Interview: Mavambo-Kusile leader Simba Makoni

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Mavambo-Kusile leader Simba Makoni was a guest on SW Radio Africa’s Hot Seat programme. The former finance minister talks to reporter Violet Gonda about the economy, criticism of his party and possibilities of forging a coalition with other parties ahead of general elections:
Broadcast: April 25, 2013
VIOLET GONDA: My guest on the Hot Seat programme is Mavambo.Kusile.Dawn leader Dr. Simba Makoni. Welcome on the programme Dr. Makoni.
SIMBA MAKONI: Thank you very much indeed, good day to you.
GONDA: There are certain sections in the Zimbabwean society who feel you should be charged with treason for saying that President Mugabe and his party are responsible for the brutalities being suffered by Zimbabweans now than what was experienced by Rhodesians under the Ian Smith regime. Did you say this and if so, what makes you say this when many Zimbabweans are saying that life is a lot better now?
MAKONI: What I said was the Rhodesians did not set upon their own in the manner that we are doing. That was the comparison I made. Then I made another comparison which said in Rhodesia we lived in fear, in Zimbabwe we still live in fear. I even said President Mugabe himself lives in fear of losing his position. The dominant force afflicting people in Rhodesia was fear and in Zimbabwe it’s still fear. But coming to your direct question, I don’t believe there are sections of Zimbabwean society who believe I should be charged for treason. There was one person – I feel pity for her because obviously she doesn’t know what makes treason. As a learned person who is teaching at a high institution of learning, probably she needs to take time to educate herself on what exactly makes treason. Having a different view and even having an opposing opinion, nowhere in the law makes treason.
GONDA: Right and just going back to one of your points where you said that in Rhodesia there were no Rhodesians who set upon their own. Others would argue that there were some white Rhodesians who were victimized because they supported the nationalists.
MAKONI: Well I think we want to establish the facts. I did not dispute – I was at one with some of those white Rhodesians but there were white Rhodesians who formed opposition parties to Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front; they were not arrested, they did not suffer violence, they were not long sleeved, short sleeved – it’s the degree of victimization if you want to call it that. But yes certainly whites who were with the nationalist movement, some of them were sent out of the country, others were put in prison but the degrees are different from what we are talking about. If you look at some of the brutalities that we have meted on our own, there is no comparison.Advertisement

GONDA: In the state media, your critics say your comments are of a “frustrated man who will do anything to revive his fading political career.” What is your reaction to this?
MAKONI: In politics I accept that people take different views on issues. I wish there had been evidence of why they think I am frustrated. That I’m trying to build my political brand is correct, that’s what this game is all about. I believe Mugabe is also trying to build his political brand so that shouldn’t be an issue should it?
GONDA: So in your eyes, what is the correct situation in Zimbabwe as there are different views depending on who is talking? For example civil society organizations say there are rights abuses and that there’s no conducive climate for free and fair elections and if it’s Zanu PF – there are no problems in Zimbabwe.
MAKONI: Violet I think it’s very important that you make that distinction. The only person who won’t tell you that anything is wrong in the country is Zanu PF and when they concede that something is wrong they say it is because of others, they blame other people not themselves. Everybody else – political parties, civil society, business leaders, faith leaders, everyone else who are not Zanu PF acknowledges that there is a lot that’s wrong in the country, that we have responsibility for correcting it and that’s the point I was making.
Simply Zimbabweans must take primary responsibility for the condition in which we find ourselves in. Either by omission or commission we’ve allowed our country to be destroyed. Secondly Zimbabweans live in fear and I repeat this – Robert Mugabe every day lives in fear of losing his position. That’s why he and his party are doing all that they are doing to the citizens. He even had the arrogance to say to the people you must not repeat the mistake you made in 2008. Why is it a mistake to choose someone that you believe in?
So what is the situation? People live in fear, people live in privation -whether it is of food, of medicines, of clean water, the hospitals can no longer dispense medicines, teachers no longer have chalk with which to instruct their children, everything that we would call normal. Jobs have been lost and are still being lost in business. Tendai Biti described Zimbabwe as the world’s biggest supermarket. We trade other people’s produce and we don’t produce anything. People have been turned into petty traders selling airtime, tomatoes, vegetables and trinkets from China. That’s not the signs of a country, an economy and a society that is improving.
GONDA: But do you admit that the situation has changed significantly since the formation of the coalition government?
MAKONI: Well I don’t know what you are measuring to make that statement. We just had a miserable 18% O’level pass rate announced two months ago. People are still in fear. The only thing that Prime Minister Tsvangirai claims has improved is that there is plentiful supply of goods in the shops, imported goods that are not made here. One question that comes to mind is who and how are we financing these imports? So those who are claiming that things have improved are measuring the stability in the economy which was brought about by dollarization – but I would say to you, dollarization was not brought about by the inclusive government, it was not even brought about by Zanu PF. Dollarization was brought by the people of Zimbabwe.
