Interview: Brian Kagoro and Wilfred Mhanda
Political commentator Brian Kagoro (BK) and war veteran Wilfred Mhanda (WM) were guests on SW Radio Africa's Hot Seat programme. Violet Gonda asked the questions:
Broadcast December 5, 2008
Violet Gonda: My guests on the programme Hot Seat today are liberation war veteran Wilf Mhanda and political analyst Brian Kagoro.
Let me start with Wilf: there’s this avalanche of crises facing Zimbabweans, what do you say are the main issues that need to be resolved first in the country right now?
Wilf Mhanda: Yes I think it will be very difficult to pinpoint and select issues that people can pinpoint - I think there is one central issue right now; it is a state of complete collapse of government that is the issue that has to be resolved. It is the mother of all these crises that are actually a syndrome of decay and collapse. Mugabe regime has failed and has to go. Full stop that’s what I would have to say.
Brian Kagoro: Well Wilf has captured the collapse of the administrative structure of government. There’s also the collapse of the moral fibre of government. Any sense of shame, any sense of responsibility and any sense of inadequacy that ordinary human beings would express when they are faced with things that are beyond their capacity. But there is a third factor; there is now a total collapse of consent and consensus. Consent of the governed to be governed by the present administration.
You see in amongst arms of state like soldiers who would ordinarily are expected to be compliant even when administrations fail, you are seeing that within the Zimbabwean state, that even the soldiers don’t seem to be consenting to that level.
Then you have the collapse of consensus. Within a government, even an authoritarian one, it functions on the basis of its ability to marshal consensus to exert terror and force against its opponents. And what we are seeing or have seen over the last few weeks is a collapse within that monolithic structure, or that structure that was seen to be monolithic, that there are many crevasses and cleavages that have emerged within the military, and the police and elsewhere. The lower ranks who have not benefited from the patronage and corruption and rank seeking and the senior ranks who are the major beneficiaries of corruption. You have at this juncture now even in the unit that you call the military.
VG: Wilf, what are your thoughts on the unrest in the military? This is unprecedented in Zimbabwe. Do you think Mugabe’s power base is under threat as the soldiers protest?
WM: It is evidently under threat as the soldiers who are least expected to show disloyalty to the State to the regime actually manifested a deep resentment of the established order. This is a complete collapse of trust by the military in Robert Mugabe and in the senior commanders. So actually it is symptomatic of the extent of the collapse and decay. It is not surprising. It is just like what we have seen maybe with the collapse of the health system, cholera and so forth, they are all manifestations of all this. But now with Mugabe’s trusted foot soldiers showing signs of readiness to challenge his authority and to challenge established order, I think I can safely say that actually because Mugabe’s authority over the military, particularly over the rank and file soldiers has actually been severely undermined.
VG: But Wilf there are many theories about this issue with the soldiers, with others saying it was merely a diversion and that it is overly simplistic to say that Mugabe’s security ministry is shaky when it was only a few soldiers who participated in the riots.
Talking to people who actually witnessed these events and who actually
spoke to the soldiers, who heard what the soldiers said, there was no
doubt that what they were articulating exactly the same grievance as
everybody else. Actually it would be a disservice for Robert Mugabe
to engineer such a thing that actually undermines his authority that
also depicts the military as being disloyal to him. I think it would
VG: Now Brian, I would like to get your thoughts on recent statements that have been made by world leaders; we have Raila Odinga in Kenya saying that Mugabe must be removed by force, Condoleezza Rice has also issued a statement saying that Mugabe must go and so have people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Botswana’s foreign minister has also said this. What are your thoughts on that when world leaders are beginning to voice their concerns like this?
BK: It’s not new. I think it has been a popularly held view that has not been expressed in public because there have been many who have thought that the failures and excesses of the regime could be sanitised, could be made more acceptable, then you could structure a decent exit and that decent exit would also present a good legacy of sorts for Mugabe. So what you are hearing are expressions in the public sphere of views that were held in the private sphere.
Zimbabweans have always, Zimbabweans who have campaigned for change in Zimbabwe had only one slogan, and that of course as you may recall was not started by the opposition. In the introduction of the debate on the constitution in the Zimbabwean parliament in 1997, it was Dzikamayi Mavhaire who said; ‘One thing is evident, the President must go.’ And that is a slogan the opposition adopted, that Zimbabweans have kept, that the President must go and the world leaders are just now coming to agreement with the majority of Zimbabweans.
VG: But you know Odinga and Morgan Tsvangirai are strong allies so what do you make of his remarks in particular given that Morgan Tsvangirai has said that he is committed to the power sharing process with Robert Mugabe?
