Monday, July 22, 2013

New African Magazine Interviews Zimbabwe Justice Minister on National Elections

Zimbabwe is not for turning

Saturday, 20 July 2013 00:00
New African Magazine

JUSTICE and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa administers the Electoral Act and is in the eye of a storm as the nation prepares for elections. In a wide ranging interview with New African magazine, Minister Chinamasa gives chapter and verse about what has gone on in Zimbabwe over the past five years and how the “ole enemy”, Great Britain is re-engaging with Zimbabwe, the nation whose President the British officials have refused to shake hands with for a good 13 years. Here are excerpts.

NA: Talking about reforms, what specifically are the MDCs looking for?

PC: It’s very difficult to tell. We agreed in July 2011 that if they had any further reforms to demand, they should put their cards on the table. Quite frankly, on our side, we accepted that there was always room for improvement and reform. A society that does not accept this principle is set to die. So we are always open-minded to any suggestions about improving the lot of our people, and improving our systems and procedures.

So, as far back as four years ago, we have been telling them, “put your proposals on the table”. And in fact in July 2011, we drew up an election roadmap and again the issue of AIPPA, POSA, Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, and security sector reform came up. We said, “Please put specific proposals on the table, don’t make generalised demands, because we won’t even look at generalised demands”. But they didn’t put forward any specific proposals, up to now.

And four days ago, they served us with a thick volume of the reforms they now want.

Just four days ago, when they have been in government for four years? What were they doing for all that time? What can we do with their new proposals when the life of Parliament, which should pass the amendments they want, expires on 29 June, and today (the day of the interview) is 21 June?

So that indicates basically that they are puppets, and that they are not in fact interested in genuine reforms. The areas that they are talking about, for example, security sector reform, they are saying that we should retire the army officers who served in the liberation struggle. But we have told them that they can shout as many times and as loudly as they want, but we will never budge on that.

These are officers who, as young men, served and fought in the liberation war to free this country from colonial rule. And many of them died in the course of the war that brought us political independence and the freedoms that Tsvangirai and the MDCs are now enjoying. How can they now turn round and demand that we should retire those officers who are there to defend what their colleagues died for? So on that issue, we have said, no way. But in any event, during the process of making the new Constitution, we all agreed on a template for the conduct of the security forces. And we have inserted that template into the Constitution as Section 208, and that section has been operational since 23 May 2013. So what reforms are they talking about again on the security sector?

We also agreed on a template for the information sector, and how the public media should conduct itself, regarding editorial policy during election time. So if there are any additional reforms that they want, I think they should be left to whoever wins the next election.

NA: Now they are saying they need a public commitment by the defence chiefs who have made pronouncements in the past about the leadership of this country, about their accepting a challenge to leadership? That should not be too difficult to grant, is it?

PC: They will not get that. They will not get it! What for? They want basically to get a validation from the military, because they know these are colleagues who fought in the liberation war, so now they want a validation from them so that they also appear like they are a liberation party. They are not. They will never get that validation. Certainly not from the military!

NA: Let’s look at it from another angle; the demand to retire the generals is it an excuse to weaken the defence forces so it becomes easier to achieve a regime change here?

PC: Yes, you are right. Remember that part of the regime change agenda has been to identify the strongest pillars of the state for attack. And two of the strongest pillars of the state are the Presidency and the military, and over the last 13 years these pillars have been bombarded with attacks with the intention of weakening them. Just imagine the demonisation that our President has gone through since he started talking about the repossession of our land in 2000. A weaker leader would have given up a long time ago. They also identified the military and attacked it, because of its liberation struggle credentials. And now, under the guise of so-called security sector reform, they want us to agree to retire these officers who are there to defend what their colleagues fought and died for. They won’t get it. Period!

NA: But that’s where the MDCs don’t agree with you. They are saying the security chiefs should not come out openly in support of one party.

PC: Yes, we have no problem about that, but they can come out openly in support of certain values.

NA: Tsvangirai again made a significant point in Maputo. He said: “no party can be forced to take part in an election it knows will not be free, fair and legitimate”. It is a fair point, isn’t it?

PC: It is not a fair point. First, there is no basis to say that the elections will not be free and fair because of a dispute over an election date. He has to specify what basically will make this election not free and fair.

NA: He says not giving him the reforms he wants of the media, security sector, and of laws like POSA and AIPPA, means there is no level playing field.

PC: What reforms? We cannot implement anything unless we agree on it. And on these issues we are not in agreement. So these are issues that he should use an election manifesto to say. “This is what I have been asking for; this is the society that I would want in this country. Please elect me on that platform.” He should take it to the people in the same way that we will also take to the people any views about security sector and media reforms.