As late as October 2007 nobody was trading in the Zim dollar anymore; high officials in government and lowly people in the market, we were all using foreign currency in our trade. That’s the only factor that has brought some improvement in terms of price stability & low inflation but every other yardstick that you can use will show a decline.
The only other yardstick that shows growth is growth of imports but when Tendai Biti presents his statements he tells you how terrible it is that our budget deficit and our trade deficit especially is ballooning in sympathy with the growth of imports and the decline of exports.
GONDA: I’m sure you have seen reports saying western countries are changing their stance on Zimbabwe because they believe there has been progress. What can you say about that?
MAKONI: Well first I have always known that western countries have wanted to re-engage with Zimbabwe to restore normal relationships so I’m not surprised that they will find the slimmest pretext and the adoption of a new constitution by them represents progress but I can tell you and you can ask any Zimbabwean whether the adoption of a new constitution has changed anything in their everyday life. I don’t think so. But at the same time it is useful that countries try to engage because with engagement comes influence and hopefully positive influence.
GONDA: As a former Finance Minister in the Zanu PF government what is your understanding of how the funding of elections works and what do you make of the dispute with the UNDP?
MAKONI: Well first of all I must say that I personally and many other self-respecting Zimbabweans that I know are very ashamed that our country is having to beg for money to run our national elections. Elections are financed from the national fiscus; the government budgets for the conduct of elections. This government budgeted $30 million for the conduct of a national referendum and a national election where they estimated at least $200 million was needed. Where did they expect to get the rest of it? So it’s shameful, it’s embarrassing, I wouldn’t go about waving a big sovereignty flag when I cannot even finance basic national imperatives like elections.
GONDA: Well Finance Minister Tendai Biti says that Zimbabwe should not be asking for money from outside as we have enough resources and Professor Welshman Ncube also said that diamonds are being stolen in Zimbabwe. What is happening to the diamonds and if you were Finance Minister what would you have done about this situation?
MAKONI: Well I don’t know what is happening in diamonds because nothing is done in a transparent manner but if Finance Minister Tendai Biti says what he says, he should know better; all I know is Biti two months ago said his purse contained only $217. It’s pathetic that a nation can reduce itself to such pauperism. What would I do if I were Finance Minister? Obviously I would marshal all the resources available to the country openly, transparently – that’s what I tried to do when I was Minister of Finance then and I wouldn’t acquiesce to people robbing the nation. I wouldn’t continue to associate with people who are robbing the nation in broad daylight. If I didn’t manage to turn them round then I would disengage. So it is mind boggling, it is puzzling that people who claim to be partners, to be working together can be at such loggerheads with each other on a very simple thing like please bring what belongs to the nation to the national purse.
GONDA: Let’s talk a bit about the elections, the forthcoming elections – are you going to contest?
MAKONI: Well if elections are called under conditions that provide for credible free and fair outcomes, we will participate. The parties to the Global Political Agreement defined very clearly in the GPA and in the road map to free and fair elections what make free and fair elections. It’s a removal or what I call demobilization of the agents of fear and violence, it’s enabling the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to have the competence and the capacity to run free and fair elections without political interference and without political bias, it’s resourcing the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the other institutions of state to manage elections in a manner that allows every citizen who enters a polling booth to put his X in the box that he or she wants not he or she is forced to.
GONDA: Do you see this happening realistically?
MAKONI: It can happen if we have the will and the commitment to do it. Currently the will doesn’t exist so I don’t see it happening in the near future.
GONDA: And I’ve heard quite a lot of people say they would like to vote for you in the elections but they are worried that you have no followers. What is your reaction to this?
MAKONI: Well I don’t know how they can say that before we have measured the following. The simple method of measuring what following one has is either in a survey or in an election. Neither of that has been done. But I would say that I am striving to generate more following than I have at the moment and I’m sure that come the day we vote in a free and fair election those who are suggesting I have no following will be surprised.
GONDA: So how many people do you have at the moment?
MAKONI: Oh I can’t count them. Too many to count.
GONDA: You can’t give us numbers?
MAKONI: There are different categories of following; there are card carrying members of the party, there are supporters and sympathizers of the party and there are people who support the platform, the ideas that we give and they are different numbers in all those. Members of our party are currently measured in tens of thousands but I know that supporters who believe what we stand for is what the country needs are in their millions.
GONDA: I recently spoke to the International Crisis Group’s analyst for Southern Africa Trevor Maisiri and he had this to say about you and I quote. “I think Simba Makoni stands out as a good technocrat, with leadership qualities that seem to be well placed but again the issue is of grassroots mobilization. I would put Simba Makoni in the same realm as Welshman Ncube in terms of being good as individuals but failure to mobilize on the ground.” What’s your reaction to this?
