SWRA ‘Hot Seat’ Interview: First 100 days of the power-sharing government

HOT SEAT INTERVIEW: Journalist Violet Gonda speaks to political analysts Prof Brian Raftopoulos and Dr Alex Magaisa reflecting on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s first 100 days in Zimbabwe’s power sharing government.

VIOLET GONDA: On 11 February Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as the country’s Prime Minister marking the beginning of an extraordinary new government which brought bitter enemies together in an uneasy coalition. The Prime Minister and his MDC would have been in government for 100 days on the 11th of May. This week on the Hot Seat programme political analysts Professor Brian Raftopoulos and Dr Alex Magaisa give us an analysis on the last 100 days.

Let me start with Alex, the PM said on the day of his inauguration and I quote: ‘For too long, our people’s hopes for a bright and prosperous future have been betrayed. Instead of hope, their days have been filled with starvation, disease and fear. A culture of entitlement and impunity has brought our nation to the brink of a dark abyss. This must end today.’ Now Alex, 100 days down the line, what changes have you seen since this statement was made?

ALEX MAGAISA: Well Violet, first of all you have to say that 100 days is always a figure that you pick out because it’s just 100 days, it’s very difficult to judge whether or not there is anything tangible that has taken place within that period. What I have to say is that whatever we discuss in relation to this 100 days we have to appreciate that it has been tainted very much so by the tragedies that has affected the Prime Minister Mr Tsvangirai.

Firstly the loss of his wife and secondly the loss of his grandson, so if anything this is the biggest highlight of what has happened in the last 100 days although it’s a negative highlight. So everything we say and everything that we discuss will have to have that caveat.

What you cannot doubt about Mr Tsvangirai over the last 100 days is that he has shown the will, commitment and a genuine interest in furthering the national interest. In fact in many ways I think he has given way too much in order to make sure that things work but he is dealing with people who have enjoyed power for too long and people who are finding it very difficult to give up the old ways.

So in terms of the achievements – I’m sure we will be touching on a number of things – there have been a lot of challenges, there’s no doubt about that but I’ve always been one of those people who have felt that Mr Tsvangirai and the MDC didn’t have much of a choice in March and did what they had to do to join this inclusive government because they were genuine in their interest to make things work for Zimbabwe. And I still see it as a process rather than as an event and what we have seen in the last 100 days is part of that process and no doubt there have been huge challenges.

GONDA: Let me go to Professor Raftopoulos and perhaps he can give us some tangible examples and also to go back to what Mr Tsvangirai said on the day of his inauguration, he said: “To achieve this vision the new government must implement the democratisation process without delay.”

He said: “Parliament will pass legislation to restore the peoples’ freedoms, create the mechanism through which a peoples’ constitution can be created and re-establish the rule of law and promote independent media.” Now Brian, how successful has he been in implementing these plans – granted it’s early days and, as Alex has said, the prime minister was hit by a set of personal tragedies in the first few months?

BRIAN RAFTOPOULOS: Yah I just want to reiterate what Alex has said in that I think we all knew this was going to be a fragile, tenuous, very uneasy relationship but one where the MDC had little option. Having said that, it was also very clear from the beginning that this kind of arrangement was going to be a battle for the State between the two parties from its inception and indeed that’s what it’s turned out to be – the battle over the ministries, the battle over what portfolios fall under particular ministries, the continued detention of abductees and the sense of continued obstructive behaviour of the more retrogressive elements of the security wing of Zanu-PF.

But I think we’ve also seen a kind of new hope that emerged in the 100 days, a sense that something else was possible and the beginning of, at least the first steps of accountability of the ruling party, within parliamentary discussions, over discussions on the Reserve Bank, the discussions that are taking place around the media and of course the very controversial discussions that are taking place around the constitution.

These are difficult processes but they are also processes that open up new possibilities as well as hold a danger of a relapse if things begin to fall apart. So I think it is early days but there have been both pros and cons. I think there are still enormous challenges ahead and I think that the MDC certainly still has to assert its strength within the State, within the government, to demand more of Zanu-PF and to be able to create more spaces for democratic practise.

