SWRA ‘Hot Seat’ Interview: International support for Zimbabwe

HOT SEAT INTERVIEW: Transcript of ‘Hot Seat’ programme in which SW Radio Africa’s Violet Gonda talks with Professors Brian Raftopoulos, Jonathan Moyo and Economist John Robertson.

Violet: Zimbabwe is a country in crisis and many have asked what needs to be done internationally by all democratic forces and what role the regional and international community can play – now, and in the post Mugabe period.  To help discuss various ideas I’ve invited three people who have at one time or another advised some of the key players in Zimbabwean politics.  They are political analyst Professor Brian Raftopoulos who once acted as an advisor for Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, independent MP Jonathan Moyo, who was widely described as an advisor and strategist for Robert Mugabe and well known economist John Robertson.  Welcome to the programme gentlemen.  Now we will start with a common question, ah, well, there is no question, but there is a serious political crisis in Zimbabwe and that the economy has collapsed with inflation officially at 1 193.5 % but generally it’s understood to be much higher than that.  Now obviously something must be done about Zimbabwe but what are the suggestions?  Let’s start with Professor Moyo.

Jonathan Moyo: Well, the suggestions – I don’t think that the way our country is and how things are going invites suggestions, clearly what is needed is action.  The first action, of course people would reasonably expect, that it must come from government – what government should do.  And, the problem we have at the moment is that the government seems to be in a policy paralysis and it does not have a response.  Although, I must say, the recent developments suggest that there is some international engagement which might lead to some resolution of this crisis because of the consequences of this economic meltdown.  All this discussion around a possible initiative led by Kofi Annan suggests that the government now wants a way out and the question is, what it would be?  There are a number of scenarios we can talk about in the course of the discussion.

Violet: Ok, we’ll talk about that later, but I would like to know the views of John Robertson and Professor Raftopoulos about what they think needs to be done.  John Robertson?

John Robertson: I believe that the government today is completely out of its depth and doesn’t have the resources any longer to deal with these crises.  Unfortunately it has constantly sought economic answers to what are basically political problems.  I feel that strenuous efforts must now be made to devise political policies that are there to fix the political problems.  We’ve seen a massive decline in the level of production, a total absence of new investment into the country, a massive flight of skills from Zimbabwe and the country now has no credit rating internationally. And, although we might have raised a bit of money to pay for fuel by pledging exports of certain minerals, we have come nowhere near solving any of these problems because the political hang-ups still keep the people who could help the country at arms length.  So, I think that the answer has to lie in the political arena, not in the economic one.

Violet: Right.  Professor Raftopoulos?

Professor Raftopoulos:  No, I think I would agree with both comments.  I think there is a deepening stalemate.  On the one hand you have a state which is both unable to reform itself and unable to produce any policy resources to move Zimbabwe out of the crisis, and, an opposition which has been debilitated from within by its own divisions from pushing the state any further.  In this situation, I think gala actors have begun to come into play again.  The UN initiative, I think, based on the fact that the South African quiet diplomacy has basically fallen flat, both SADC and the AU have been unable to move the situation forward.  So, clearly, I think President Mbeki is hoping that the UN will help to move this process forward.  I think, however, the problems still remain in the state ruling party.  Their incapacity to deal with its own succession issues and the inability, in a sense, to take the momentum and to produce an initiative to move forward.

Violet: Right and before we go to look at what’s been happening within the ruling party, the economy and also international intervention, let’s talk a bit about the opposition.  You’ve just maintained, Professor Raftopoulos, that the problems and the crisis within the MDC has also created its own problems.  Now, the Tsvangirai MDC has been rallying its supporters for mass action, but it was reported recently that Tsvangirai is suspending mass action now for behind the scenes diplomacy.  What is your assessment of this?

Professor Raftopoulos: Well, I think for both MDC’s the first prize was always to go into some sort of negotiated settlement given the nature of state repression in Zimbabwe.  The kind of popular mobilisation that’s been envisaged is likely to be crushed very, very quickly.  So, I think, that with both sides we’d certainly go to a negotiating table if there was something reasonable to be discussed at the table.  I think also, what’s clear is that what was thought to be the division between them on the Senate was clearly not really the issue.  They’re  both still going into elections.  I think both would go into a peaceful negotiation process and I think that leaves them with few other alternatives at the moment.

Violet: And Professor Moyo, has the MDC got the capabilities and the capacity to launch a popular protest and do you see people heeding a call for mass action in their thousands as the previous calls have not been successful?

Professor Moyo: Well, I think I agree with observations just made by Professor Raftopoulos about the incapacity of the opposition at the moment.  We must also remember that the mass action strategy is not a new one.  It has been tried many times before and we know what the results have been. And, indeed, we must remember that is a strategy which the state prefers because it believes it has a tried and tested method of dealing with it.  However, the fact that we now have a new situation relating to the economic collapse or the meltdown of the economy means that there may be some consequences from that which the government has not bargained for including the possibility of spontaneous mass action which would be much more serious than a calculated programme.  It could lead to chaos and anarchy and I get the sense that one of the reasons why the government at the moment is promising and is coming out itself talking about bridge building and going into places like Russia and even South Korea we understand, looking for resources, is, because they are afraid that there may be a situation developing on the ground which would lead to some mass action of one sort or another.  And, the issue now is really how can the opposition take advantage of that or deal with that and clearly a disunited or divided opposition would not be well place to deal with that.  And, there is the issue also of what is happening within ZANU PF itself.  ZANU PF is probably much more divided than the opposition at the moment, not only because of the succession squabbles but also because of the economic breakdown and the social breakdown that is taking place in our country.  I think that is an opportunity which is yet to be explored or exploited by the opposition.