BK: I think alliance does not mean you necessarily agree on strategy and tactic 100%. Alliance simply means you share values and what are those values? Those values are that leaders must only sit in power if they have been democratically, transparently and accountably chosen by the people.
What are the tactical differences? A person in Zimbabwe or a Zimbabwean might feel constraints to advocate for a forceful removal of a head of state because that would be tantamount to treason.
Mind you, Raila Odinga’s views on what ought to happen in Zimbabwe predate his engagement with Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC. So the two views are not related. And also calling for the forceful removal of Mugabe is something that an external actor may have the luxury to do, somebody working within Zimbabwe like Morgan Tsvangirai might be viewed as acting irresponsibly if he did that. Even if he held that view it is not a view to be expressed publicly given the dire situation the country is in. Any suggestion to plunge it into further conflict might be frowned upon even by his friends in the African Union.
VG: Wilf what do you make of the suggestion calling for the forceful removal of Robert Mugabe and also do you think Odinga is speaking on behalf of Morgan Tsvangirai who can’t really say the deal with Mugabe is dead?
WM: I would like to say as Brian is saying, Odinga is a very outspoken person; he speaks his mind, I don’t think he is speaking on behalf Tsvangirai; he is just speaking his mind, what he believes in. And I think he is right to say time to focus on, power sharing I think is gone, it is long gone. Given the events on the ground, the extent of the collapse, I think it is a diversion to focus on power sharing which might take us another six months still arguing on this and that.
What we need is something that addresses the crisis on the ground. What it means is that we need a popular transitional authority right now to stop the suffering of the people in terms of the cholera, break down of health services, and also the looting. What is happening right now is that Robert Mugabe and his cronies are actually commercialising the peoples’ miserable plight.
I cannot believe that Zimbabwe can fail to have enough money to buy chemicals to treat water in Harare when Gideon Gono has actually been lavishly dishing out largesse left right and centre. So there is enough money. What is happening to our diamonds? What is happening to our platinum? What is happening to our gold? We cannot say we don’t have money. How can we appeal for more than five hundred million dollars to rescue us when we actually have more than that ourselves!?
So actually what we need is to put a stop to this misgovernance, to this looting, to this crisis by making sure a proper accountable transitional government is in place. Concentrating on power sharing is a diversion, people are suffering, people are dying, and we need to get these people out. Mugabe’s grip on power has to be lifted and they have to go!
VG: But you know many people have talked about this transitional arrangement, how effective is a transitional government or transitional authority in Zimbabwe today and would the political parties even agree to that?
WM: There is a major humanitarian catastrophe in Zimbabwe and we also know about the ‘responsibility to protect’ which the Zimbabwean government has totally failed to do. What we now need is for this matter to be taken to the Security Council. Once a Security Council Resolution is in place, then they would have to enforce it, they will have the need to enforce it. What we need is a Security Council resolution saying that the situation in Zimbabwe is out of hand. That’s all we need. And then after that the mechanics will be sorted out and the resolution will then stipulate what needs to be done.
VG: Brian what do you make of this call for a transitional government and who would head it and also doesn’t it depend on the major political parties actually agreeing? Do you see this happening?
BK: There’s the tactical question of the intransigence of the political actors and their fear of loss of control. But I think what Wilf has put on the table - if you recall my views a couple of months ago the call for a transitional authority where parties seem to be in substantial control of both the political terrain there was form of de facto control seemed an improbable suggestion.
The dramatic alteration of the situation, with the humanitarian crisis worsening, and the State for once conceding that it neither has the capacity nor resources to resolve this issue - an acceptance that Zimbabwean health and other crises are becoming regionalised in the sense that Zimbabweans are now going to Malawi, to Mozambique, to South Africa for treatment whether legally or illegally and that the cholera outbreak or epidemic is now spreading to the region - suggests that perhaps what you now need is a system, an authority with a capacity to arrest the decay and the humanitarian crisis.
There will be resistance but that resistance I think is much weaker than it was eight weeks ago or even six months ago. Partly because there is no military solution to cholera, there’s no military solution to hunger, you need effective policy and you need international a reengagement.
The sort of support we have seen from the international community is but band-aid to a haemorrhaging economy, a haemorrhaging society, and that band-aid will not resolve the problem. I think that Wilfred has characterised the problem in its appropriate proportions. It is a humanitarian tsunami and I don’t think we have the luxury to play politics with lives.
VG: Now Wilf has said that the Security Council needs to intervene in this matter urgently but who would enforce that? How do you get the issue to the Security Council and also what about Morgan Tsvangirai’s role in all this? He has travelled to Europe to ask for humanitarian help but as far as we have seen it appears he has not asked the United Nations for help. Shouldn’t that have been his priority since the UN is the mother of all donor agencies?