MAKONI: Look it depends on timeframe. We are building a party, we are a very young party and I would say if he’s talking about grassroots following at this point in time, yes we are not a dominant party, I wouldn’t deny that.  But does the size of our membership equate to the following that we have? The people who find our ideas, our values, our principles attractive, that is where we make the distinction. Trevor would be right if he’s reading how many people carry an MKD card in their pocket but if we are reading how many people resonate with our values and principles, I would say in the millions.
GONDA: So what are your values and principles and what achievements can you point to that should make people want to vote for you if you are to participate in the next election?
MAKONI: Let’s take the latter part – achievement in terms of service to the people – none at the moment because we are not in a position to serve the people. But our principle value proposition is service and servant leadership. We are not looking for power and control, we are looking to serve, to participate, to contribute. Other politicians are looking for power, command and control – that’s a big distinction. We are looking for integrity and honesty. The key character of our country at the moment; two key characteristics of our country are fear and corruption and our leaders are not only participating in but are aiding and abetting corruption, victimization of citizens, disempowerment of citizens. We are about genuine empowerment where citizens can do things for themselves without impediment. We are for inclusion, unity and participation. We don’t want to split the nation into little groups; this party, this religion, this group, this region – we want togetherness.
GONDA: So why do you think Zimbabweans are not seeing that?
MAKONI: Well first of all I don’t know that I would agree with you that Zimbabweans don’t see that. I don’t know what yardstick you are using to make that statement. I believe that Zimbabweans see all this. I don’t want to sound like blowing my own trumpet but I know that what Trevor Maisiri reflected to you is reflected to many people including to myself by others who say ‘if you have the opportunity to lead us, we know that you would lead a clean government, a competent government, it would not be corrupt, it would not be cruel, it would not set citizen upon citizen’. Zimbabweans say this every day so I believe they see it. I would not allow under my leadership the cruelty that we have seen, that a leader will feather their nest when the rest of the nation is groveling and wallowing in abject poverty. I would not do that.
GONDA: And of course you have heard many Zimbabweans are calling for opposition forces to form a pact against Zanu PF in the next elections. Are you attracted by this idea?
MAKONI: I am attracted by citizens working together to bring positive change. I am not attracted by notions of pacts against or opposition. Opposition in what form? I know that there are people in Zanu PF who are yearning for change just like there are people in MDC. I know that there are many people in Zimbabwe who are not in either Zanu PF or MDC who are yearning for real change. So my positioning is, and I put it out on January 23, we would like to work and are currently working for a grand coalition for change.
We are driven by positives not negatives, and so all those Zimbabweans who want to see the demobilisation of the machinery of violence and intimidation, and I know there are many in Zanu PF who want that, I know there are also many in MDC. All those Zimbabweans who want to uplift the country out of poverty, who want to remove the shame of joblessness, the shame of lack of clean water, we would like to work with all of them without putting labels on them. So the underlying foundation is Zimbabweans for change not Zimbabweans against so and so.
GONDA: So have you been in talks with any of these parties?
MAKONI: We are not talking to parties, we are talking to individual citizens and some of them are in those parties. We are willing to be in coalition with those citizens who want to work for genuine change, they could be in MDC, and they could be in Zanu PF. If we are going to work as entities, as this party and that party we must first construct the platform on which we are going to work and that is what the discussions I am talking about I’m engaged in. It’s not just to say because there is MDC, let’s join them to oppose Zanu PF, and because there’s Zanu PF let them stand away from us – because in the end it’s the personality of citizens, individually and collectively that make the personality of the nation.
And I would like to say for the long term, Zimbabweans should resist being paddocked in little circles that are given characteristics of pro-this and anti-that, especially anti-that because that is what has taken us down the tube for all these years because we are being forced to make a choice of who we are against rather than what we stand for. I am saying to my compatriots – if real change doesn’t come even in my lifetime, let us agree that we lay the foundation for our children and our grandchildren not to live in fear, not to live in hunger, not to yearn for good education, not to miss aspirins at their central hospital. That is our long range vision that we want to mobilize and energize the whole of Zimbabwe behind.
GONDA: Why can’t you mobilize them to be part of the Mavambo.Kusile.Dawn party?
MAKONI: Violet you want to make a distinction between supporting, believing in and subscribing to a vision and being in an organization. We would like Zimbabweans to believe in the vision and values that we are advancing whether they hold our party card in their pocket or not because that is important. Your value system is important before you are labeled by any name and that is our first prime. Let Zimbabweans accept this value proposition then we can work for the attainment of those values in whatever formation we find ourselves in. Over time we will converge into united formations on the strength of our belief and our value conviction. Let’s not start by putting people into an MKD paddock before they are converted to the faith.
