ZIMBABWE – Barely three months ago, he was a deputy treasurer-general, whom many thought was mild, malleable and agreeable to Morgan Tsvangirai’s leadership of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T).
Today, after two damning letters, the first of which candidly advised the party leader to step down, Elton Mangoma stands accused of moving an agenda for leadership renewal and causing disharmony in the party.
Suspended, he awaits a disciplinary hearing by an independent tribunal. As he waits for the party processes to run their course, he is not doing so lying down. Clearly, battle lines have been drawn. Is there any going back? The Financial Gazette News Editor, Maggie Mzumara, sat down with Mangoma to get to the bottom of it all.
MM: Where do things stand right now for you? Do you feel aggrieved?
EM: No, I do not feel aggrieved. My position is that we are not following the constitution as a party; instead we are doing things that we abhor, that have been done by ZANU–PF. So that is what my concern is. That we cannot copy a system we are fighting.
MM: Do you have a date for your tribunal hearing yet?
MM: It’s going to decide your fate in the party. Are you waiting for it with hope? With apprehension? With what?
EM: I have done nothing wrong. So, no, no apprehension. I have nothing to worry about in the sense that I am an open and transparent person.
MM: Obviously there are those that feel that you did something wrong, which is why some charges have been levelled against you.
EM: It is up to the people who think that I have done something wrong to be able to prove that I have done something wrong. When you look at the charges against me, it tells you that they are as wishy-washy as they come. You see, the burden that we have got, is the burden of proximity. When a leader misses a step, many people will not blame the leader. They will blame people who are close to him or the advisors. Therefore when the leader makes his mistakes, we, as the people who are close to him, are blamed for his mistakes — that we have not advised him properly. Yet, sometimes, when you are that close, you do not have an opportunity to say ‘but I advised him’. My letter will show that I advised him. I do advise him. That’s why it was a private letter . . . and it’s unfortunate that it was leaked. In a way, people can say but he is advised. It becomes himself now not taking advice as opposed to there being people who are close to him who are not giving advice, or a matter of him choosing advice he wants to follow . . . I do not want to mislead the people of Zimbabwe. At least, no one can say I didn’t warn them.
MM: To those of us who are on the outside looking in, it would appear that the actual contents of the letter were not dealt with. Is that how you feel?
EM: Yes, they have not been dealt with. The issues are still there. Yet those are the issues that make us bring real change to the people. So as long as we miss that and we concentrate on whether I am suspended or not; and whether I am meeting people or not meeting people, you are missing the point.
MM: Is it a matter of people not getting the point or people trying to divert attention?
EM: It’s you as the media because you concentrate on the wrong things. Has the hatchet been buried or not, as opposed to have those issues been addressed or not. What is important is to address those issues. Whether the hatchet is there or not, that is irrelevant. Of course there is no point of me saying I do not believe in this letter anymore, when I do. Or pretend like some of my colleagues do that these issues don’t matter, when they know they matter.
MM: Now when you wrote the letter, I would like to imagine that you had given it some thought and that it was something that had been bothering you for some time?
EM: I didn’t just start by writing the letter. I had had conversations with him (Tsvangirai) in person. It was on the basis that he needed to find a successor.
MM: Was he open to that?
EM: He said it wasn’t in the constitution and I said yes I know, but it was important. The issue that we needed another leader, he knew from me before (the letter).
MM: Were you the only one that expressed such thoughts to him?
EM: I don’t know. I don’t know what the others advise in my absence, but I did tell him.
MM: When you finally did sit down to write the letter, did you do it alone?
MM: Who agrees with you on this?
EM: No. I don’t want to guess on who would agree or not agree . . . But I can tell you that 100 percent of the people in the Standing Committee do not support Tsvangirai. (The Standing Committee has 13 people including Tsvangirai.
MM: Now here we are, you stand accused of having factional meetings and rallies. Are you leading a faction?
EM: There are no factional meetings because there is no faction I am aware of. There are people who are in the party who believe in the party’s values and are not happy when the party violates the constitution. Those are the people I am representing. The people who want the constitution to be followed and our values practised. We are against one man rule. We want the rule of law.
MM: Where will all this end? What do you see?