GONDA: Alex, let me come back to you. He did set out what many have described as a very ambitious agenda – you know the issue of the civil servants remuneration, detainees’ release, engaging with the international community so in your view which of these issues has he gotten the most success?

MAGAISA: Well sometimes politicians, their business is to make promises and to try and fulfil those promises and not every promise is always fulfilled. What we have seen with the new inclusive government is that Mr Tsvangirai did promise that there would be some changes in the way that the civil servants would be remunerated and I don’t think that you can go to any civil servant today who does not appreciate the fact that they are getting at least that 100 US dollars which they could only dream of last year this time.

So in terms of fire-fighting I would say re-stabilisation of the economy, we can’t say it is stable but in terms of the fire-fighting role that the government has, I would give them 8 out of 10 for that because it has really stopped the downward slide that the country was going through for the past ten years or so which was becoming accelerated by the day. In terms of growth of course, it’s no more than 2 out of 10 there because we haven’t seen anything tangible to say that the economy can actually grow in any big way, mainly because the government does not have sufficient cash resources to make these things work.

And that’s where I want to point out one of the achievements in fact of this government in the last 100 days, is the re-engagement with the international community. When you see Minister of Finance Biti going to Washington, talking to the administration, the US administration, Congress, the IMF, World Bank, coming to the UK to speak to the British government – these are things that Zanu-PF has not been able to do for the past ten years or so. So, it is the first step in trying to rebuild that relationship, but we know, as everybody does, that it’s not going to work unless Zimbabwe itself also reforms politically because it’s always going to be a condition upon which that engagement is going to be predicated.

GONDA: Still on that issue of re-engagement with the international community Alex, at the stage we are at, what would be better for Zimbabwe right now, humanitarian aid or developmental aid, and is humanitarian aid necessarily a good thing?

MAGAISA: Well, humanitarian aid is there as an act of necessity. You’ve got people who are starving, you’ve got people who cannot have things otherwise and therefore you need to assist them. That you will find in any countries or places where there is crisis – Darfur, the Congo, anywhere. And then there is development aid – this is aid assistance that is designed to help the government carry out projects. You could say in a sense, that if somebody is sitting by the river, do you come and give them fish or do you give them an opportunity to catch their own fish? I think if you continue to give them fish without giving them the opportunity to do the fishing themselves it creates an unnecessary and unhelpful dependency syndrome.

So I do think that the aspect of humanitarian aid has to be explored a little further, I’m not an expert in the area but I don’t believe that humanitarian aid on its own is the panacea to Zimbabwe and I think there’s got to step up, there’s got to be some belief in Mr Tsvangirai and the MDC is now in government and try and help them to see if they can actually catch the fish by themselves.

GONDA: Is that possible Brian, and also what do you think about the international response to the call by the inclusive government to support the GNU, despite the fact that there are still some ‘toxic issues’?

RAFTOPOULOS: I think that the need for assistance is absolutely essential. I think that the international community have very quickly to come to a more decisive position. The humanitarian plus position is just a holding operation. Certainly the humanitarian assistance is necessary but there’s a very strong need now for more substantive developmental assistance and I think therefore that the call by the MDC government is indicative that they realise without some very strong support on the economic front this GPA will die. It’s a real threat to the future of the GPA and any future prospects of building support, building mobilisation in the country around getting through this crisis depends on some sustainable or at least initiation of sustainable growth in the economy.

So in a sense while one understands the concerns of the international community around the continued issues that they would like to see addressed, I think waiting for all those issues to be addressed is very problematic and I think it’s likely to produce more deleterious results than they might possibly imagine. I think they are going to have to take some more imaginative and some more risky steps in producing more development assistance because the future of opposition politics and democratic politics depends on some kind of sustainability and stabilisation of the economy.

GONDA: Some will say isn’t that what the Mugabe regime would actually want – you know international help to come in and then they just revert to the same old ways?

RAFTOPOULOS: Of course it’s a danger but to me the biggest danger is to allow the situation to continue to deteriorate or after this initial beginning of stabilisation to then starve the economy of future assistance – that’s more likely in my view to threaten the democratic forces than it is Zanu-PF. So I think it is a calculated risk but one that must be made on the basis of what are the balance of forces in the country and who is likely to gain from a greater stabilisation, a greater sense of security amongst the working people of this country and with that, the capacity to fight for more status within a more stable economy.

