AN opinion poll indicating a sharp decline in support for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change formation has sparked a heated debate between the party and Zanu PF, which the survey says has gained support.
The report by Harare think-tank, the Mass Public Opinion Institute, titled Change and New Politics in Zimbabwe, shows that support for the MDC-T dropped from 38 percent in 2010 to 20 percent this year while Zanu PF’s base grew from 17 percent to 31 percent over the same period. According to the report, 47 percent of the respondents said they would not vote in the next elections or refused to indicate who they would vote for.
Voice of America’s Violet Gonda spoke to a Zanu PF Central Committee member and former Ambassador to China Chris Mutsvangwa and MDC-T spokesman Douglas Mwonzora for their perspectives on the survey findings. Gonda started by asking Ambassador Mutsvangwa for his reaction.
Mutsvangwa: Freedom House is an organization, which I have worked with for many years. I actually used to be a neighbor of them in New York. Whilst I may not agree with many of their views but they have strived to be a scientific and objective organisation with a wealth of experience.
Historically of course it used to put positions which were supportive of the MDC and the MDC used to embrace them as an objective organization. Now that the news is no longer what the MDC is expecting of them it is beginning to show their sliding popularity with the people of Zimbabwe - now they are beginning to denounce it.
It’s really a question of a boomerang effect on the MDC, which has proved to be incompetent, corrupt and generally directionless in the government of Zimbabwe. It’s a party, which has thrived on bad news. The feel bad factor is beginning to affect the MDC because it is not a party of hope it’s a party of desperation.
Gonda: Mr. Mwonzora can you come in?
Mwonzora: At no point did the MDC attack the credibility of the Freedom House. The MDC acknowledges that Freedom House is a professional body. What the MDC … (interrupted).
Mutsvangwa: … thank you. On that good note you must acknowledge the professional results Mr. Mwonzora.
Gonda: So let him finish please.
Mwonzora: Let Cde Mutsvangwa not disturb me please. What I was saying is that we have never questioned the integrity and the competence of the Freedom House. What we are saying is that the data that was gathered by Freedom House, as currently presented, does not show us whether this party is popular or not popular. This is because according to the report itself there has been massive intimidation and massive violence directed against the people of Zimbabwe.
According to the same report, of the people who were interviewed, almost half of them refused to disclose their political affiliation. Those people who refused did that for a reason and the reason is that they have been intimidated by Zanu PF. So you cannot celebrate where you are relying on the information of only half of the people that were interviewed. The report… (interrupted)
Mutsvangwa: …but with due respect Mr. Mwonzora, this study is not by Zanu PF! With due respect …
Mwonzora: Can I finish?
Gonda: Let him finish this last point and I will come to you Mr. Mutsvangwa ...
Mutsvangwa: No, because he has been speaking for a long time.
Mwonzora: I have the floor and I want to finish.
Mutsvangwa: No but you can’t be on the floor forever. You should give others a chance!
Gonda: Can you finish please Mr. Mwonzora …
Mwonzora: The second issue is that besides the number of people who did not choose their political affiliation is the fact that the people who were questioned - the report does not distinguish between rural areas and commercial farming areas… (interrupted).
Mutsvangwa: How many more seconds?
Mwonzora: … We all know that commercial farming areas are areas only Zanu PF people were resettled. So we refuse (to accept) the results coming out.
Gonda: Let me go to Mr. Mutsvangwa …
Mutsvangwa: No, No, No…
Gonda: Mr Mutsvangwa please let’s not do that handiti?
Mwonzora: Yes, we don’t want lawlessness on the radio please. Our people deserve better. Maku invade radio futi?
Gonda: Can I ask a question please gentlemen? Can we just calm down please?
Mutsvangwa: The lawlessness person you can hear him.
Gonda: So Mr. Mutsvangwa the MDC is saying the survey is unreliable and that a lot of people refused to disclose their political preferences for fear of intimidation. What can you say about this?
Mutsvangwa: No I have nothing to say about that. I believe in the integrity of Freedom House. They cannot put views, which are contrary to their professionalism and basically that is what Mwonzora is trying to do. You cannot believe in Jesus and then you don’t want his gospel. So this splitting of hairs by Mr. Mwonzora is a lot of nonsense.
