: It was really out of context. What I indicated was to say that what is proving to be problematic is the fact that we signed an inconclusive deal. I didn’t say it was a big mistake. I said it was an omission, which omission is really costing the country in terms of time, effort, in terms of hope and we could have done things in a manner that would have sort of arrested this mischief we are beginning to see.

Gonda: Now critics of the power sharing agreement say ZANU PF’s plan is to use the MDC to get the money; to bring back investors and get sanctions lifted. What are your thoughts on this?

Chamisa: It is their intention but it doesn’t mean that their intention is what is going to prevail Violet. We are very clear, we are in this deal with all the genuiness, with all the magnanimity, the generosity to try and help the people in our country. We are in this thing not just for the sake of power. Ours is not about power. Ours is about the responsibility we have been given by the people especially as mandated on the 29th of March. We need to have equal responsibility to serve people, to make change possible. To make sure that people’s lives are improved – to have food, jobs and health. Those are the issues we would want. This is why our focus is just not about having positions. It is about having platforms where we are able to make the lives of the people different and this is where we differ with ZANU PF.

For ZANU PF the ultimate is power. That is their religion but for us the ultimate is the wish of the people – the aspirations of the common Zimbabweans.

Gonda: So in terms of the cabinet posts what are the ministries that the MDC Tsvangirai would want to control and why?

Chamisa: You are aware that we are being accused of trying to negotiate in public so please don’t help my detractors or the detractors of the party by being drawn into the specific ministries. But what we are simply saying is that for us to be able to move forward we need to make sure that we build sufficient confidence in the country so that the population will have confidence in the government. We need to make sure that within the region, on the continent and the whole world we inspire hope, trust and confidence – things that we have lost over the past decade and that is only possible if we have sufficient power on an equal basis. So that we have ZANU PF controlling some posts and we control some posts that are equally powerful.

In fact we have said the MDC cannot surely take all the positions but equally we cannot lose all the positions that are key to ZANU PF. This is why we have advocated for a some kind of working together. But what you must remember Violet is that the deal itself as configured and constituted is a very good deal. The only difference is that you can actually have a good deal but if you have bad actors and bad players in that deal it makes the whole story completely different and this is the challenge we are facing.

Gonda: I spoke with Tendai Biti your Secretary General on Tuesday and he said ZANU PF cannot have the finance ministries because ZANU PF has messed up the economy, ZANU PF put Zimbabwe in this crisis but that the MDC had agreed to negotiate in terms of ZANU PF getting the security ministries. What does that mean?

Chamisa: Well what we had indicated and what the Secretary General indicated is that we would want a situation where we are able to remedy our past misdeeds. Where we are able to correct our past failures. but for that to happen you cannot be a solution when you are part of the problem. So this is why we had put forward the argument that we want certain ministries particularly in the economics cluster. In the security cluster of course ZANU PF would have the greater part of the security ministries, but we also need certain security ministries, the same with the resource ministries. The same with the human rights and social ministries so that there is an equilibrium in government.

I have argued that it is not possible for us to be a junior partner to ZANU PF or to be an accessory to ZANU PF government. Or for us to be reduced to just mere lipstick on a body that is principally ZANU PF. What we would want is a situation were we are able to equitably share responsibilities so that we can all make meaningful contribution. In any case this is an inclusive government so let it be an inclusive government through word, through the letter and the spirit; not for some in ZANU PF who seem not to understand power sharing. I don’t know which part of power sharing they don’t understand.

Gonda: And when I asked you which ministries you wanted to control you said you cannot say this because you are bound by confidentiality clauses. But don’t you think Zimbabweans are hungry and tired of this crisis and that they deserve to know what is happening in the country?

Chamisa: We are aware of the hunger, we are aware of the fatigue and we try to be sensitive. This is why we have been giving briefings and feedback from time to time on where we are but in terms of the exact ministries I am sure it is now common cause on the ministries that we would want. We have indicated that we would hope to obviously have fundamental posts and I can see that you are trying to come through the backdoor by trying to extract from me the ministries we would want.

