Former Finance minister Tendai Biti and ex-MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti (TB) has attacked MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai for allegedly stifling democracy and failing to lead the opposition movement on its mission to dislodge President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF government.
Biti, who is now MDC Renewal Team secretary-general, told NewsDay (ND) reporter Richard Chidza in a wide-ranging interview yesterday that the opposition movements required a “fresh face” to take them to the “promised land”, adding that the current crop of opposition leaders had dismally betrayed the electorate. In the interview, he also explains the purpose of his recent trip to the United States.
Below are the excerpts of the interview:
ND: What is your appreciation of the country’s political, economic and social set-up at the moment?
TB: I think that the heart of every democrat, any person interested in the upliftment of the people must be bleeding. Never since 1891 has this country experienced the kind of cataleptic cobweb of failure and deceit, exclusion and failure such as the one we are experiencing.
Zanu (PF) has taken our country to bottomless depths of despair and delegitimisation. It has redefined failure we have to find new lexicon and I hope someone will bring the party to book one day because no one has the right to impose such unmitigated suffering on another.
ND: The decision to break-away from Tsvangirai, do you still think it was the correct one?
TB: The decision to part ways with Tsvangirai was the correct one. Tsvangirai has become the albatross to the forces of change and democratisation of our country. The opposition needs a fundamental paradigm shift, the opposition needs a smart approach and new levers of tackling the sobriquet called Zanu PF. We have to create a new narrative and find a new face for the democratic struggle and new actors.
We have to create coalitions of champions and winners who will fight this battle and struggle on a much higher platform than a “Mugabe must go” mantra which has failed us in the past 15 years and recycling it will not change the status quo.
ND: But the opposition is equally culpable in the mess, don’t you agree?
TB: The opposition has been a disaster. The opposition owes an apology to the people of Zimbabwe. They have been impotent, divisive, divided and hubristic. But the people of Zimbabwe too must shoulder the responsibility; you are as good as the opposition or the government you get. The people of Zimbabwe have not asserted their space, and their right to protest and protect themselves against the insanity of Zanu PF and the mediocrity of the opposition.
ND: What is it that whoever will come in has to do to fix the economy?
TB: It is not just about fixing the economy, everything is broken in this country. The legacy of Mugabe is a massive graveyard of failed dreams, failed institutions, economy and a people with broken spirits, millions who against their will are hiding in the Diaspora and spending hours on social media thanks to Mugabe. So Zanu PF has been carnage of failure and the rot of the past 35 years is self-evident. So the agenda which has to be put on the table is the agenda of rebuilding Zimbabwe. The rebuilding of Zimbabwe must start with Zimbabweans finding themselves again, liberating themselves from the toxicity and politics of exclusion that is dominating the political landscape today.
You shudder to open any newspaper because it is exclusion, hatred and more hatred. The idioms of exclusion are intoxicating the national psyche and we are drunk with exclusion and intolerance. So we need to move to the centre, find a new centre ideologically and otherwise in which we discard the erstwhile vicious cycles of exclusion and craft virtuous circles of inclusion. We need national healing, the toxicity is too much. We need to address the economy.
Where you have a country churning out 300 000 graduates a year which it cannot absorb, where you have a country with 65% of its population being young and unemployed, you have a recipe for disaster and social dis-cohesion. The three ingredients that caused the Rwandan genocide in 1994 were a culture of poisoned politics and exclusion, economic failure and unemployment and a political leadership that had long ago vacated common sense and love for its people. In Zimbabwe those three ingredients are there, so the happenings in Zanu PF, the omissions in the opposition, the indifference of civic society will lead to one thing a chaotic implosion of this country.
In short, we are suffering a crisis of leadership. Mugabe is a visiting president, his Cabinet is tearing each other to pieces, there is no agenda for progress, but there is an agenda for cannibalism. No country has ever sustained itself on the agenda of cannibalism.
ND: How far are we from a coalition?
TB: A coalition is very difficult as long as the culture in the opposition is an exact replica of the same predatory culture in Zanu PF. So as long as you have big egos, false big-tent mentality and mediocrity, crafting a coalition would be very difficult. My submission is that fresh actors are required, fresh actors will be found and there will be a coalition in 2018.
ND: There has been talk of a new party by disgruntled ex-Zanu PF leaders. Are you in talks with them?
TB: Even if we were talking to them, I cannot tell you, I cannot disclose strategy. But at a theoretical level, it is important to create a now narrative by bringing like-minded democrats together with a fresh face and fresh ideas, ideas that can create a sustainable Zimbabwe.