The real truth is that the people Zimbabwe are rapidly deserting a party, which has built its political career on Afro-pessimism - that Africans are incompetent, Africans can’t do anything, Africans need the West, Africans need God. That thing has been rejected because the people of Zimbabwe have taken a path of hope.
The Pan-Africanist ideology of Zanu PF where there say we have diamonds in Chiadzwa which we can use to pay our civil servants; the MDC says no we can rely on loans from the IMF. Now things have rebounded on them. There is electoral disaster facing this party.
Gonda: Mr. Mwonzora can you respond to this and also to criticism from other people who say that the MDC has lost touch with grassroots constituencies?
Mwonzora: People like Mutsvangwa must really be worried that there are people who refused to disclose their political affiliation. 47 percent refused to disclose their political affiliation. Why did they do that? Because of intimidation!
Those people who refused to speak because of intimidation are not your supporters. The other thing is that those people who were doing research needed first to get clearance from the president’s office in the districts. Some of them were arrested during the research, some of them were asked to submit their questionnaires …(interrupted)
Mutsvangwa: …arghh this is an attack on Freedom House! This is not… (interrupted)
Mwonzora: … the MDC is saying if Zanu PF … (interrupted)
Mutsvangwa: … I am sorry I have to defend the integrity and professionalism of Freedom House …
Mwonzora: ... If Zanu PF thinks that it is popular let’s call for free and fair elections so that the people of Zimbabwe can decide. If Zanu PF is so popular it must agree that the constitution be sent to the referendum. Right now they are disturbing the constitution. They don’t want to be subjected to the referendum because they know how the people of Zimbabwe will vote.
The people of Zimbabwe know that after the MDC entered the government their lives changed. The meaningless money that they used to have is no longer there. The people of Zimbabwe now know what is called ‘dollar for two’. It came as a result of the entry of the MDC into this government.
Gonda: Mr. Mutsvangwa what can you say though about this challenge from the MDC? They say if you are really more popular let the parties go to a referendum with this new constitution and see what the people decide?
Mutsvangwa: No! This is coming from a spineless and dishonest person who has represented very negative tendencies during the whole process of constitution making. Ask that gentleman why did they not publish the national report about their outreach program?
They went all over the country and wasted millions - but the national report, when it came out, it was contrary to the views which they thought Zimbabweans held about their party. He has refused that man. He takes a democratic initiative, takes it to the people and refuses to give people the result of that democratic initiative.
Then a coterie of them, educated by ex-Rhodesians from the (University of Zimbabwe) law faculty Mwonzora, (Eric) Matinenga (MDC), (Paul) Mangwana (Zanu PF) and a whole bunch of them write a constitution out of their own head which has nothing to do with what the people said during the outreach program and that is what they want to foist on the people of Zimbabwe. No! The constitution making process is still on, the principal parties are involved.
He is only an agent of the principals – that young man called Mwonzora – but he is now speaking like a political warlord. That is political overreaching of the worst type from a man who is very preposterous in his posturing about the constitution. Let’s not divert issues, let’s concentrate on the report of the Freedom House, an international organization which has given an objective study and for him to criticize it is being disingenuous.
GONDA: If we are to concentrate on this report what about the fear factor that has been raised in this report? The survey says many people continue to be fearful that the new elections could result in heightened levels of political violence. So this is a serious problem, so what can you say about this?
Mutsvangwa: The GNU has been good. Zimbabweans have been coming together. That Mwonzora has even been working with my wife - who is the vice co-chairperson. The Parliament people have been working together. The tension in Zimbabwe is much, much reduced. Zimbabweans are beginning to find each other so let’s continue on that constructive path.
GONDA: Yes, but you as political leaders might be doing this but it would appear that this is not the case on the ground with ordinary Zimbabweans.
Mutsvangwa: To the contrary, the political atmosphere has always been improving. There is a new sense of camaraderie among the people of Zimbabwe - even relations with traditional western powers are increasing. This is a new mood in Zimbabwe and this is the mood which is washing away the MDC to the dustbin of political history in Zimbabwe.