EM: I see those people who do not want to follow the values of the MDC not being part of the MDC.
MM: You are talking of people at what level?
EM: From whatever level. Because they have got an organisation that they don’t feel they can belong to because its rules are too tight for them. They will be rejected by the people.
MM: Following the violence which you encountered at the hands of some party members, do you feel safe or do you fear for your life?
EM: Oh, yaa, there are people who are out there to sort me out, and there is the president of the party who has not condemned violence and who has not brought those people to book.
MM: Is leaving the MDC-T an option for you?
MM: So what is the plan?
EM: People need to know that their leadership is not practising the non-violence they preach. We want a party that speaks to the people, a party that can deliver real change to the people. To unite and build the nation. Those who have a similar view we will work with them. Those who want to inherit the same system of repression and non constitutionalism, we won’t work with them.
MM: When you say you won’t work with someone, make it clear. Is anyone leaving the ‘tent’?
EM: The people who will leave are those we will expose. For example, people who work with violence. When the people know that Tsvangirai knew I would be beaten and (Nelson) Chamisa knew that I would be beaten but that they allowed it to happen. Do you continue to work with them? Do people continue to have confidence in them?
MM: You have said Tsvangirai has no capacity. What do you mean exactly? Unpack that for me.
EM: The kind of judgments that one makes will show you whether one has the capacity to solve big problems or not. Or even the capacity to accept good advice or not. And you can look at the issues (that he has tackled) for example. Where can I start? In negotiating the ministries (for the inclusive government), the man did the negotiation himself but we had given him advice as the negotiators of the Global Political Agreement. We drew up a list of the top ministries and said you must get five of these, ZANU-PF must get these five. We had put them in pairs that counterbalanced them to say if ZANU-PF gets this, we should get that. And the man went and came back with something totally different. He never got it.
MM: Is it a matter of him changing his mind? Or just not getting it?
EM: That is the point. The importance of what you will be talking about is lost. Failure to grasp. To say if I do this, this is what it means.
MM: So that appreciation of counterbalancing ministries wasn’t there?
EM: It wasn’t there. It just ended up being as long as we can say you have your own ministers and I have mine, that’s okay. We also tried to make him understand that he had executive authority but he did not appreciate what it meant to have executive authority. There was really no need for him to subordinate himself to President (Robert) Mugabe. Yet he was quite happy (doing that).
MM: But were you not discussing this as a party and advising one another?
EM: We did.
MM: But surely there must be something he brings to the table. What has steered the party thus far? What does he bring to the table?
EM: He brought bravery. He thought that he could go and confront. Maybe it’s also lack of appreciating the real danger. But we will give him that. He brought bravery. Let’s not take that away.
MM: But bravery alone…
EM: This is the point. As a country we have a problem.
MM: So in that case would one be correct to say, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that the MDC-T lost?
EM: Yes, you see that’s why one colleague says ‘We dodged a bullet.’ God actually intervened.
MM: But my thing to you is, aren’t you realising this too late?
EM: No, no, we didn’t realise it too late. We always knew, but you kind of say but it might not go as bad.
MM: So as a party you missed a number of opportunities when you were in the inclusive government because of some unfortunate decisions being made? So you guys let down the people who were banking on you for change and reform?
EM: In Cabinet (during the GNU), during the debates he would fall away from the discussions.
MM: What do you mean fall away? Withdraw you mean?
EM: Yes, withdraw from discussions. There is the lack of understanding and there is also the issue of attention span. It is difficult to capture his attention for a long time.
MM: Alright, back to the current: do you want to be president of the party?
EM: I have answered that question before.
MM: But do you harbour any such ambitions?
EM: It depends on what the people want. I have never gone out to be president of the party, but if that is what the people want, I will take up the opportunity. I will not turn it down.
MM: But are you ready for the presidency?
EM: I will be ready whenever the people say it.
MM: Isn’t it a fact though that the grassroots support Tsvangirai overwhelmingly?
EM: Let’s face it: here is someone who says I have people. And then you say let’s go to congress and he says no, not yet. So who has the support? If he had the support wouldn’t he have said yes, be my guest. Let’s have it (congress) tomorrow. Now you want to purge, you want to intimidate.” Financial Gazette