Talking about a level playing field, both Sadc and the Facilitation Team on the Zimbabwe Dialogue, and even the MDC formations themselves, don’t say a word about the pirate radio stations based in Europe and America broadcasting propaganda into Zimbabwe against the Zanu-PF. The radio stations have intensified their anti Zanu-PF and pro-MDC programmes in the run- up to the elections.

Also, the Facilitation Team and the MDCs don’t talk about sanctions. The trick about sanctions was that they would make our people’s lives so miserable that they would revolt against President Mugabe. Even now our lives could be better. But when they talk about a level playing field, they don’t say sanctions and the pirate radio stations are factors skewed against Zanu-PF. They don’t also talk about the 3 500 NGOs that operate in this country, small as we are, which are all pro-MDC.

NA: There are 3 500 NGOs in this country?

PC: Yes my brother, the 3 500 NGOs are all pro-MDC, because the NGOs are funded by those same countries that want a regime change here. Again, the two MDCs and the Sadc Facilitation Team don’t talk about the US$2,6 billion that the European Union admitted to me that they have channelled through the NGOs in the last five years.

NA: Regarding the pirate radio stations, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa did in fact talk about them in Maputo in his Facilitator’s Report, when he said: “It is essential that a playing field in the media arena should be conducive to free and fair elections, (and) hate speech and calls for regime change, from whatever quarter including external radio stations, (should) be curbed.” But my question is: How are these externally-based radio stations going to be curbed?

PC: You should ask President Zuma. His statement was insincere, clearly insincere. Because he and Sadc know that they have no power over the Europe and America-based radio stations. They worry about what happens here in our public sector media, but they know that sanctions are not going to change, the NGOs are going to remain, and the pirate radio stations are going to continue. And this is something that we’ve been saying to the Facilitation Team — you can’t talk about a level playing field without taking those factors into account. In fact, as a Facilitation Team you cannot do a report that has no balance, and the report they did in Maputo had no balance.

NA: Regarding the media, what people outside Zimbabwe don’t know, and even those inside it tend to ignore, is that there are three pro-MDC newspapers based in Harare (all coming from one publishing house) that are very hostile to President Mugabe and Zanu-PF. There is even a foreign one, a South African owned newspaper published in South Africa, which is equally pro-MDC and hostile to Mugabe and Zanu PF, but which is allowed to distribute freely in Zimbabwe.

PC: Yes, but let me tell you this: we opened up the print media, and there are now eight or so newspapers in Zimbabwe, all anti Zanu-PF, but importantly, all financed by the intelligence services of Western countries.

Those newspapers have no viability, but they are continuing to operate only because they are being funded by the intelligence services of those countries. It is part of the regime change agenda. Again, that is not talked about by Sadc or the Facilitation Team or the two MDCs.

But let me say this about access to the media: the Electoral Act provides that after the proclamation of the election date, the Zimbabwe Electoral commission (ZEC) has the responsibility to manage access to the public sector media for all political parties. And that is going to happen. All the parties participating in the elections are going to enjoy equal space and time in the public sector media. This is already part of our law.

NA: In Maputo, President Zuma appeared to confirm the MDCs point of view when he said on 6 July 2011, the GPA partners agreed on a ‘Zimbabwe Election Roadmap with Timelines’, but he now regretted that most of the items therein which affected the levelling of the playing field have not been adequately implemented, even though the roadmap and the agreements were a critical component of the way forward. Was that an accurate summary of the situation?

PC: I don’t agree completely, and those are my disappointments with the Facilitation Team. The Facilitator, President Zuma, since he took over from President Thabo Mbeki, has not — perhaps only once in the last five years — directly engaged with President Mugabe and the other principals of the Dialogue. Instead he sends low level officials here to do the Dialogue.

NA: So President Zuma has not been coming to engage directly with the Zimbabwean Principals as Mbeki used to do?

PC: No. So in that respect the facilitation has failed. We would have wanted President Zuma to be more engaged in our Dialogue, as was the case with Mbeki, so that he could engage at the same level with President Mugabe. You don’t expect low level officials to come and talk to our President. It’s not right, and protocol does not allow it. So that has been a problem, which it is too late to cure anyway. But also we have noted of late that the low level South African officials who form part of the Facilitation Team are now fighting in the corner of the MDCs.

That has been a real cause of concern to us, but we decided that we would not make public statements that would rock the boat.

But it has become increasingly evident with each meeting that they are fighting in the MDCs corner, especially on the issues of sanctions, pirate radio stations and NGOs.

The fact that they are not recognising the reality of our situation, which is that the political parties, especially Zanu-PF, are going into the forthcoming elections notwithstanding the encumbrances that have been thrown in their way, is a major concern.

