Democracy in Zimbabwe
With Morgan Tsvangirai
Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2000; 10 a.m. EST
Morgan Tsvangirai is the president of the Movement for Democratic Change, the
southern African country's largest opposition group. With 59 seats in parliament, the
MDC has mounted the strongest challenge ever to the one-party rule of President Robert
Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party
Tsvangirai came to Zimbabwean politics via the trade union movment. He joined a textile
union at age 20, then when he began working in the Trojan Nickel Mine. He spent ten
years at the mine, rising from plant
operator to general foreman. Eventually he became branch chairman of the Associated
Mine Workers Union and was later elected into the executive of the National Mine
Workers Union before becoming Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade
Unions (ZCTU) in 1988. In September 1999, he and allies in the labor movement, along with other prominent Zimbabweans, founded the MDC.
The transcript follows.
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Welcome Morgan Tsvangirai. Before we get to viewers' queries, we would like to ask you an open-ended question. Why should Americans care about what happens in Zimbabwe? What difference can we make?
Morgan Tsvangirai: The problem in Zimbabwe is not only an issue for Zimbabweans. Like any nation struggling to institute democratic governance, democratic ideals, we take a cue from American democratic principles. The fight for democracy is a universal struggle and therefore solidarity should be extended to those involved in that struggle.
Zimbabwe may appear to be part of Africa with all its pessimism but there is always a ray of hope in the darkness such as the recent situation in the Ivory Coast.
What an honor to meet you Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai. During the American election predicament with the "inevitableness" of certain electoral irregularities, President Mugabe chuckled that he should send some observers to the U.S. to teach us a "thing or two" about democracy. Reportedly, he was supported by many Africans in the media. After the MDC's experience during the runup to this summer's parliamentary elections and after past treatment of minorities, such as the Ndebele -- do you think Mr. Mugabe is correct? ... As a presidential hopeful yourself, would you rather work with a Bush administration or a Gore administration? [edited}
Morgan Tsvangirai: The fundamental difference between your elections and ours was that ours was characterised by lots of pre-election violence and election irregularities, as well as fraud. Yours was based on the rule of law: your disagreements were challenged in the courts, not on the streets.
We are currently challenging 39 constituencies in the courts as result of violence, arson, rape and other irregularities.
The choice of Bush or Gore is an American decision, not a Zimbabwean one. We will work closely with whomever the American people choose.
Fort Lauderdale FL:
... As a Zimbabwean currently living in Broward County Florida I have come to the realization that issues of "election fairness" and the concept of "real democracy" are not confined to rural Zimbabwe.
Many people argue that your leadership style will be no different than that of President Chiluba of Zambia given that your backgrounds are both linked to labour movements. What are the fundamental political differences between you and President Chiluba? and if there are any differences, how would you argue that those differences would be beneficial to Zimbabwe if you were to become the new head of state?
Morgan Tsvangirai: President Chiluba was elected by Zambians - his performance should be judged by Zambians, not Zimbabweans. There maybe similarities with both our backgrounds stemming from the labour movement, but our situations are entirely different. Besides if labour leaders are political failures then it does not necessarily mean that there shouldn't be any future national leaders with a trade union background. We are struggling today with Robert Mugabe who certainly does not have a trade union background.
Imba Ngano USA:
Thank you for your enormous courage. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to survive let alone run a campaign in such a politically hostile environment. Zimbabwe needs transparent leadership with integrity the world can respect, in order to successfully repair so much damage.
Do you agree that the focus of the Zimbabwe government should be on the economy? What is your vision and your plan for economic recovery in Zimbabwe?
Masvita zvenyu (thanks!)
Morgan Tsvangirai: It is very important for the focus to be on the economy because everything is affected by it.
It must be recognised that the country is facing economic meltdown because of 3 critical issues: a foreign currency crisis, a fiscal crisis and a debt crisis. Our vision for Zimbabwe is that there must be a national consensus for an economic and social recovery. Please refer to our website for a more detailed version of our programmes and policies. The address is www.mdczimbabwe.com.
