Police on Friday assaulted and rounded up over 90 MDC supporters who had gathered in Harare for a peaceful march against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.
This followed a prohibition order by the police and the subsequent urgent High Court application by the opposition challenging the ban, which was dismissed.
Our senior reporters Obey Manayiti and Blessed Mhlanga interviewed MDC leader Nelson Chamisa on Friday for his views on the developments and the opposition’s strategy. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Q: Police banned your demonstration at the last minute. What is your comment on these developments?
A: Well, that behaviour is very disturbing and appalling in the sense that it is clear that nothing has changed.
We thought that there would be something new and that human rights would be at the centre of the discourse going forward, but it is clear that nothing has changed, it is clear that we changed faces, but we didn’t change the politics and the system.
Mnangagwa is actually proving to be worse off than (Robert) Mugabe and that is worrisome. Under Mugabe people would demonstrate and hardly would you hear people being shot. Look at the people who have been arrested within a short space of time under trumped-up charges and subversion of government, treason.
Within a short space of time and we now have around 17 people who have been charged for treason yet under Mugabe the number didn’t go beyond 10 over 40 years.
Per capita, Mnangagwa is proving to be legendary in his dictatorship.
Q: What is your comment on the police’s handling of crowds that had gathered in the city centre waiting for the outcome of the High Court case where you
challenged the ban against the demonstration?
A: The first thing is that the ban is unconstitutional in the sense that the courts have pronounced themselves in the past on the constitutionality of that
ability to ban anything, which is fundamentally why we have said the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (Mopa) is not any departure from the past.
If you look at it, Mopa seeks to give what the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) had not given, which is the power of the police to ban demonstrations.
Those are excessive powers because they are operating from the premise that a citizen is a suspect yet the State is supposed to be the suspect because it is the one which wields too much authority and that is the one which must be checked and balanced.
First, we are not happy about the unconstitutional ban and secondly it was not necessary for the police to be heavy handed and use violence on the people. It doesn’t help because our people are not violent.
They didn’t know about the latest information. We advised the police two weeks ago and did not they indicate their discomfort only to express last night their discomfort.
People didn’t know, they came thinking that they were going for an ordinary demonstration only to be told that they had to go back home.
We didn’t even have an opportunity to address our own people because after the court we were supposed to go and address them.
Under normal circumstances we were supposed to have an audience with the demonstrators and advise them and not to just for police beat up our people.
Q: There are allegations by the police that you have in the past been violent and you have gathered stones and catapults to cause violence.
A: Why would we gather catapults? For what, and to deal with people who have guns?
Are we that naïve that we would want to wedge a war against the police using catapults? Do they think that we are that Stone Age?
We are modern people but you see this is propaganda.
When a leopard wants to eat its young it accuses them of smelling like goats to justify the cannibal tendencies, the predatory tendencies of this regime.
Why would you be worried about stones in a sack? You cannot overthrow a councillor using stones and what more of a government?
It’s all propaganda and that is the biggest problem. This regime is a lie in its composition and constitution.
They came through a lie and they are a lie in their subsistence, they are a lie in their survival.
They lie to themselves and they lie to the world and the citizens and that is why their lie is now being discovered even by their own friends.
Q: Some accuse you of using the demonstrations as a way of attaining power.
A: So do you think personal power is acquired through a people’s action, with people expressing themselves?
There is nothing personal about fuel queues, there is nothing personal about power shortages.
There is nothing personal about rigged elections, there is nothing personal about corruption, there is nothing personal about challenges of medical fees that are beyond the affordability of many, there is nothing personal about civil servants who are earning $30 a month.
Q: What is the way forward considering that you have other demonstrations coming soon in other cities? Are the protests going on as planned?
A: Why should we shelve them? We have said that any peaceful, constitutional and lawful action is going to be our default setting going forward.
Where we have applied and notified the police we will proceed and where they deny us that right we will try again until our issues are addressed. This is going to be a long haul and like any struggle, we are ready for the ups and downs and I can tell you that the people shall govern. Victory is certain, it might be difficult now but people shall govern. No man has ever stopped an idea whose time has come.
No dictator has ever succeeded in their fight against the people so we know that it might be difficult now but people shall make it.
Q: Do you think Mnangagwa missed any opportunity by not allowing the demonstrations to go ahead?
A: Well, first he has missed an opportunity to heal our nation, our nation is so deeply divided. He was supposed to take the opportunity to say let’s bury the past now that president Tsvangirai is not there on the MDC side and now that Mugabe is not there on the Zanu PF side, let’s start on a clean slate, but he has missed that.
Instead of starting on a new slate, he has forgotten nothing and learnt nothing.
He continues to borrow from the Ian Smith regime’s template of dictatorship.
He continues to borrow from chapters of Mugabe’s regime and it is very unfortunate.
He has missed so many opportunities. Look there was a window of goodwill and he has squandered it.
The international community had opened the doors for Mnangagwa to say we are ready to do business with Zimbabwe, but they came here and saw that this country is shut for business.
Q: We understand you held meetings with churches. What were you discussing?
A: We have a constant and continuous engagement with churches.
They came requesting to hear what our view is and we are very clear in terms of the trajectory to be taken, the first step solution that the country must undertake in order to solve the problems.
We have said there has to be national consensus. What is the nature of the problems and beyond it there has to be dialogue, which is inclusive and credible, scaffolded by the international community.
Once we have that dialogue with a time table and clear timelines we would be able to have a transitional mechanism,which will be able to pave way for reforms to assist our country in transitioning to a new dispensation and be able to have free and fair elections.
Q: Is there possibility of this dialogue happening before 2023 so as to usher in the desired reforms?
A: That requires political will. It takes two to tango and unfortunately we have been doing it alone because we have no partner willing to come to the party.
For Mnangagwa dialogue is a scapegoat and a public relations stunt but for us it is a matter of conviction and that is the only surest way of resolving issues and that dialogue must start with an expression of people on July 30. People voted and we now have results the people voted for.
That is the starting point for the dialogue and then we can have an inclusive dialogue, around that core dialogue between Zanu PF and MDC on the fundamental issues that must be resolved, legitimacy being one of them and issues of reforms, national healing and of course international engagement upon a framework of national engagement.
Q: The same church leaders wrote to Mnangagwa who told them that you are the stumbling block to dialogue. He said he had offered to recognise you as the leader
of the opposition.
A: You see how flawed that is. Why should we have a dialogue when we have a fundamental flaw?
Structurally, you are already starting on the premise that you are the winner and the other one is the opposition when that issue is still supposed to be deliberated upon.
In fact, agenda number one is the legitimacy of Mnangagwa and the key question that must be answered is “who won the 2018 elections”.
Q: Mnangagwa is proposing that you go into the dialogue without any pre-conditions.
A: It’s not a precondition but it’s a question that must be articulated. When you start to say lets park that one and you must accept to be an opposition leader then there is no dialogue.
You have already predetermined things and that is wrong. You cannot put the cart before the horse, let’s start with first things first.
Don’t put preconditions, why do you want me to come in as an opposition and accepting that as leader of the opposition. He is the one who is coming up with preconditions.
Right now they have gone to Parliament trying to railroad Mopa, which again is not an inclusive process, they are getting it the wrong way.
Q: What is your message to Zimbabweans that are demoralised by the crisis in the country?
A: This is a struggle and I don’t believe that we ever thought it was going to be a sprint.
This is a marathon as I indicated it is going to take time but I can assure you that victory is certain and the people of Zimbabwe need the support of the
international community to make sure that the process itself is peaceful, inclusive and produces the results that are required.
— The Standard