Thursday, 28 February 2008

[Interview] John Nyamande, Zimbabwean opposition political party activist

Between June 25 and 29, 2007, I had a wide-ranging interview with the veteran Zimbabwean opposition political activist, John Nyamande in which he talked, among other things, about the Save Zimbabwe Campaign’s visit to the U.K.; the talks that were then still going on in South Africa and about the conditions under which Zimbabwean asylum seekers are living in the U.K.

The following is a lightly edited version of the interview:

During one of MDC president, Morgan Tsvangirai’s last visits to the U.K., he held a rally in Luton. What was the purpose or significance of the visit?

The rally in Luton, on June 23, 2007 was purposeful and had lots of significance.

At this rally Morgan Tsvangirai and Lovemore Madhuku were able to address the people. The President [Tsvangirai] spoke about the talks in South Africa and asylum issues in the U.K.

Lovemore Madhuku talked about a new constitution.

The party travelled under the Save Zimbabwe Campaign (SZC) and the delegation comprised of Morgan Tsvangirai, Prof Arthur Mutambara, Paul Siwela of ZAPU, Lovemore Madhuku, Rev. Levee Kadenge of the Christian Alliance and Miss Mudehwe for Zinasu.

The purpose of the SZC was to lobby the diplomatic community in Europe, about a new constitution before free, fair and internationally supervised elections take place.

They visited Belgium, Germany and France and were able to have fruitful talks with the governments of these countries. I understand the campaign is going to be taken to the SADCC countries, Central and West Africa, Canada, Australia, United States and other progressive countries in the world.

It is only fair for the progressive groups like the SZC to have their views regarding problems in Zimbabwe heard as well. However, on the sidelines of these diplomatic manoeuvres, members of this group had an opportunity to meet their members to listen and brief them about progress regarding talks in South Africa. Tsvangirai met his group at Luton and, Mutambara met his at a hotel in London and I hope Siwela did the same. It was fair for them to meet their supporters because a lot of Zimbabweans are now in the Diaspora as refugees and need to hear about developments at home from their leaders.

In the U.K., many Zimbabweans have had their applications for political asylum refused. How would you describe the conditions under which they are living?

The position of the MDC is that under the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Zimbabweans who are seeking asylum and currently in the U.K., must be treated with dignity and humanity.

These are people with skills, who are trainable and hard working. Evidence shows that the health and social care sector is immensely benefiting from Zimbabweans who are legally and illegally working in this country. This group is contributing to the GDP of this economy.

Those who have been refused political asylum are not allowed to work and do not receive any government benefits at all. Some have committed suicide and others have children.

Surely the government of the U.K. is a champion in condemning other governments that violate such kinds of human rights. The U.K. government must reconsider its position and give asylum seekers temporary work permits that become invalid as soon as the situation in Zimbabwe is resolved. However, the MDC does encourage its members to be law abiding and does not support those who break the laws of the host country.

What is the background to the talks in South Africa? How significant are they?

Mismanagement of the Zimbabwean economy, bad governance that has left 80% of the population unemployed, price madness with inflation galloping at well over 5000% [at the time of the interview], hunger, reduced life expectancy to 37years for men and 34 years for women, politicized judiciary and police, human rights abuses, amending of the Constitution and other issues have forced the opposition, civic groups and even SADCC to speak their concerns.

Zimbabwe is having Presidential elections in 2008 and ZANU (PF) which is in government has amended the constitution so that Robert Mugabe, whose term had expired would extend his term, increase the number of constituencies in the assembly and also increase the number of senators who were introduced only last year.

The view of the majority is that Robert Mugabe is afraid to face a challenger under the same constitution he has been enjoying for the past 25 years. If Mugabe is still popular, Zimbabweans are demanding impartiality in the conduct of elections, according to SADCC protocol, conduct and conditions laid down by himself and other members of the community.

Before the elections in March 2008, Zimbabweans at home and Diaspora are demanding a new Constitution designed by all groups, which would then address issues of repressive laws like AIPPA, POSA, and voter registration, delimitation of constituency boundary and composition of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

If these talks succeed and elections conducted and supervised by a neutral body, surely, there is no reason why sanctions should not be lifted and Zimbabwe slotted back into the progressive community. Sanctions should not be lifted before an agreement because (ZANU (PF) is not faithful when it comes to negotiations of such a nature. He did this when Mbeki was engaging them during the first initiatives of talks.

What will be needed for the talks to succeed?

The ZANU (PF) government must start by re-orientating its attitude towards opposition movements, civic groups. They must also listen, respect the views of the ordinary people who are facing the price madness, and shortages of basic commodities.

ZANU (PF) has failed to tell Mugabe the truth about the hunger, disease, poverty and suffering on the grassroots level, because of the patronage system of governance he has entrenched. His cronies are afraid to tell him in case they lose the farms, business contracts, houses and food they receive. It is high time Robert Mugabe starts listening to the opposition and other civic groups if he has the country at heart. Time is running out.