GONDA: Mr. Mwonzora do you agree that there is a path of optimism in the country?
Mwonzora: The report itself, which vaMutsvangwa surprisingly is marveling at, clearly tells that 47 percent of the people were afraid to disclose their political affiliation. It also says that the people of Zimbabwe are living under fear.
What we are saying as the MDC is very simple - let the people of Zimbabwe decide especially on the issue of the constitution. If we did not write what the people of Zimbabwe want it’s not for Zanu PF to speak for them.
Mutsvangwa: … So you are coming from God? Mwonzora you are coming from God, you are not coming from a political party? You are coming from God to write a constitution?
Mwonzora: … Soldiers were intimidating people who were conducting the survey. CIOs were intimidating people conducting the research. So if Zanu PF thinks it is popular let’s agree to a free and fair election in terms of the new constitution and we see what happens.
GONDA: Mr. Mwonzora how do you respond to people who say stop being defensive and instead look at the reasons why this report is saying your support is declining and work on that?
Mwonzora: We have not condemned the survey what we have simply said is that we must put sufficient weight to the fact that the people of Zimbabwe are afraid to disclose their political affiliations. That is … (interrupted)
Gonda: So if people …
Mwonzora: That is fundamental…
Gonda: Mr. Mwonzora so if you know as a party that this is the situation, that the people are afraid, this could be the situation at elections, so what is your party’s plan B?
Mwonzora: Well, firstly the fact that 47 percent of the people refused to talk should make the international community, especially SADC, very worried about the situation in Zimbabwe. But more importantly this is not a call for Zanu PF to start gloating and saying that it has got support. People who are quiet are not necessarily supporting you.
Regarding the strategies that the MDC is going to employ, you will see, come free and fair elections. MDC is simply saying its decision time for the people of Zimbabwe to decide their future in a free and fair election.
It is not true that the people of Zimbabwe favor the ZBC at the expense of radio stations like Studio 7. Almost every person in the rural areas is listening to this radio and Zanu PF spokespersons make use of Studio 7. Now all of a sudden how can ZBC be the most popular than Studio 7? How can (Attorney General) Johannes Tomana now be called a very popular and trustworthy person in Zimbabwe? That is obviously false and Zanu PF must be worried about that.
Gonda: Mr. Mutsvangwa 47 percent is a huge figure. Does this not concern you as Zanu PF?
Mutsvangwa: We are reading the report and the question of people being afraid you know that is what Freedom House (is saying) but it still has not impinged on the integrity of their findings that is why they were able to publish the report…. (interrupted)
Gonda: But I am asking you as Zanu PF. What is your party’s response to this?
Mutsvangwa: We are a scientific party. We have always done things in a scientific manner. We are very people-oriented, that is why we managed to rescue the vote away from the Rhodesians so that Mwonzora can become an MP, so that Morgan Tsvangirai can form a party called MDC…
Gonda: … Mr. Mutsvangwa I asked you a question about the 47 percent. Can you respond?
Mutsvangwa: ... Whatever positives, which are in the report, we will study them and we will use them to address the issues which are in Zimbabwe. We are never an ostrich-in-the-sand, party. We are objective. So we take note of whatever needs to be approved upon which Freedom House has said.
Gonda: How does Zanu PF hope to regain the confidence of those who are doubters or are afraid – especially the 47 percent?
Mutsvangwa: We will make sure that we will go out to the people to make them feel good about them being Zimbabwean. They are free to express themselves. We will go to look for this vote; we fought hard and died for it. They should not feel intimidated about anything.
Even in our own party-elections we are saying that there is no central imposition of leadership from the core. A political party is always evolving, what we don’t do is to reject things, which are scientific, things which are objective.
Mwonzora: The Freedom House report is confirmation of the terrorism of Zanu PF, the terrorism they have subjected the people of Zimbabwe to and we need to save the people of Zimbabwe from the Zanu PF terrorism.
For feedback e-mail Violet: email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @violetgonda