We would want virtually half of the key ministries so that ZANU PF takes the other half and it would be quiet good for example if ZANU PF would get say Defence and Security and we would get Home Affairs. Equally if we were to get Finance for example in the economic cluster, ZANU PF will also get some of the resource ministries. If we were to get for example Parliamentary and Legal Affairs ZANU PF will get Justice in that order. So that it is comfortable, so that it is a confidence building arrangement not a situation whereby if we were to swap sides the other side will not be happy. That is not what inclusive government is all about.

Gonda: So what ministries do you have so far?

Chamisa: Like the President has indicated – you see when you are having these discussions you are not in a position to say you have conclusively agreed. SO we can’t say we have managed to bag certain ministries by way of taking them home because this is on the table and we are still trying to negotiate. These are just ongoing discussions. You can only talk about the ministries you have after you have conclusively agreed on the issues because taking one position is going to affect the other concessions you are going to make. In fact it is almost like a puzzle if you don’t get it right just on one column you have to start all over again and that is the situation.

Gonda: You have said earlier on that it is a good document but with a bad guy. But your critics say most of what is in that document are ZANU PF intentions. And people want to know from you what is in that document that you can say is good?

Chamisa: You see this is very unfortunate that you have people who are looking at this very beautiful woman for the simple reason that they have other ulterior motives, they would want to characterise this woman or this man who is very handsome differently. The document has everything that would inspire confidence among Zimbabweans. It would give us a perfect opportunity to remedy the things that we have done wrong but more importantly what we entered into this dialogue about.

We entered into this dialogue for four issues: The first thing Violet is we entered into this dialogue for democratisation; the issue of constitution making. And we have that constitution. The fact that constitution is going to be written within 18 months is a clear time frame. For us we feel that it is a big boost for democracy for our country and for the future stability of our country.

The second issue is the opportunity for us to undergo national healing. To undergo national healing because once you have the MDC and ZANU PF working together we are then going to deal with the professionalisation of State institutions so that they serve Zimbabweans not serving ZANU PF, not serving the MDC but serving Zimbabweans.

Those are the issues we feel are important and the fact that we have actually agreed that for some time we are going to have some kind of a politically stable environment that would give us the opportunity to dedicate our resources to reconstructing and rebuilding of our country.

Gonda: But Chamisa, still people will say – and I have interviewed people like Dr Lovemore Madhuku from the NCA, and they say there is nothing good in that document. And some of the issues they raise are that what is there in that deal that is good when it says; collectively you are agreeing that the land is the source of the problem, that the militia will not be disbanded, that there is no clarity on where power resides between the of Council of Ministers and Cabinet and also that there is no clarity on perpetrators of violence. What can you say about that?

Chamisa: This is a compromise document. You don’t get everything you want in a document where you sign. It is a painful compromise. We have given some things like I said but we have also taken some things. There are good things we do have but I think it would be unfair and unfortunate for us to just go to the negatives. There is no way we are going to rescue our country without such painful compromises.

Just to go back to the various issues you have highlighted Violet. For example the issue of perpetrators of violence it’s very clear that the rule of law is going to take its course but you are not going to have retributive language in black and white to say ‘we are going to be following so and so for what was done.’ That is not in the spirit on nation building. That is not in the spirit of making sure that we have a stable society and a progressive and successful country.

Those things are there. Once we have a professional police force, people who commit crimes, people who have committed crimes, they are just going to go through the normal process but without even seeking retribution because that is not going to be our primary objective. The primary objective is reconstruction and part of it has to do with national healing. But national healing will have to then go to the justice aspect through the rule of law. So I don’t see any contradiction.

For those who are saying this is not a perfect document they are justified but you see the proof of the superiority of this document is going to be in the implementation. Let’s wait and see the implementation. We have a perfect opportunity to take off but if we are all going to deflate the wheels of this aeroplane it will not take of and it will be disastrous for this country.

Gonda: But are you not worried with the attitude of ZANU PF? Like for example only on Friday one of the ZANU PF chief negotiators Patrick Chinamasa actually attacked the MDC and called for a paradigm shift by all the political parties and if I may quote the Herald, Chinamasa wondered why external radio stations were still operating. So on that particular issue did you sign an agreement that asked for external radio stations to be shut down? Can you explain what Chinamasa is talking about here?