Now that the MDC has made unprecedented gains in parliament and now serves as a strong opposition party, how has it been received in official channels? Is the MDC able to work with ZANU-PF members of parliament on various issues or is the legislature visibly divided?
Morgan Tsvangirai: The presence of MDC in parliament represented a significant democratic advance for the country. One would have hoped that the government would have taken this national expression in a constructive and cooperative manner with the MDC. Unfortunately, the government is vindictive and therefore is unable to build a national resolution on lawlessness, the land issue and the economy.
How do you foresee the future role of whites in Zimbabwean society? Can Zimbabwe become a successful multiracial society?
Morgan Tsvangirai: Our experience in the MDC, given our historical background has demonstrated that there is a basis for national integration across race, ethnicity and gender. I am very confident that we have laid the basis for interracial cooperation and national commitment.
Makadiiko? I would like to know what is going to happen about the land issue, given that people are already being resettled and its not in the manner in which everyone would want. We already have a few getting that land and getting the best land. Are you going to remove them and start afresh say if you get into power now or two years from now?
Morgan Tsvangirai: Tiripo!
Those that have unilaterally resettled themselves have to be brought back into a national land reform programme. There maybe movement but we are motivated by the fact that a proper land reform programme has to be implemented to the best interests of the country.
Our land policy will be transparent, equitable and economically viable. Anybody who has obtained land in an unlawful or corrupt way will lose it.
Tybee Island, GA:
If we can assume for a moment that the Mugabe-era will end in Zimbabwe within the next few years, what are the crucial issues his successor will have to work on in order to create a more stable economy? Additionally, do you believe that the withdrawal of Zimbabwean forces from the Congo will be a priority once Mugabe leaves office?
Morgan Tsvangirai: Robert Mugabe no longer holds the destiny of this country in his hands. We are already in a transitional stage; all that is required is how we manage it.
The crises of governance we are facing are constitutional in nature. We need a new people-driven constitution. We also need to institute new economic recovery policies that will win national and international confidence. We need a permanent resolution of the land question, and we need to restore law and order in the country. One issue of the Congo, we need to withdraw our troops.
How can the US government best help the process of democratization in Zimbabwe? What has the US failed to do so far?
Morgan Tsvangirai: The US government can help the situation by assisting the development of the civic movement who are the bedrock of any democracy.
The US has been pre-occupied with Mugabe being part of the solution to the war in the Congo, and not as a problem to Zimbabwe and its people.
You referred a moment ago to the need for a "proper land reform programme." Can you explain how such a program would work, why it is needed and whom it would benefit?
Morgan Tsvangirai: There is national consensus on the objective of land reform in Zimbabwe. The only divergence is on the methodology. Firstly, MDC's objectives on land reform are one: economic empowerment and two: equitable land distribution and three: economic viability and sustainability through an all stakeholder land commission. Finally, we need to discard all communal land practices, and move towards a system of title deeds. All sectors of our economy would benefit--agriculture, manufacturing, etc. You don't perpetuate people to permanent subsistent livelihoods.
About another phrase you use: a "people driven constitution?" What constitutional provisions are lacking now in Zimbabwe?
Morgan Tsvangirai: In 1987, we centralised power into the Presidency, and undermined the role of Parliament to act as a check on the Executive. The government amended the constitution 16 times without subjecting these to popular process, thereby compromising democracy in Zimbabwe.
Moreover, basic provisions to safeguard human rights are lacking from our constitution. National institutions such as the police have been co-opted by Mugabe in order to promote the ruling party's interests.
Please explain how you will handle
1. The police and the army in dealing with the povo better and to make them realise they serve us the people not the government.
2. The war veterans and youth who have violent tendencies.
In general how would you bring calmness and law back to a country that has been shown that laws can be abused?