The ZANU (PF) government must stop harassing the opposition, trumping up charges of petrol bombing and terrorist training. These are cheap charges, bogus and can easily be laughed at by any person on the street. A government must treat its people by dignity and humanity irrespective of their political affiliations.

The other factor that I hope will force the talks to succeed is: the state of the economy that has reached rock bottom.

A number of MDC activists have been accused of bombing various institutions and places in Zimbabwe. What do you think really happened?

Zimbabweans are peace loving people and all the bomb accusations are tactics that were used by Ian Douglas Smith and have been borrowed by Robert Mugabe.

Ian Smith had the Selous Scouts that disguised themselves as freedom fighters and killed villagers to discredit our freedom fighters who were doing a sterling job. Now we have a clandestine group of youths who are on the payroll of Gideon Gono masquerading as MDC youths. This is cheap propaganda and people are fed up of it.

I think there is some congruence and relationship with what was said by Shadreck Chipanga in the Herald a month before this spat of bombings started. Shadreck Chipanga chronicled how he was trained to make petrol bombs in Gweru, ran away from Rhodesian intelligence and crossed into Zambia for guerrilla training. It seems to me that this is by no means coincidence. His chronicle has something to do with this.

And was there really a coup attempt in Zimbabwe?

I do not believe there has been any coup attempts in Zimbabwe. As I have mentioned earlier on, Zimbabweans are peace loving, and they would not like to experience the killings of innocent civilians like what happened during the wars of liberation. I believe it is a tactic that is used by Mugabe time and time again to shift people’s attention on real issues of hunger, disease, poverty, unemployment. The country is bleeding and Mugabe is good at creating situations that draw people’s attention from the real issues.

Lookout Masuku, Dumiso Dabengwa, Joshua Nkomo all were accused of having arms caches in Matebeleland that Mugabe said were going to be used to overthrow the Government. Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole was accused of trying to kill Robert Mugabe at Heroes Acre on his way from Zvimba. Bishop Abel Muzorewa was arrested on his way from America and accused of having plans to overthrow his Government. The Bishop was tortured at Goromonzi and that is why the bishop went silent for a very long time. Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested and charged with planning to eliminate Robert Mugabe in a case that in the end embarrassed the government.

It seems to me that the Zimbabwe intelligence are going to torture and force the victims to sing statements that are going to implicate the opposition groups. This is a ZANU (PF) ploy that is aimed at disturbing the MDC and other groups in making preparations for the elections in 2008.

What do you think is going to happen during the March 2008 elections? Are they going to be free and fair?

These elections were supposed to be Presidential Elections but the ZANU (PF) Government, as usual has shifted the goal posts by bringing forward parliamentary elections in the name of harmonization. Most rural forks are going to be confused and in this confusion the state machinery will rig the election. There are players in this game who have got an unfair advantage over other players who do not have control over the state machinery.

At the moment ZANU (PF) has already started campaigning for the elections. Village headman are now receiving a salary, War vets allowances have been increased to Z$3.5million and Gono is funding a project that is going to see more than 300,000 Scotch carts distributed to the communal farmers and at the same time disturbing the activities of the opposition by banning all meetings and rallies.

Institutionalized torture, abductions of opposition members is taking place daily. It is sad that this is all happening when talks in South Africa are taking place and Thabo Mbeki and SADCC not cautioning ZANU (PF) at all. Thabo Mbeki and Robert Mugabe have a game plan and the negotiating team has got to be careful especially Tendai Biti who is representing Morgan Tsvangirai. It seems to me most SADC countries are not comfortable with a government born out of a trade union movement. Trade Union movements have structures already and if they decide to form political parties, they can easily use the structures to launch the party. They also represent the working class who always suffer when governments mismanage the economies. Most SADCC leaders believe that if this happens in Zimbabwe, the next country could be South Africa (COSATU) or Namibia. Even in South Africa, COSATU played a very important role in bringing down apartheid.

ZANU (PF) has already started rigging the elections and will stop the beatings, torture, bans and abductions when observers start coming into Zimbabwe. Surely, SADCC and other interested bodies who have been monitoring elections in Zimbabwe should be aware of this ZANU (PF) strategy.

Robert Mugabe has already started instilling fear ahead of the crucial elections. He should also not be allowed to choose observers like he did in the last elections. Any observers from bodies like SADC, AU, UN or Commonwealth should be allowed and be deployed now if the exercise is going to be credible. However if Mugabe is allowed to do what he likes, only those he feel are his friends would be allowed [to monitor the elections]. By that time he would have finished vote buying, torturing and putting rigging systems in place.

Will the two factions of the MDC ever unite?

As far as I am concerned, the fact that Tsvangirai, Mutambara, Siwela, and others have accepted to work under the Save Zimbabwe Coalition its enough evidence to show that people are united in trying to set the atmosphere for free and fair elections. The party’s priorities is to set the ground for free and fair elections. Time is not on their side to engage is serious talks on unity.

As far as I am concerned, the issue of uniting will naturally fall in place as soon as the conditions for the elections have been agreed and finalized. After all, the groups agree on the fundamentals for free and fair elections; a new constitution, which would solve the issue of repressive laws; and, elections supervised by international observers.