The democratisation movement needs components of the liberation struggle. We have been dilegitimised for the past 15 years on the basis that we were not part of the liberation struggle. So in Africa wherever you have had democratic change it has been fought on the basis of a coalition between the forces of the liberation element and forces of the post-liberation element. One of the reasons of the failure of the MDC was that we did not have the liberation component. So the emergence of a liberation component in opposition politics must be applauded because it has been the missing link.
ND: Do you think your absence seems to have caused some kind of dislocation within the Renewal movement?
TB: I disagree. The biggest challenge I am facing right now is that I have certain skills that can be used by a much wider audience than Zimbabwe.
Particularly, the challenges on the African continent, areas around poverty alleviation, development, fragility and nation building. So the dilemma I have right now is that there is a calling and obligation to serve a bigger audience than Zimbabwe, but at the same time the business of Zimbabwe remains unfinished. It is a dilemma I am facing and one that sooner or later I will be forced to answer, but I will postpone to that date.
ND: The recall of MPs, including yourself and the Constitutional Court ruling, do you think your lawyers ill-advised you?
TB: I do not agree at all. The Constitutional Court was wrong.
ND: How so?
TB: The issue was not about us challenging as the Speaker of Parliament had correctly stated in his letters of May and November. The Speaker could only act on the basis of a court judgment giving legitimacy to one of the political sides and that judgment was not there. So the Speaker could not recognise one of the factions of the MDC without a court order. The Constitutional Court judgment was wrong.
ND: So do you think it was a political judgment?
TB: I did not say that.
ND: Are there any regrets among your members?
TB: There is regret that, of course, people were fired from Parliament. But the inane act is Tsvangirai writing to the Speaker and allowing Zanu PF to enter into MDC strongholds and then next minute advising people to destroy their votes when you know that Zanu PF will have its consistent members. The best advice would be to let people vote independents.
ND: Where to now for Zimbabwe and Renewal?
TB: I want to repeat that Zanu PF must be held to account, they have no right to abuse Zimbabweans in the manner they are doing now, like the abuse of the rule of law, the mismanagement of the economy and murders.
No political party or leader has the right to abuse another group of people in the manner Zanu PF has done. Equally, it will be very foolish for ordinary Zimbabweans to assume that a Moses will emerge from somewhere or to call an idiot a Moses. We have to be our own Messiahs, unless we are prepared to confront this regime in the streets then we are wasting our time. We need the courage to confront this regime.
There is need to craft a new dimension of politics that is beyond Mugabe. The last 15 years we have spent our politics locked in a binary of Mugabe must go, Mugabe must stay which has manifested itself in a Mugabe versus Tsvangirai. That narrative is false and we have to go beyond that as they are ultimate failures in Zimbabwe’s political discourse — that means a new face and a new narrative for the democratic struggle.
We also have to deal with electoral reform. It is fundamental. There must be a brand new voters’ roll, we must use technology like biometric system to insulate ourselves from electoral theft. The securocracts must not be seen anywhere near elections. We cannot trust ourselves to run elections, we cannot trust ZEC (the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission), and so there is need for a trustee to run the elections.
ND: Do you have mechanisms to effect this?
TB: Writing little letters to Zanu PF is not going to be the answer. We failed to effect electoral reform when we were State actors in the Government of National Unity. It will be foolhardy to think that a little rally will make Zanu PF accede to electoral reforms. Zanu PF will not give electoral reforms because it will be political suicide. We have to demand, we have to go into the streets to demand reforms, they will have to kill us and imprison us, and then they will start listening.
ND: Are you ready to lead from the front?
TB: No one can question my commitment to the struggle and the fact that I am far from being neither Zanu PF nor anyone. All throughout my life I have been fighting Zanu PF. I have been arrested countless times and tortured. I have been in demonstrations throughout my life from my days at Goromonzi to the University of Zimbabwe. So the issue is not about leadership, but do the collective mass of Zimbabweans, hiding in fruit markets, selling underwear and in churches — are we as a collective prepared to march against this regime. The Constitution gives us that right, but are we prepared to exercise that right.
ND: At 91 Mugabe is still in power and set to contest the 2018 elections if his supporters have their way. What do you think of this?
TB: One of the values of African culture is that we respect our elders and part of this is that we should not place them into a situation where they will cause embarrassment to themselves and indeed to the country. Mugabe’s stewardship of the African Union and Sadc, as well as the remarks he has made around the Kalangas and South Africa are putting Zimbabwe into disrepute.
I think the lesson from this is that there must be an upper age limit in the Constitution barring people over 75 years from being President because doing so is disrespecting the elderly. We should do the right thing and allow the old man to rest and to ensure that never will we embarrass another old man. We should put an upper age limit so that we do not punish another old man.