Morgan Tsvangirai: The loyalty of national defense and security institutions should be to the people and the nation. They must not be abused by an individual or by any political party. That way, they retain the integrity and confidence of the people they are sworn to protect.
No one should be allowed to take they law into their own hands. We are all equal before the law. Programmes of rehabilitation will be needed to ensure that these youths and so-called war veterans can reenter society in productive roles.
With President Mugabe's support waning and presidential elections scheduled for early 2002, why is your party pressing for his resignation now instead of working towards a likely victory in the election? Have you any indications of how free and fair such elections will be?
Morgan Tsvangirai: We all recognise that Mugabe has a mandate until 2002. However, the question rests around his legitimacy. The people are restless because of economic deprivation, the lack of law and order, and haphazard land resettlement.
We are not necessarily pushing for Mugabe to go unconstitutionally. We are calling for early presidential elections, in accordance with what the people of Zimbabwe want. It is a democratic right for people to recall their leadership, if they believe that such leadership is no longer serving their best interest.
Prague, Czech Republic:
It looks as if President Mugabe will, one way or another, leave office with another party taking over the presidency. What will become of him? Will he go the way of Gorbachev and be present but often ignored or the way of Milosevic with his countrymen seeking to hold him accountable for illegal acts committed during his reign. How important is full accountability to Zimbabwe?
Morgan Tsvangirai: Given the current crisis in the country, if the MDC takes over government, we have no intention of engaging in retribution. We believe we have so much to concentrate on to reconstruct this country, we cannot afford to waste our time on issues of the past. Our vision is about the future of our country, not its past. Similarly, we appeal to Mugabe to think about the future of the country, and not about tactics of personal survival.
Morgan, I have seen in you the same travelling disease that I got to dislike about Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe is a very insignificant country to spend so much money on travelling. Those resources are needed to pull the country and government out of debt. Are World Tours and Meaningless Conferences going to be a feature of an MDC Government?
Secondly, there are people who have positioned themselves by supporting you materially and financially in the hope of your getting into power. What are you going to do for them when you win? Are we to see the Zanu(PF) disgrace of the airport project where the nation will pay a fortune for a project that is worth a quarter of what it is paid for?
Finally, the greatest tragedy of Africa is that new leaders come with so much appeal and passion to remove an existing regime, but they themselves have no vision of where they want to take the country. Do you have a vision of what you want to do for Zimbabwe? [edited]
Morgan Tsvangirai: We have a national base. But we need international support as the official opposition party in Parliament. In a global environment, we need the interplay of global actors, who if they are to support us need to understand our policies and programmes. Besides, we need international goodwill. My travels now, and in the future, will be limited to the best interests of the country.
People who have contributed to the MDC financially or materially have done so for the national good. The future is for all of us to build, and everyone will benefit if we focus on that.
Change is part of the process of democracy. Our goal is not simply to change the leadership. The goal is to change the system of governance, so that the leadership is accountable to the people, and not visa versa.
There is a substantial perception in the US that many of your countrymen would like to burn, kill, maim, mutilate, and rid your country of all white people. Even if this perception is simply false, it is not a good one for Americans to have. What is your opinion of the racial violence recently experienced?
Morgan Tsvangirai: The violence was perpetrated by Mugabe in an effort to justify land reform and keep himself in power. Zimbabwe is a multi-racial society, and there is racial harmony. 80% of black Zimbabweans do not attribute the current problems to the whites, but to the government.
Recently our government identified AIDS and HIV as threats to our national security because their future effects on the political stability of governments in Africa. Could you comment on this topic?
Morgan Tsvangirai: The magnitude of number of victims of HIV/AIDS is a national catastrophe. Any government which does not regard this crisis in that context is acting irresponsibly. There must be national mobilisation to combat HIV/AIDS, starting with sex education in schools, preventative measures, and the promotion of behavioural change in society.
In closing we would like to thank Morgan Tsvangirai for having this discussion and thank everybody who sent in questions. This conversation will be archived shortly in the Live Online archive found on the World page of washingtonpost.com
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