Morgan Tsvangirai has put himself firmly on the side of the lower class with a powerful pledge that the MDC is a party of those who want to be better off and strive for a better life for themselves.
The former prime minister in an exclusive interview with the Daily News on Sunday set out the battle lines for the next election which he said will result in the MDC forming the next government, and condemned his rival President Robert Mugabe for opposing political reform and damaging the economy.
He vowed to build an aspiration-driven nation from the wreckage of Mugabe’s disastrous economic stewardship, repeatedly stressing traditional MDC values of building national consensus, securing political legitimacy, individual effort and hard work.
Tsvangirai sought to turn his critics’ attacks on his comfortable Highlands mansion to his advantage, promising to widen privilege of the kind he is currently enjoying from perks he got from serving as prime minister.
Insisting he wanted every Zimbabwean to live in splendour after he forms an exclusive MDC government, he said he was not keen to defend privilege, but spread it.
“Do you want me to go and live in the bush so that you see that I am suffering just like the people out there,” he told the Daily News on Sunday at his Highlands home last week.
“If at all, Zanu PF should know that they have created conditions which have made us all poor. So comparing who is poorer than the other I think it is unfair. Yes I am living in this property. It is still an outstanding issue and will be resolved when the time comes but I never chose myself to come and live here. Remember I was prime minister, so it is under those circumstances that I then came to live here?”
Tsvangirai and his wife Elizabeth moved into the Highlands pad in April 2011 ahead of their wedding.
The mansion was renovated by government after the former trade unionist failed to move into Zimbabwe House — Mugabe’s former residence when he served as PM soon after independence in 1980 until 1987.
The father of six, who shared executive powers with Mugabe during the subsistence of the GNU that ended with elections last July, has a right as a sitting tenant to buy the house and has indicated his intention to do so.
Tsvangirai’s Highlands house was valued at $790 000 before improvement and officials say its value is nowhere near the $4,5 million being peddled by the Public Works ministry.
Asked if he had reached a gentleman’s agreement with Mugabe to keep the mansion, Tsvangirai said since the July 2013 poll blowout, he was yet to meet the 90-year-old Zanu PF leader.
Just before the end of the inclusive government, Tsvangirai and Mugabe negotiated a safe passage during one of their regular Monday tea meetings at State House and that both entered a gentleman’s agreement that whoever lost elections would be treated with respect.
Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed on an assurance that the loser would be given enough time to vacate the official residence or buy the property as in Tsvangirai’s case.
“I have never met Mugabe since the elections,” Tsvangirai said.
“I have tried to write to him saying let’s meet, I think around October last year, he has chosen not to respond but he knows the contractual obligations around this house. I am not going to compromise my principle by having a gentleman’s agreement with Mugabe.”
Tsvangirai rejected accusations that he had mellowed and toned down his criticism of the Zanu PF leader.
He said Mugabe was obsessed with him because he posed a real and present danger to his rule.
“Are you blind to the acrimony that President Mugabe has been bleating out at funerals, at weddings, every time he has had an opportunity?” Tsvangirai asked.
“Have you not heard him saying years of GNU were horror to him? So where is the buddy-buddy? I criticise President Mugabe on the omissions that has led this country to where it is today. I do not criticise him as an individual but on matters of principle, till the day I leave politics I will continue criticising him.”
He said Zimbabwe’s economy was on the slide and pledged that he was not going to stand and allow the country to continue on the slide. He said youths had a right to stage demos to demand the two million jobs that Mugabe promised.
He reiterated the need for unity among opposition forces to mount a serious challenge that he says will sweep Mugabe out of power.
In April, former MDC secretary general Tendai Biti and his allies said they were suspending Tsvangirai along with five other senior members namely MDC spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora; deputy president Thokozani Khupe; national organising secretary Nelson Chamisa; national chairman Lovemore Moyo and his deputy Morgan Komichi.
Biti’s faction claimed Tsvangirai had been suspended from the MDC because of a “remarkable failure of leadership”.
Biti’s faction claimed the MDC’s national council had voted to suspend Tsvangirai because the party had been “transformed into a fiefdom of the leader”.
A few days later Tsvangirai’s MDC responded by expelling Biti, Elton Mangoma, Samuel Sipepa-Nkomo, the interim chairperson of the group, and others. Biti was an “opportunist” who was being manipulated by Mugabe’s Zanu PF party, Tsvangirai said.
Biti and his group accused Tsvangirai of violating the party’s constitution to advance an anti-democratic agenda.
Tsvangirai dismissed the meeting that suspended him as “illegal, unconstitutional, illegitimate and bogus”.
Tsvangirai refused to be “debased” by appearing before a hearing convened by a leader of a rival faction.
The High Court also ruled that the Mandel meeting held by the Biti group was a legal nullity.
The court ruled that the Biti faction could not implement any resolution from the meeting, which it tried to pass for the MDC’s national council meeting.
Following the fall-out, Tsvangirai said he was still keen to have the “rebels” rejoin the “big tent”.
“Any rightful thinking Zimbabwean who wants to see change in Zimbabwe must understand that by splintering, you are supporting the status quo,” Tsvangirai told the Daily News on Sunday.
“If we come together and unite, chances of achieving change are enhanced. So, there is no fundamental flaw in calling for a big tent. What is important is for people as individuals to stop these self-serving motives and to come together and talk. Little parties, it is like adding zero plus zero, but if you think seriously and say what is my purpose, if it is to see the people achieve democratic change, then you must join forces and come together” to remove Mugabe from office.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist since independence from Britain in 1980.