Chamisa: Look, it is their interpretation. In our view under circumstances where there is a free media in the long run it will be up to anybody to run any kind of media station from wherever they want. The fact that ZANU PF are trying to put it on us to say that ‘you must shut down radio stations’ is because there is no space in this country. This is what has actually given effect to the kind of position we find ourselves in. So the issue that you are saying we signed a document that is going to close radio stations, we have signed a document and I am sure you are still operating. It shows that we have not moved an inch in any way. In fact it’s not an act of bad faith because there are certain things that are just not possible to implement and we signed for those things we are able to implement within our own context. And so … (interrupted)

Gonda: But Nelson that issue was in the agreement. It was in the agreement that external radio stations will be shut down.

Chamisa: Radio stations are operating. So there is no contradiction.

Gonda: Yes radio stations are operating now but the signing is for you to start a new process and so the agreement is saying … (interrupted)

Chamisa: Yes. We are hoping that by the time we really take off SW Radio Africa is not going to be broadcasting from where it is broadcasting from. It should broadcast from here in Zimbabwe because we will be having the space and freedoms for the media to operate from our own borders. So there is no contradiction there.

Gonda: What about …

Chamisa: We are looking …

Gonda: Sorry go on.

Chamisa: We are looking into the future. It is not about the past and we are hoping for the best for the future and that will entail all radio stations, Voice of the People, Voice of America, even BBC , SW Radio Africa. They would then broadcast from this country without any hassles, without any problems because we envisage a very democratic dispensation and that is what we remain loyal to.

Gonda: Now speaking of the harassment of journalists. The Zimbabwe Independent reported that some journalists were barred from covering a press conference by Morgan Tsvangirai at his house in Harare . That they were blocked by his security guards. What can you say about this?

Chamisa: You see there was a small issue there where journalists were being asked to prove their identities. You see this is a security matter and when you are dealing with people who come to a particular protected area you would want to screen people. So certain people were actually saying they didn’t want to be screened because they were known and unfortunately there is this misunderstanding between security functions and our own duties as an information and publicity department. But we have since clarified that one.

It was not a big issue, we don’t believe that it was a big issue. This is not the first time we have invited journalists, we invite journalists now and then at our rallies, at our functions, at our various conferences and when they come there they are the happiest of guests because we even give them drinks. We protect them, we do everything better than any other organisation in this country.

Gonda: What’s your position on sanctions? Mr Chinamasa also said in the Herald that you had agreed as the parties that the sanctions must be lifted but he was wondering why no one from the MDC Tsvangirai had privately or publicly called for the lifting of sanctions. What can you say about that?

Chamisa: Violet I think by listening to Mr Chinamasa you are listening to the wrong voice. Mr Chinamasa is very interested in just finger pointing but we have just gone beyond that stage. This is now the stage of building our country together. This why we have actually said that certain people would want serious assistance and help to have that paradigm metamorphosis, a paradigm shift because they haven’t changed. They are still locked in that oppositional mindset of finger pointing, pointing at the MDC and stuff like that.

But I wouldn’t want to really say we are going to remove the sanctions. Even if we say we would want sanctions removed we are not the ones who put those sanctions. Those sanctions were put there for a particular reason and to the extent that there is deficit in terms of actions and deeds on the part of the people who are victims of those sanctions they will not be removed; but once we have dealt with the outstanding issues, once we deal with the governance deficit , the human rights violations and other issues I am sure the issue of sanctions becomes almost none issues. But because we have not changed in the manner and fashion we are approaching issues we will continue to have problems.

Gonda: It’s interesting the way you are describing Patrick Chinamasa. These are the people you want to work with. Some people say it seems to be a loose agreement that you have signed with ZANU PF and mainly basing it on political good will. Would you agree with that?

Chamisa: Well, any agreement works, even a marriage Violet, works on the basis of good will. It is about faith. It is about the other partner. And this is the same thing. It’s about all players, all the stakeholders. The MDC led by Professor Mutambara, MDC led by our President , ZANU PF – we all have to show good faith and we all have to exhibit acts of good will and that is what is going to put our country together and that is what is essential as an ingredient in the stability and prosperity of our country. And this why it is important that in any dispensation we have to think as Zimbabweans and that love is what should guide us and that care for one another is what should guide us and not the past period of rapture, of disharmony, acrimony and hatred. We have to bury that chapter and construct a new dispensation characterized by ethos of love, ethos of care, ethos constructive criticism.