GONDA: It seems there are a lot of new platforms and organizations; don’t you think people are tired of these organizations and different groupings and that all they want is to see change?
MAKONI: Violet I would remind those people that we came from a de facto one party state and we didn’t make progress. Secondly I would remind them that choice, variety are the essence of democracy. You couldn’t really have full democracy if there was no choice. But I don’t think that our problems are caused by too many organizations; our problems are caused by a leadership in one organization, in two, three organizations who are not committed to the mission of serving the people but who are committed to self-service. That’s why we have done all these horrible things to each other. Whether you are talking about the brutalities, whether you are talking about the impoverishment, the disempowerment, even the victimization that led people to leave the country – numbers of up to three million Zimbabweans – and last week I had the pain of visiting the Methodist Centre in central Johannesburg, I was pained, that we can’t be doing this to ourselves. All those things have a reason because of lack of democracy and lack of choice.
GONDA: Some people were actually shocked to find out that in Zimbabwe there are about 18 political parties and this came out when political parties met with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission last week. Who are these political parties and what have they been doing?
MAKONI: Well I was also surprised; actually the number I heard was 33 not just 18; I think 18 are the ones that attended the event organized by ZEC last week but I would agree with you that even with my passion for choice and variety, 33 or 18 is too much. But I also would say that it’s really not an issue because like you asked – who are they? Where are they? Who takes them seriously? So I think that’s not an issue; let 33 names be on that ballot paper and I can tell you that not more than five, six will be the significant one.
GONDA: As you were once a senior Zanu PF official what do make of reports of serious infighting in the party and how significant is this?
MAKONI: It’s nearly five years since I left Zanu PF so I don’t know the goings on inside that party, I don’t know the goings on inside the other parties as well. I’m sure they don’t know the goings on inside my party. But as a Zimbabwean I am saddened by that because that underlines the key characteristic I made at the beginning of our conversation – the fear, the violence, the victimization. If members of one party cannot resolve contradictions peacefully, is it any wonder that between different parties we do long sleeves and short sleeves. So I don’t know the extent of it, I don’t know the factuality of it but I read about it just like you and all I can say is it’s sad that this is happening because what we need is amity and togetherness. Even where we disagree in our ideas, in our views, our approaches to issues, we shouldn’t be enemies to that extent.
GONDA: Some commentators say that with what is going on in the coalition government it is possible that we will have a second GNU. Do you see this?
MAKONI: As I see things at the moment, it is not likely that any one political party will win an outright majority in the next election if the elections are conducted under free and fair conditions of choice, in which case then we would be committed to another coalition. I doubt that the composition of that coalition will be the same as the one that we have now.
GONDA: There are others who say it is unlikely there will be another coalition government since there is no provision of a prime minister in the new constitution. Is that a correct reading of the constitution?
MAKONI: No not necessarily. I don’t think that would be a correct reading of the constitution. My own understanding, and I’m not a constitutional lawyer or any lawyer for that matter, is that the position of prime minister is that of a minister and that ministers are appointed by the president because our constitution has provided for an executive president who is head of state and government. He will appoint ministers and he is at liberty or she is at liberty to appoint a prime minister which means a minister above other ministers. So I don’t believe that the fact that there isn’t a stipulation of a prime minister in the constitution necessarily means that the country may not, could not and should not have a prime minister.
GONDA: Finally Dr Makoni, what did you make of recent surveys by the Freedom House Institute saying the MDC-T had lost a significant number of voters and that Zanu PF is likely to win in the next elections?
MAKONI: There are a number of points to make about that: the first one is that the significant finding in all those surveys, not just Freedom House, Afro Barometer, Mass Public Opinion Institute, is that the larger majority of Zimbabweans, bigger than those who will vote for Zanu PF and MDC, are people who would not say they would vote for Zanu PF or MDC. Now that is very significant because it means that any party or parties that will win the support of that section of voters who will not vote for either MDC or Zanu PF – but they will be the dominant party.
Another significant finding is that the majority of those uncommitted are the younger scale 18 to 35 and that is the segment of our voter that my party is particularly concerned about because they represent the future, where we are going, not where we are coming from. But let me also say that one issue that will bear on this is whether people actually turn out to vote on the day and vote for who they said in the survey they will vote for. One of our biggest problems going back to I think 1995 is that fewer and fewer people turn out to vote at each election and this voter apathy, this low turnout of voters could change those number dramatically on the day of voting.
GONDA: Okay we’ve come to the end of our programme; thank you very much Dr Simba Makoni for talking to us on the programme Hot Seat.
MAKONI: It’s my pleasure.
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