Violet: Mr Robertson, what’s your view on this, and also, as an economist, do you see mass action changing things in Zimbabwe and if not is there any other option?

John Robertson: I would very much rather see the forces for change coming from the top much as they did in South African and even in the Soviet Union.  The changes didn’t come from mass action; the changes came from the enlightened thinking of the leaders who realised that they really had to make dramatic change to avoid what might have become very much more serious.  In Zimbabwe, we clearly see that the government is becoming more anxious.  We’ve just heard that they plan to double the size of our police force; spending a vast amount of money that we don’t have, a great proportion of which would  have to be spent in foreign currency to be useful to an enlarged police force. And so they would appear to be taking drastic actions in the belief that mass action might be what emerges from this crisis.  And, I think they could do this at almost no cost whatsoever by simply adopting policies that say ‘we’ve got a major problem, we need major changes politically’, rather than trifling around the edges with minor concessions that will have no effect.  So, we are really looking for statesmanship from the top and I believe that it’s not going to come until we do get some involvement from the international community; either from the UN – but, I think much more telling would be if we could get the support from Mr Mbeki.  I think that his potential leverage could bring about a much more decisive change.

Professor Moyo: Can I say something about that?  I think he is right in saying that a lot can happen through actions of the leadership at the top and this is the risk or danger that the opposition is facing in Zimbabwe now because it is responding to the consequences of the economic collapse.  We now, for the first time in six or so years, have a possibility of having Mugabe himself striking a deal to leave his own legacy with the key actors in the international community through policy change, and, we can even have a group within ZANU PF which is reform minded also striking a deal with the international community, again through policy change.  But, of course, while the opposition would like to see change in the way our country is governed, the strategy, if I’ve understood it correctly, has been one for regime change and regime change obviously would require among other things, mass action, you know, in order for people to demonstrate their outrage and disagreement with the government. They can not gain much from policy change. Policy change can be effected by the incumbent regime but I don’t think there would be much to expect from the opposition in this regard.

Violet: Still, on that point, Professor Moyo, you know, Mr Robertson said that he would rather see change coming from the leadership.  Now, I’m sure that you of all people would know that opposition leaders in Zimbabwe have gone through hell.  You know, the MDC has been persecuted a lot by the regime.  Now, if leaders like Morgan Tsvangirai were to physically take to the streets and if they take the lead, how effective would the leadership be on their own and do you think people would follow?

Professor Moyo: I’m not sure whether that’s the kind of leadership John was talking about, but clearly, the government has been daring the opposition to take those kind of steps and we know what the response would be.  It would be a vicious and ruthless response; unleashing the brutality of the state machinery.  But, the people obviously, I don’t think, are prepared to take into mass action unless those who are talking about it lead from the front and this was the promise.  I however doubt that really the way forward requires mass action.  I think everybody can see that we have reached the end of the road and what is going on right now is the politics of the end game and is a question of forging new alliances, working with new international actors and understanding.  For example, what is it that Kofi Annan could or would want to achieve in Zimbabwe and then play some role at the opposition because I think there are possibilities. From what I understand, Annan has said he would like to come to Zimbabwe if the Zimbabwean government is prepared to give him something to take to the international community; a deal; and, in return he would want to come to Zimbabwe with a package from the international community.  I think various actors can contribute to that product.

Violet: So do you agree Professor Raftopoulos on the issue of international intervention and also, going back to the grassroots – the people in Zimbabwe, you know Zimbabwe is in ruins, why has there been no spontaneous mass protest?

Professor Brian Raftopoulos: I think I agree with Professor Moyo’s general assessment of the current international environment and I think  even if mass action were to take  place in some form, it would be entirely to put pressure on the existing government to come to the table and to come with a position on the way forward.  I think the real danger here is that really ZANU PF do have an opportunity now to take the situation forward and if they don’t I really fear for what future kind of opposition is going to emerge because I think the situation will deteriorate even more if this opportunity is not taken and we’ll kind of get into a cycle of increasing repression on the basis of increasing crisis within the economy with all kinds of possibly new elements emerging.  In terms of why people haven’t gone, I think it’s clear that the nature of the state has made it very, very difficult.  Forms of mobilising, I think, have not been well thought out, well organised.  There’s a combination of factors as you know in terms of the regional and international linkages which have allowed Mugabe to stay connected and not become isolated and certainly he has been relatively skilful in fixing that.  But, I think now there is an opportunity in terms of the pressures that are there, in terms of the opposition that may come as a result of good negotiations and I think really the ball is in ZANU PF’s court.  I think they have a real responsibility now to ensure that this situation doesn’t deteriorate.

Violet: The next two segments with Professor Brian Raftopoulos, John Robertson and Professor Jonathan Moyo will deal specifically with the issue of the economy, international intervention and what happens after Mugabe.

Tue, June 13 2006 » Interviews

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