July 1, 2003

ZIMBABWE: MDC leader dreams of freedom

Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was not obsessed with President Robert Mugabe, the country's leader of the official opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai said in an interview with SABC television news on Sunday, June 27, night.

The Zimbabwean politician, currently facing two possible death sentences in two separate treason trials said he did not hate Mugabe and did not wish him ill. But the Zimbabwean president was a major stumbling block to normalising the chaotic political and economic situation in the country. "Mugabe is a national liability, a stumbling block," he said. Asked whether he recognised Mugabe as president, he said "I don't" but confirmed that Mugabe ran the country. "He is running the country, he was sworn in as president." The former trade unionist added that he was pursuing a High Court challenge against the validity of the 2001 presidential election because it was "the only legal recourse." Tsvangirai reiterated that he had won that election and that his party now controlled more than half of the Zimbabwean parliament. He said the major issue facing Zimbabwe was getting the MDC and Mugabe to the negotiating table.

Asked about the efforts of the heads of state of South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi to get the parties to talk, Tsvangirai said the success of negotiations did not depend on the brokers but on the willingness of parties to compromise. The trio's efforts "must be encouraged and welcomed." But he warned that some of their comments had been "undiplomatic" and unhelpful, particularly those suggesting that he, Tsvangirai was an obstacle to talks or that Mugabe had to be recognised as the legitimate winner of the 2001 presidential poll - a position that would sink his court challenge which contested that very point. There could be no preconditions to talks. If Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith had in 1979 set as a precondition that Mugabe recognise him as the legitimate leader of the country there would have been no talks, he said by example.

Once talking, there would be three critical issues. The first was getting Mugabe to give up he presidency in a dignified manner. If Mugabe was afraid of retribution, he could be assured that this was not a MDC aim. "National reconciliation cannot be implemented in an atmosphere of retribution," Tsvangirai said. However, there would have to be a truth and justice commission where victims could speak out and perpetrators could repent and reform. Asked whether this meant an MDC government would not "go" after Mugabe himself, Tsvangirai said "If that is he price we have to pay, we must consider it."

Once Mugabe stepped down the question of choosing a replacement arose. This would require a look at whether a new election had to take place within 90 days as required by the current constitution or whether another mechanism had to be found. Then an election, adjudged to be free and fair by all parties and the international community had to take place. Questioned about timelines, he said none could be set. His two treason trials, one for allegedly plotting to kill Mugabe and another for organising mass action to force Mugabe to leave office, were referred to obliquely. "I want to face the full wrath of the law. If I did something wrong I must be punished," Tsvangirai said at one stage. Later he said that since he had never advocated the overthrow of the state, as alleged by his prosecutors, a bail condition that he should not do so "again" was irrelevant. He said as the leader of the official opposition he was entitled to speak out about misrule and corruption - and would continue to do so. Queried about a perceived lack of policy on the part of the MDC and Mugabe's assertions that he was a black front for whites, Tsvangirai said his party had a strong set of policy documents on important national issues such as saving the economy and land.

He had been concerned with land reform since 1995 when he was still general secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions ZCTU). Land was one of the MDC's five top priorities. However, the epicentre of the crisis in Zimbabwe was not land - this was a "misplaced misconception" - but about "misrule.. dictatorship... and a government unleashing violence on its own people." The MDC was also not the lackeys of whites or of the United States and Britain. "It's a condescending attitude to think Zimbabweans could not think for themselves." The MDC came about as an alternative political party because of the systematic betrayal of the electorate by Mugabe's party, Zanu PF. "It did not appear out of the blue," Tsvangirai added. The MDC had good relations with the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and if black South Africans were concerned about him appearing at events where white opposition politicians were present that was an issue they had to deal with. The obsession with Tony Leon "is a problem for South Africa, not Zimbabwe," he said. (Mail & Guardian / ZWNews)

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