GONDA: What about on the issue of the civil servants as Alex has been talking about, does the teachers’ threat of strike tarnish Morgan Tsvangirai’s early victory for example, of being able to pay the civil servants 100 US dollars per month?

RAFTOPOULOS: Yah certainly I think any major public sector strike will threaten a new arrangement like this, which sends us back to the point of what kind of assistance needs to be given now to stabilise, to re-professionalise the civil service and to the get the basic social services, particularly health and education going, so that that kind of culture of growth, of social net is seen to be viable both for the parents of those children and for the teachers.

GONDA: What kind of assistance do you think would be needed actually?

RAFTOPOULOS: Well I think first of all, what you see in this country is real massive unemployment and a real breakdown of the production structures and at the heart of re-growing this economy therefore is redeveloping the productive structures. In industry, the mines and of course on the land and therefore not just giving assistance on the necessary humanitarian side but also beginning to see how to redevelop the productive sectors of the economy. Out of which any future sustainability of state expenditure will also be based. And I think that aspect of the current situation is what is most urgently needed now of course in addition to the humanitarian assistance.

GONDA: Alex, what are your thoughts on that and also does the MDC in particular have the power to drive its reform programme without losing political capital, doing public relations or rather covering up and defending the Zanu-PF rule?

MAGAISA: Well you have to appreciate that one of the risks of this political arrangement is that it’s always short term in the way that things are designed in the sense that there are elections that are to be held at some point, we don’t exactly know when and so each of the parties is going to have to do things, and manoeuvre, try and out-manoeuvre the other party – and so that is why I called the inclusive government more of a fire-fighting perhaps a restabilising agent more than anything else. Zimbabwe definitely does need to come to a point where it can have a more permanent arrangement in terms of governing the country and carrying out more stable and more long term economic and social policies.

In terms of development assistance, I mean as Brian has rightly said, definitely we do know that this government will fail unless there is some resources available to it. While of course it is important to get that external assistance I would also challenge the government to try and look inward as well. We are a poor country in terms of the resources that we need as of now but we do have immense natural resources in the country and enough potential to try and regenerate. We don’t want to get to this point next year still begging for money without planning for it. We need to be working on things like agriculture, try and stop these things which are causing disruption on the farms, try and see how the parastatals like Zisco Steel, Hwange and many others which can be productive and bring in foreign currency into the country.

These are things that need to be attended to and I think government, in addition to the external begging that we are doing we can also try and dig in from within and see how much we can get from the resources that we have.

GONDA: Right, Mr Tsvangirai famously said at his inauguration that, and I quote: “It hurts that as we celebrate here today, there are some who are in prison. I can assure you that they are not going to remain in those dungeons any day or any week longer.” Now Alex, what does the bail debacle really reveal about the MDC’s power or leverage?

MAGAISA: Well I think it simply shows us that there are many retrogressive elements within the elements of the old regime and who are refusing obviously to accept that change has come and that things have got to be done differently which is why if I was to give a mark on the rule of law I think it’s no more than two per cent – which is essentially a nominal mark because the attitude has not changed, the personnel have not changed, the security of individuals is not guaranteed and you’ve got some very big people, people who are closer to Mr Tsvangirai like his security advisor, like his former personal aide Gandhi Mudzingwa, Chris Dhlamini and journalist like Manyere. These are people who continue to suffer under the old rules and we see that there’s no change in attitude and we saw this week as well with Mukoko and others who were re-arrested or re-detained rather in a case which was quite ridiculous.

But you can see that the MDC is obviously having problems because it doesn’t have control of the military or the security structures of the State which Zanu-PF has steadfastly held on to. And also I think there is one aspect which is the judiciary itself. There are some good people there in the judiciary who have to be commended but there are also elements which will continue to refuse to change and I think that one of the things that the MDC or indeed the new government needs to do is to try and carry out some judiciary reforms. I know that it wasn’t a big issue during the negotiations but we certainly see that it is an important issue in terms of getting this government moving forward.

GONDA: Brian the detainees were freed, well some of them, but they all still face charges of trying to overthrow the regime. Is it being unrealistic to say the charges against the political detainees should be dropped in the spirit of the inclusive government?