Gonda: So Chamisa you know talking of doing things in good faith and exhibiting acts of good will, has Morgan Tsvangirai received his passport now and have the treason charges against Tendai Biti been dropped?

Chamisa: Well we raised that at the press conference on Thursday that we are still worried, that there seems to be rigidity, inflexibility on the part of ZANU PF by trying to use Mr Tsvangirai’ s passport as a political weapon. By also trying to use Mr Biti’s trumped up charges as a political weapon those are things we are trying to deal with in the context of cultivating and fertilizing that spirit of rapprochement that spirit of good naturedness.

Gonda: So by going into this agreement as the MDC are you forgoing the issue of Mugabe’s legitimacy?

Chamisa: Look this agreement was meant to be some kind of a soft landing mechanism to try and locate exit points to the crisis we are facing. This is not the best of what we would want under normal circumstances but this is what we are trying to find as some kind of a way out for the country. We are saying that to the extent that this is a transitional kind of arrangement we are prepared to cohabit and sort of co-run the country until we create sufficient circumstances that would enable our country to have a legitimately elected government because as it is, it is just an inclusive transitional arrangement. But to the extent that this government has not been elected Zimbabweans still have a right to choose a leader of their choice.

Gonda: So is ZANU PF acknowledging that you have sacrificed a lot by recognizing Robert Mugabe?

Chamisa: Well this is what we have indicated that for us to accept ZANU PF – the party we actually defeated in the elections – to be with us in this kind of arrangement is an act of exceptional magnanimity. The fact that we have decided to even work with them when they are supposed to be in the opposition is something that should be commended. In fact we have been extra magnanimous. But that is the character of good patriots. That is the character of great leaders. We believe that our compromise is something that is going to be written in the history of our country. That we did these things not out of power, we did these things not out of greed but out of the desire to find the best way forward for future generations and prosperity.

Gonda: So you said the matter has been taken back to SADC and you hope that Thabo Mbeki will come back to help break this impasse but what if you fail? Can you go back to say Mugabe is illegitimate since you endorsed him in front of the whole world?

Chamisa: You see, once you have endorsed you can withdraw your endorsement. Once you append your signature you can withdraw your signature Violet. The fact that we have endorsed Mr Mugabe is not supposed to mean that we have done that ad infinitum or into perpetuity. We have just done this to make sure that we move together. To the extent that there is no agreement we go back to the original position that we have an unresolved issue of the executive branch in this country and we would have to have an election that would legitimately give Zimbabweans the ability, the space and platform to choose the person they would want to lead them. Otherwise if there is no agreement then we would have to go back to square one. Where we were just after the 29th of March, before the 27th of June because as far as we are concerned the 27th of June was a non event and there was no election. It was just a one man show to try and prove a point which he failed to prove.

Gonda: And finally Nelson, Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga one of the negotiators from the Mutambara MDC indicated earlier on this programme that the issue of posts is also being hampered by personal interests of negotiators and party members who are now negotiating for their own interests. What can you say about that?

Chamisa: I don’t agree with my sister, Cde Priscilla, that there are people who are negotiating for themselves. Maybe it’s from their side I think there is a problem. She was speaking on her own behalf but as far as we are concerned people who are at the negotiating table they negotiate with a clear mandate. They negotiate with clear parameters and clear demarcations. They cannot go outside the orbit of what is defined as the zone of operation by a particular political party – especially in our way of doing things. Our modus operandi is such that when we are given a mandate that mandate has to be executed to the letter and spirit. So I don’t know what she was talking about. As far as we are concerned it is not our problem. Maybe it is a problem in the MDC led by Professor Mutambara and possibly in ZANU PF.

Gonda: Thank you very much Nelson unfortunately we have run out of time but thank you very much for talking on the programme Hot Seat.

Chamisa: Violet thank you very much.

Gonda:And we also tried to get a comment from ZANU PF but this is what happened when I called one of the negotiators Nicholas Goche.

Gonda: Hello Minister Goche?

Nicholas Goche: Yes?

Gonda: Hello this is Violet from SW Radio Africa. How are you?

Goche: From?

Gonda: from SW Radio Africa

Goche: What do you want?

Gonda: I wanted to find out about the status of the talks.

Goche: I have no comment on this.

Gonda: What about …(Goche hangs up)… Gonda: …hello?

Feedback can be emailed to violet@swradioafrica.com