Now the Facilitation Team, and this is the sad thing, is almost implying that the playing field is skewed in favour of Zanu-PF, which is false. And if the team does not worry about that it causes us concern. Personally I get the feeling that the low level officials who come here to engage us, who form the Facilitation Team, have now reduced themselves to being a Pretoria branch of Tsvangirai’s MDC. I am really disappointed.

Even the statements they make are very clear (in this regard). Lindiwe Zulu makes a public statement, to the effect that “it doesn’t matter that we have a Constitutional Court order,” but she and the others wouldn’t make such statements about their own country, South Africa. But she makes those statements about us, and we’ve been keeping quiet. We cannot fail to notice that they are fighting in the corner of the MDC-T. And one other worrying thing about the Sadc summit in Maputo: this was an idea, which was taken up in Addis Ababa, on the sidelines of the celebration of the OAU’s golden jubilee by the African Union. Sadc leaders met on the sidelines of the celebrations in Addis Ababa, and President Mugabe was asked if everything was going well in Zimbabwe. He said: “Yes, everything is going well, but we have some funding challenges.” So the Sadc leaders said “in that case we must meet and see where we can help”.

So when Sadc called for the extraordinary summit in Maputo, we went there unprepared for any legal arguments. Our understanding was that the summit was to fundraise for Zimbabwe’s elections. But guess what happened? We get to the summit and fundraising is not even on the agenda. Not at all! Instead we find that it has been reduced to a courtroom — a court of appeal for Zimbabwe. And the Facilitator’s report had been distributed in advance to everybody except Zanu-PF.

NA: Sure?

PC: Yes.

NA: How is that possible?

PC: We don’t know. Everybody else had been given a copy in advance except us. Now these are serious areas of concern to us.

NA: Did you bring this up with President Zuma?

PC: You know it is difficult to engage at that level, and I know that my President would not even say what I am saying to you. To be honest, our model of facilitation is a wrong one. It should never have involved a head of state of another country, because you then start worrying about the inter-state relationships. And that is what we have always tried to avoid. We don’t want to quarrel with South Africa. But if, say, the Facilitator were a retired head of state, there would have been no inhibition to tell him or her our opinion frankly without any equivocation. So these are things we have kept quiet about, but they are a cause of concern to us.

NA: Tsvangirai has been indicating that if he does not get any joy on the reforms he wants, he may boycott the elections. If he does, what will you do?

PC: That is in the DNA of Tsvangirai, he is known as Mr Boycott, so if he boycotts the coming elections, it will not be news. But remember, the elections are not about Tsvangirai but about the people of Zimbabwe, who must exercise their rights to choose their Government. By the way, participation in an election is a voluntary act of individuals and political parties. So, parties who think that they have no chance of winning may not want to participate. So to boycott or not to boycott is a voluntary decision of Tsvangirai’s, and it is his alone to take. But I know that it will split his party again in the same way that his boycott of the senatorial elections in 2005 split his party.

They have already held their primary elections; now tell me, what reforms can you do in a week or two? And these are reforms not agreed to, they have to be negotiated, and at the moment we don’t have time to waste on negotiations. We would rather spend our time campaigning in order to win, to form the next Government.

NA: Are you saying that if Tsvangirai boycotts the elections, you will go ahead anyway, like you did in the 2008 presidential run-off?

PC: Of course! Remember that there are 28 political parties registered in this country, and most of them are going to compete in the elections. So if one of the 28 parties boycotts the elections, it will be a matter of no consequence to us. It might be a matter of consequence to the foreign sponsors of Tsvangirai’s party. They might feel that their money has been wasted. But that is their problem, not ours! And in any case, he will not take that decision until he consults his sponsors, the same countries that imposed sanctions on us, in the same way that he would not sign the Global Political Agreement in 2008 until he had been authorised by the British and the Americans to sign it.

NA: Talking about sponsors and sanctions, you were allowed into the UK in March this year for the first time in 13 years or so, to attend the “Friends of Zimbabwe” meeting in London, which brought together the same Western countries that imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. After the meeting, did your delegation have official discussions with the British government?

PC: Yes, we did. We had a three-man delegation comprising myself and two other ministers from the MDC formations, and had discussions with Minister Mark Simmons of the Foreign Office. It was the first time in 13 years that I had been given a visa, as a Zanu-PF Minister, to visit the UK, so they were keen to hear my views. But first, Simmons said they, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, think that the two previous governments before them, headed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, had made a mistake with the UK-Zimbabwe bilateral relations, and that the current government was anxious to re-engage with Zimbabwe.

He also said he agreed that the land question was a colonial and bilateral issue between the UK and Zimbabwe. And so they want to re-engage. But this, he said, would require time. “We have to prepare British opinion which has been poisoned against President Mugabe,” he said.