RAFTOPOULOS: No I don’t think it is being unrealistic. I think this should be dealt with politically. I think that these detainees should all be freed. I think it’s a real problem, it’s a real obstacle and clearly being engineered by those elements of the security that have been behind the violence for a long time. I think that this is clearly an indication of the continued role of this very regressive element in trying to break this agreement and that continued efforts must be made both by the MDC but also by the civic, the generality of the civic to have all the detainees released unconditionally. If Zanu-PF is talking about the rule of law, that rule of law has to be applied to the thuggery that has dominated Zanu’s violence over the last decade. So I think that, for now I think good will, certainly on the part of Zanu-PF would be shown by having these detainees released unconditionally.

GONDA: Let me read you part of an email that was sent by one of our listeners on this particular issue and the listener said: “If these individuals are accused of trying to topple Mugabe, were they doing it for their own benefit? If they were doing it for the MDC then is the MDC also being indicted? What purpose is this serving if these persecutions serve to undermine the mirage we thought was a unity government?” What can you say about this Professor?

RAFTOPOULOS: Well I think it’s an indication that people understand that there are forces at work within the State, who are trying to undermine the MDC, trying to undermine this transitional arrangement because their livelihoods, in a sense – they have depended on the kind of looting that the Reserve Bank governor openly admitted to recently, and the kind of access to quasi fiscal activities that have kept an elite in this country exceptionally rich. So there is a question of the kind of class needs, the class requirements of those who have benefited from the turmoil that has taken place in Zimbabwe and this is showing itself of course in the kind of regression in political fortunes that sometimes overtakes this GNU.

GONDA: Now Alex, it has been said in this discussion that the issue of the detainees should be dealt with politically and we understand that Jestina Mukoko and others were actually granted bail after the Principals intervened. Now, is it the job though of politicians to intervene in legal matters on the other hand?

MAGAISA: Well, absolutely no, that shouldn’t be the case, but I think we have to understand the case in the context that it’s actually a political case. These cases we are seeing now, and I think Brian probably has a better account of the history than I do, we have seen these things before. I was a young boy in the 1980s when people like Dumiso Dabengwa, Lookout Masuku and many other people were kept in jail on precisely the same kind of charges and then later on they became ministers in the government. You had Ndabaningi Sithole in the late ‘90s being accused of the same and I believe that these are accusations that have been put up from time to time. Even Mr Tsvangirai himself was accused of trying to do the same thing.

So your correspondent, the guy who wrote the email is absolutely right, it makes no sense that you can charge these people trying to topple the government and yet the people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of those activities are the same persons who are now in government. In all normal cases, even we saw that in the transition from apartheid in South Africa, the issue of the release of political detainees is always top of the list because you know that these are political charges, these are political offences they are being charged with and you try and deal with that at a political level. So my view really is that this whole charade of saying that the cases before the courts of law and that the law should take its course should really be taken for what it is and politicians should just deal with the issue, at a political level and let this thing go.

GONDA: And what about the issue of Roy Bennett’s appointment as Deputy Minister of Agriculture where Robert Mugabe is refusing to swear him in, is this not a sign that Mugabe is still caught up in the racial mode?

MAGAISA: Well in a way I think that it’s pretty much obvious that it’s more than the fact that Roy Bennett is facing charges because there are many other people in government, including indeed the Minister of Finance and the Deputy Prime Minister who are still facing some charges, I believe so. So the issue is not about Roy Bennett being before the courts of law. I think the issue has more to do with Mr Bennett’s race as well as the sensitive issue of him being a former commercial farmer, now being given the position to lead the Ministry of Agriculture.

I think if they were being honest I think they would tell us that that is the case. I don’t think that it is for Mr Mugabe to determine for the MDC whom it wishes to get nominated if indeed the idea was that the MDC would nominate its own ministers then it was up to them to do so and this is what they have done and I think that there is nothing reasonable at all about what is happening at the moment.

GONDA: Brian – what are the implications of Mugabe refusing to swear Bennett in and also do you think that Tsvangirai should perhaps relent and look for someone else for this position?