BK: No, the Security Council, getting a matter onto the Security Council agenda is a long tedious complicated process. The triggers and also the sort of reluctance by China and others to have the matter discussed, even if it has been placed on the agenda, it is a remote possibility. So I think that if one were thinking from the MDC strategy unit, they most probably felt that it is a moment to appear not just magnanimous but state-like and part of that appearing state-like is saying that although there are human beings that are suffering, there is help required, they will appeal to their friends far and wide for that help to be given to the people of Zimbabwe. This is in the hope that the people of Zimbabwe do themselves appreciate that Stately behaviour.
But as Wilf has said this does not resolve the problem. You are tinkering on the edges. You are fiddling while the nation burns. You need a much more permanent solution and I think his call that you need - the AU has not intervened, SADC still thinks the situation can be saved by playing hardball with the opposition, insisting to the two sides that they must co-share, co-chair the ministry of Home Affairs and such, I think, such ill-advised political arrangements.
In the absence of any meaningful intervention from SADC and also taking into account that many of us are reluctant to hand over the fate of our country to the Europeans and the Americans we’d rather entrust the country to a multi-lateral system, the UN seems to be the last place of resort.
So it does not mean that we are not mindful of the complications. We are mindful also that it is difficult to get anything from the UN Charter. It takes a long time but worth attempting as a pressure point. The South Africans are likely to respond in the Security Council that they have the situation under control, that there is an African solution that is being structured.
VG: South Africa has already said that it wants to talk to the international aid agencies and formulate an international response. Now is this Mugabe’s attempt to reach out to the international community through South Africa?
BK: It’s reducing a structural practical governance crisis into a humanitarian crisis. We are in a humanitarian crisis because of the collapse of the governance crisis. I don’t know what Wilf thinks?
WM: What I would say is that what South Africa is doing by appealing for this humanitarian aid - how will it be managed, how will it be channelled when Mugabe is still in control? That is where the problem is. Everything will have to be channelled through them and you know how they operate. We all know we have seen it before so it is a non-starter.
What I’m saying is I don’t think the South Africans cannot afford to be indifferent to what is happening here after they’ve seen the cholera incidents. And much more will happen, they’ve seen what the soldiers have done, much more is going to happen. I don’t think even the Russians and the Chinese will simply say we will stop this when the rest of Africa is actually crying. Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa will be directly affected.
At the end of the day the African Union has also got a voice. We should not limit ourselves to South Africa and SADC. The African Union must pick up this matter as well, it is a major, major security in practical terms and also in health terms it is a security risk to the region. What we need is to address the issue of who controls the State machinery in Zimbabwe. That is the key issue. Everything else, people are still dying in their hundreds from cholera because Mugabe is there and he is taking his time.
Right now he is appealing for hundreds of millions of dollars. How do we know how it is going to be disbursed? The aid will not get to the people who need it. That’s what I’m saying. We need to address this, because this is the core of the problem.
VG: But on the other hand, critics say there is a general failure of leadership and actually blame all three political leaders saying that they are holding Zimbabwe hostage. Should Morgan Tsvangirai just enter into this government of National Unity to prevent a national tragedy?
BK: In order to end cholera? As though Morgan Tsvangirai’s entering into the government ends cholera and the conditions and misgovernance and mismanagement that has resulted in this catastrophe.
Listen, the South Africans and anyone for that matter can formulate any view they please about what is good for Zimbabwe, those of us who are Zimbabwean know that that deal is a poisoned chalice, that Morgan Tsvangirai might as well go and drink a bucket full load of cholera-infested water than enter that arrangement. It is neither in the interests of Zimbabwe, it is to save the egos of those regional powers that have fiddled whilst they are being told by Zimbabweans that all was not well. They denied there was a crisis in Zimbabwe and this is a face-saving gesture from them. They cannot bring themselves to accept that they were wrong in their judgement of the Zimbabwean situation and in its characterisation. That they must eat humble pie and accept that they have been as responsible as Robert Mugabe in allowing the country to degenerate to the level that it has.
If Morgan Tsvangirai has any good sense left in him he should stay away from that. There is one difference, he can show his responsibility as a leader by assuring that there’s aid or help that is targeted to the victims of the humanitarian crisis. That doesn’t necessarily mean he must enter a governmental arrangement that will not transform how governance and politics is done in our country.
VG: How would you answer people who say that we know of Mugabe’s failures but what about the MDC? Now from what you have seen, what is their resolution beyond rhetoric to stop the spread of cholera and starvation for example?