“So that when we eventually re-engage, the British people would understand the shift in British policy,” he added.

I thanked him in my response, and said that I was happy to hear him say that they had now accepted that the land question was a bilateral issue. But I added that it was not Zimbabwe that disengaged, it was the British who disengaged by lying that the situation in Zimbabwe was a human rights violation issue, when in fact it was the resolution of the land question. So I said: “We are ready to engage you any time at any moment, but the problems you pointed out are yours, not ours. So when you think you are ready to re-engage, you know where to find us.”

So that’s where we left it.

And of course, Minister Simmons pointed out that my being allowed into Britain was part of the rebuilding of relations between our two countries. But, again, just to show their insincerity — they have been saying they have lifted sanctions against me, but when I got to the UK, they gave me a written licence to buy in British shops.

And I have kept that licence as a souvenir. Under the sanctions against Zimbabwe, I was not allowed to buy in the British shops. So when they allowed me in this time, they gave me a written licence to buy anything I wanted in British shops.

Originally I was to return to Zimbabwe on a Wednesday, and the licence was to expire on that Wednesday. But I changed my mind and decided to come back on the Sunday because I wanted to take the opportunity to meet the British media and put across our side of the story. So when they heard that I was staying until Sunday, they quickly gave me an amended licence to buy in the shops until Sunday. That is the hypocrisy of the whole thing - all along they have been saying that they have lifted (all) the sanctions against me, but it is not true.

It shows how petty and vindictive they can be when pursuing their interests, something Africans don’t do. We are too forgiving.

NA: Well, we go for reconciliation and truth commissions!

PC: Exactly. We did it here in Zimbabwe after independence in 1980. We forgave and reconciled with the Rhodesians who only yesterday were shooting and killing our people. We are too forgiving of slavery and colonialism. That is our weakness, the weakness of Africans!

NA: So since your meeting with Minister Simmons, has there been any movement between Zimbabwe and Britain?

PC: Another British envoy, David Fish, was sent here by London, in fact last week. I had a meeting with him. Because before I left London in March, I said there was a need to start talking about what the agenda of the first re-engagement meeting would be, besides the land question.

So they sent David Fish, he used to be a director of UK’s Department for International Development in Harare, but he is now retired.

I pointed out that on top of any agenda must be our relations with Britain. And to rehabilitate it, they must stop the regime change agenda, they must stop funding the NGOs, and any assistance or aid they care to give Zimbabwe must he channelled through the national Treasury.

I said the US$2.6 billion that they say came through the NGOs was abused. So now if we are to have a genuine relationship, any assistance must be through government to government, not from NGOs.

NA: So effectively, Zimbabwe and the UK are officially talking?

PC: Yes, we are. But the ball is in their court, not in ours. As far as we are concerned, we went down economically because our eggs were in one basket, the Western basket.

That was our mistake, and we will never repeat that mistake. We will never again put all our economic eggs in one basket. Even the friendships will never again be in one basket.

We went down for that reason — all our industries, the spare parts, even our air force’s planes were British. So when the land issue rose up in 2000, the first thing they did was to deny us spare parts for the planes we had bought from them. So we grounded all the aircraft. That was a mistake. This time we have developed a Look East Policy, and we are going to diversify our friendships and economic relations. That is what is going to be our survival (strategy) as a country. We should never put all our eggs in one basket.

NA: So you have learnt a valuable lesson?

PC: Of course! Because when we were at our lowest economically, it was because the countries that owned our economy had pulled the rug from under our feet overnight.

But thankfully, through the land reform programme and I am happy the elections are coming now, our people are now starting to reap the benefits of the land redistribution, albeit the full potential has not yet been realised.

As you know, the British banks here are not lending to our farmers. So people have been basically raising themselves by their own bootstraps. But see what is happening now in the tobacco sector.

The production of our peasants is outstripping that of the erstwhile white commercial farmers. See what is happening in cotton, soya beans, maize?

These are indicators of great things to come, especially if we are allowed to trade with the rest of the world like any other country is doing, which is not the case because of the sanctions. They put most of our managers and institutions under sanctions.

But one positive thing that has come out of this struggle is that our people are now more aware of their rights.

They have now become more entrepreneurial. The events since 2000 have unleashed in our people a potential that I never knew existed.

People lost their jobs because of the collapse of industries and commerce, and they had to find survival tactics and strategies. And what has come out makes me very, very proud.

We now have a very good basis for the future. The foundation has now been laid for our future. Our resources are now under our control. Whatever is going to happen will be on our terms. We now have the human capital. What we didn’t have before 2000 was an entrepreneurial spirit.

That has now been inculcated in our people by the tumultuous events that have taken place from 2000 until now.

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