RAFTOPOULOS: No I think that for the moment Morgan is and will stand his ground. I think I agree entirely with Alex’ analysis, Mugabe continues to view the MDC and elements of it through kind of racialised spectacles and therefore it is entirely to do with issues of race, on issues of him being a former commercial farmer, the issue that having him as a Deputy Minister on what is one of the central pillars of Zanu’s legitimising ideologies which is the land question. But I think certainly the MDC should remain firm on all its demands. And I think also the MDCs must work much closer together, both formations, they have to take much stronger unity position around these principled issues which they have done up to now and should do so in an even stronger way and to remember what the common enemy is, especially in this transition period.

GONDA: What are your thoughts on the MDC’s deadline? Was it a PR stunt given that there was an agreement to complete negotiations on Monday?

RAFTOPOULOS: When one reads Minister Biti’s statement, he made very clear not withstanding the deadline, he had no intention of leaving the GNU and I think that’s the key. They certainly will consider putting more pressure on Zanu-PF and there’s certainly one mode of doing that is of course greater regional pressure once again on Mugabe but clearly there are questions about what can be done internally to put more pressure and one of the things I think is lacking now is the lack of coherence between the civics and the MDC. Their close relationship that existed in the past is certainly no longer there and I think particularly around the constitutional question and I think rebuilding this relationship and the tactics with the broad civic movement is absolutely key to putting more internal pressure on the Zanu-PF regime.

GONDA: I was actually going to ask you about the constitutional reform issue and the question is given the difference of approach, what must the MDC watch out for in dealing with the constitutional rewriting process?

RAFTOPOULOS: Well I think certainly there has to be greater effort in trying to bridge the gap between the position of some of the civics like the NCA, ZTCU and ZINASU and the current process underway. There’s clearly a huge gulf that exists and I think that there needs to be much more effort put into trying to rebuild that process. The real danger is if this process continues and you get these kind of divisions within the broad democratic movement, it only plays into the hands of the regressive aspects of Zanu-PF and if the worse happens and you get another NO vote, I think that can only hurt the democratic movement in this current context.

GONDA: Alex, what are your thoughts on the constitutional reform issue and are civil society’s claims valid that they want a people-driven process?

MAGAISA: I think you have to acknowledge that the MDC and civil society have been in the trenches together trying to achieve basically in effect the same goals, good governance which is predicated on a democratically created constitution and so forth. What I think the MDC need to be more aware of, is that when you get into power, you begin to see things in a different way, you begin to approach things in a different way. I think that it is important that they remain true to their ways and understand the views of their former colleagues in civil society.

We may use all sorts of arguments and say they were not elected and so forth but they were in the trenches together, they were partners and I don’t think that should change at any point in relation to the constitution-making process. So if I were part of the MDC in terms of the cabinet and so forth, the decision makers, my view would be let’s do things differently, let’s open up to hear what Lovemore Madhuku and other people are saying and sometimes you’ve got to swallow your pride and humble yourself and accept that there are some things that you may have done wrong. You don’t lose points for it; in fact you gain points for it. That would be my view.

But also in relation to parliament, I think this is one body which has been underused over the past 100 years. What we know is what it only did really was to endorse the Constitutional Amendment No 19 and the National Security legislation. Beyond that we haven’t seen anything tangible that has come out of parliament in terms of changing some of the elements of the legal architecture in Zimbabwe. We know for example the media laws, the security laws and many other things that we continue to point out in our analyses that need to be changed and I think that parliament should be busy on those things to try and show exactly what they are doing.

GONDA: On the issue of the constitution, how is the current process by the government not people-driven?

MAGAISA: Well you have to appreciate Violet that this is a committee which is constituted by three political parties, Zanu-PF and the two MDCs but there’s more to Zimbabwe than those three political parties and it’s not just about politics. Constitution-making yes it’s an issue of power, it’s an issue of politics, but you also have to include various other people who may not be represented in parliament and so for that reason it’s quite short term.

But you also have to understand that the balancing act between the MDCs and Zanu-PF has always been about trying to secure the best compromise between them and so there’s a real danger that whatever comes up in the end would be something to try and accommodate those three political entities and individuals within them compared to a more broad based and national constitution. And I have to say this Violet, that in many cases these guys may actually do the right thing, this committee may come up with the most beautiful constitution but as we say with justice sometimes you must not only be producing the right thing, but you must be seen to be doing the right thing in that process. I think the process is definitely important in coming up with that product.