BK: They are not in government. We cannot place on people who are not in government the obligations that are expected by people of its elected government. That is irresponsible talk. We don’t sit around when there is crime in South Africa and say what has the DA done to end crime? We look at the governments in power. It is neither intelligent nor a sign of honesty for anybody to say an opposition political party can end only that which an elected government which has full charge of the arms of state is obligated to deal with.
VG: Wilf, what are your thoughts on that? Because people are saying Zimbabweans are suffering and that the time for campaigning has gone and that it’s time for governance. Do you see the political leaders having what it takes to govern - all political leaders involved in this power sharing agreement?
WM: Like Brian has been saying, I think the responsibility lies with those who hold the reins of power. These are totally untested and how can they show what they are capable of when they are not even anywhere near the levers of power. What I would expect of Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC is actually to lead the people in demanding that these issues be addressed because they don’t hold the key to the solution. What he can do is to mobilise the people to demand that services be restored.
That we get a transitional government - that is what we need. He should just move out of that power sharing agreement which I think is a diversion. People are dying and suffering. We have no time to think about that. What we want to talk about are the practicalities of addressing this crisis, outside the framework of that defunct arrangement, that power sharing arrangement! What we need now is leadership to mobilise the people to demand a transitional authority to address these issues.
This has been doing genocide all along for the past 28 years. This is real when you consider the rate which people have been dying in the last 10 to 15 years from AIDS, of all preventable diseases, hospitals have been closed, people can’t access their funds to buy medicine - this is all genocide. There is no actual reason why Gono should restrict people to paltry amounts of money that cannot afford them food that would make them survive, that would make them afford the medication that would make them survive - so this is genocide left right and centre.
VG: Brian the regime argues that the sanctions have caused this crisis. Is the ruling elite merely denying any responsibility here or there is an element of truth?
BK: What the sanctions have also caused them to steal money from the diamonds and platinum so they have absolutely no cents to invest in chemicals that they can even buy from Zambia? It’s absolutely ridiculous! They are totally irresponsible; they are totally callous and reckless!
I think that they need, even when there were sanctions, we lived under sanctions before, under the illegal regime of Ian Smith, the racist regime; how many times did our people die of cholera when there were sanctions? How many times were our people reduced into the laughing stock of this region? How many times were Zimbabweans reduced into famine, into not just the laughing stock, into the lowest of the wretched of the earth? How many times? We have lived under sanctions before; it is an alibi by an irresponsible, reckless regime! Of people who have looted and shamelessly continue to loot! Even in Somalia, they are not dying of cholera. There is a war in Somalia. Liberia which was at war for a long time, they did not get reduced to this state.
VG: In a final word briefly both of you, let me start with Brian and I’ll end with Wilf, what do you want to see happen, realistically what should happen?
BK: I think there is a need for an urgent system of intervention by the African Union and SADC and not tinkering on the edges, not massaging Robert Mugabe’s ego and intervention must be total. It must have a political dimension and Wilf has talked about a transitional arrangement - I’ve previously insisted that the only way the country will return to normalcy is to buy time where we normalise going into an election and select leadership. I abide by that view, that we will not negotiate our way out of the present moral and political bankruptcy that we witness, number one.
Number two, there is need for a comprehensive turnaround strategy that is fashioned by all Zimbabwean actors, Zimbabweans of different political shades of opinion and you need a peoples, if you like, a stakeholders, not just forum but platform constituted into different commissions to handle various aspects of the crisis. It will not be the business of a few wise men, you need an entire marshalling of resources and the international community should lend support to that effort of reconstruction without imposing policy conditions that will be harmful to our ability to turn around.
And we must stop the resource outflow. Wilf has alluded to platinum, gold, diamonds and other resources that are being pillaged in this moment whilst the country is pleading for international help. I think there needs to be something done immediately to stop the plunder of the very precious resources of the country.
VG: And Wilf?
WM: What I would say finally Violet the people are suffering and people might say they have no access to food, no access to healthcare, no access to their cash but most importantly they no longer have any access to their life, they have no access to life. It is as bad as that, people no longer have access to life. And we must address this issue by mobilising all democratic forces in Zimbabwe. Civil society together with the political parties to demand, to apply sufficient pressure, not only to Robert Mugabe - Robert Mugabe is not that powerful, he is very vulnerable. He had his one-man election on the 27th of June and he had himself sworn in and everybody said ‘to hell with that’ and he didn’t argue with that. He didn’t challenge.
What we need is a principled stand by everybody - SADC, African Union and us Zimbabweans taking the lead. That way we mobilise Africa, we take the issue to the United Nations because this is too serious, it’s about the lives of people. We have no time, no luxury to tinker around this power sharing agreement, this minute when people are dying. We are long gone past that.
VG: Wilf Mhanda and Brian Kagoro, thank you very much.
WM: Thank you.
BK: You are welcome Violet.
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