GONDA: Professor Raftopoulos talked a bit about the deadline that the MDC issued this week, now the MDC has a history of setting deadlines and not actually following through on them, should they be more cautious when they make demands?

MAGAISA: Well it’s difficult to say so because I think when they set those deadlines sometimes you want to be sitting in those shoes of those people; they probably know something, that’s why they do what they do and sometimes it’s very difficult for us when we are looking at it without getting the information about the inside – because what you see, if I’m not wrong, I think Zanu-PF responded very quickly to the issue after the deadline was issued which I think you might say that the issuing of the deadline elicited a response from Zanu-PF and perhaps shows Zanu-PF that the MDC is serious about it.

Of course I agree the history has not been good. You set a deadline and you don’t follow it up, the danger is that you’re not taken seriously in future. But one would hope that if they do set those deadlines they actually indicate what they will want to do in the event that the deadline is not met.

So for example in this case, does it mean that the MDC will pull out? I don’t think so. I think Mr Biti said they would not but would they take it to SADC? Maybe that’s the resolution that will come out of the national council. And the question is therefore whether SADC will have the capacity and will and desire to actually try and resolve this. Of course there’s a new dynamic here with Mr Zuma coming into power in South Africa. Who knows what approach he might take to Zimbabwe in light of his new election. We don’t know.

GONDA: Brian finally looking at the entire 100 days, how would you score Mr Tsvangirai’s performance on a score sheet of 1 to 10?

RAFTOPOULOS: (laughs) I’m not big on scores Violet! Let me just say this, going into the agreement was a necessary step. I think there’s been a change of the political terrain in Zimbabwe for the better, not withstanding all the challenges. I think both the MDC and Mr Tsvangirai are having to learn very quickly how to deal with State power and in that learning they’re also making mistakes but I think there’s also new opportunities and those opportunities have to be used and particularly creating good strategic alliances when confronted with Zanu-PF in this period is absolutely necessary.

GONDA: But for the purpose of this discussion, I would need to get some kind of… (both laugh) because I’m also going to ask you about Robert Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara, so just briefly, on a scale of 1 to 10, where would you put him?

RAFTOPOULOS: OK I’ll put him on 5.

GONDA: And Mugabe? Robert Mugabe?

RAFTOPOULOS: Mugabe? Mugabe – I’ll put him on 2. He’s still got a long way to go.

GONDA: And Arthur Mutambara?

RAFTOPOULOS: Yah also about between 4 and 5.

GONDA: OK. And Alex?

MAGAISA: Yah I think it’s very difficult to score them as individuals in the sense that none of them is completely in power so you’ve got to measure them in accordance with the fact that they don’t have power to do everything that they would do. For example, measuring Obama because Obama is in power in the US, he can put a measure. But what I would do, for Mr Tsvangirai I think as an individual, his genuine desire, will and commitment to get things running in Zimbabwe, I would give him the same score as Brian I think it’s about 5 – because he still doesn’t have sufficient power to do the things that he wants to do but he has shown that he is willing so 5 to 6 for me on that one.

And for Mr Mugabe, I think it would simply be a nominal 2 again out of respect more than anything else that he is there because clearly nothing seems to have changed except at long last he did accept that he could not continue on his own without Mr Tsvangirai and Mr Mutambara.

As for Mr Mutambara I think again, he seems to have come in to government I think you need to reduce some of the rhetoric, anti-west – for example the Obama comments were not helpful. But I think by and large I’ve seen some of the things that he has done with the farms where Tsvangirai appointed him to go on a fact-finding mission and some of the interviews have been very fascinating and very thorough from what I have seen, although of course you can see that the MDC doesn’t have power because they can’t do anything about those people. I would give him same marks, 5 to 6 as well.

GONDA: Dr Alex Magaisa and Professor Brian Raftopoulos thank you very much for participating on the programme Hot Seat.

MAGAISA: It’s a pleasure Violet.

RAFTOPOULOS: Thank you very much.

Fri, May 8 2009 » Interviews

Leave a Reply