ZIMBABWE – Professor Welshman Ncube’s MDC has hit turbulent times in the recent past with the resignation of top leaders and the ouster of its acting secretary general Moses Mzila Ndlovu some two weeks ago. Chief Reporter Nkosana Dlamini caught up with Ncube to hear about the goings on in the party as well as its future plans. Below is the interview;
NZ: It is now five years since you took over the MDC leadership, how do you think you have fared as a leader?
WN: It is not for me to pass judgment on myself. In the fullness of time I will be judged by colleagues who have worked with me over the last five years as well as by the structures and organs of the MDC together with the general membership. Whatever their judgement will be, I would have played my part and made decisions entrusted to us as a leadership collective to the best of our ability. I am merely the first among equals within the Standing Committee of the party. We consult, debate and make decisions as a collective, believing them to be in the best interests of the party and country. The rest we leave to history to record and historians to judge.
NZ: When you took over in 2011, your party had 10 MPs, now you have 4, what went wrong?
WN: Actually in the 2008 harmonised elections we had won 15 not 10 parliamentary seats, broken down as 10 House of Assembly seats and 5 senatorial seats. It is correct that this tally of 15 was reduced to 4 by the Nikuv tsunami of the 2013 harmonised elections. However, this reduction must be put into proper context and perspective in that it was not only us who suffered huge set-backs but others as well. For example, when we went into the 2013 harmonised elections MDC-T held 100 House of Assembly seats and these were nikuved to 49 which is a reduction of 51 %. In short, everyone was nikuved.
As for what went wrong, Nikuv came around. On our part we had done everything we could with the resources available to us. We were virtually the only party which crisscrossed the country on a weekly basis from immediately after our congress early 2011 all the way up to the July 2013 elections. The energy, mood, levels of selfless dedication, commitment and enthusiasm were unprecedented. What we harvested had very little correlation with the work we did. This is why the outcome of the election hit us so hard and it took us some time to regain our perspective, given that we lost to political parties which were not even on the ground until 2013. Our view has been that internal party organisational and institutional strategy cannot prevail where the electoral scales are so inherently opaque and balanced in favor of those who wield partisan control over every stage in the electoral process and hence our inability to even account how we would get zero votes in some polling stations where our own candidates voted.
This explains our decision immediately after the elections to boycott all by elections until all electoral reforms agreed to during the inclusive government have been fully implemented so that, for example, ZEC takes complete control of voter registration and custody of the voters roll which should be accessible in all its forms to all political parties at all times.
NZ: It’s commonly felt it is difficult for an Ndebele opposition leader to appeal nationally, let alone become President, how have you dealt with this narrative?
WN: It is a sad indictment on us as a nation that you would even pose this question to me having regard to our collective promise to each other as fellow citizens in our constitution that we are and shall ALL be equal, enjoying the same common citizenship and rights.
Within the MDC, as a national party of compatriots bound together in the richness of our diversity by common values and principles, we are not guided by tribe, place of origin or language of birth but elect our leaders at all levels, including the Presidency, based on the strength of their capabilities to perform the tasks that the movement assigns to them from time to time. To do otherwise will be a betrayal of the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we could be a free nation of equal citizens working together and in unity to build a united, just and prosperous nation solidly built on the values of equality, freedom and fairness to all.
NZ: Your party at one point wanted to change name but it was strongly felt MDC was already a popular brand name and a switch would be disastrous, do you think that has worked for you?
WN: What is correct is that in the run up to the 2011 Congress the National Council instructed the relevant organs to conduct a rebranding exercise through consultative processes with the party provinces. This exercise resulted in recommendations for a new party name and new colors. The current color of lime green together with the attendant slogan â€˜Green Green: Ayithelelwe “ Ngaidiridzwe, were borne out of that exercise. Unfortunately, Congress overwhelmingly rejected the recommendation of the National Council for the adoption of a new party name.
The reasoning in Congress’ rejection had nothing to do with any feelings that the MDC was a popular brand but had more to do with what I might call sentimental attachments to the name and the fact that delegates were very emotional about the fact that we were the part of the MDC formations which had not only remained faithful to the founding values and principles of the party but had also scrupulously followed the tenets and dictates of the party constitution. Thus it was strongly felt that giving up on the MDC name was giving up on the deep conviction and knowledge of the delegates that we are the original MDC. Some of us were convinced that Congress was making a grave strategic mistake and we asked for a re-debate and a rephrasing of the question in English, Ndebele and Shona before Congress could take another vote. In the second vote the number of those voting in favor of name change had shrunk even more to a few dozen of our nearly 5 000 delegates. So there we were. We accepted the verdict of Congress and hence we remained MDC to this date.
I think there will remain for some time a core group among us who will be very sentimental about the name MDC even though the objective facts might suggest that there could be wisdom in charting new directions. We will see whether there would be any new thinking at this year’s congress.
NZ: Most former government officials from the opposition went into private occupation when the tenure of the inclusive government ended, what are you doing now for a living?
WN: You will recall that when I went into government in 2009 I had been practicing law as an advocate at the Advocates Chambers in Harare and also doing cattle ranching. Upon the end of my tenure in government, I took a year off formal work to rest and reflect. After the break I went back into practice, at Mathonsi Ncube Law Chambers in Bulawayo. While being the leader of a political party is in itself an enormous responsibility, my first love remains the practice of law in its various manifestations. I have been privileged that I have practiced law as a trainer of law students, a writer of legal texts and other scholarly works, an advocate and legal practitioner as well as participated in the processes of law making as a member of Cabinet and as a legislator for well over a decade. I have even had the misfortune of being at the receiving end of the law as a treason trialist.
NZ: Your former SG, Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga, resigned under a cloud last year and the narrative was that this was because you clashed, what is your account of the incident?
WN: I have no narrative, I have only the facts. They are that she offered her resignation and the party accepted it. In the fullness of time I am sure that she would one day give her reasons for her resignation. What I can tell you is that she was a very good Secretary General of the party and an excellent administrator and organizer. Very few would match her competencies.
While Hon. Misihairabwi Mushonga was a competent administrator her major difficulty lay in her inability to reach out and work with everyone in the party including those who were not fans of hers. If only she had managed this part of her personality, so much of her strong points would have flourished much, much better. I gave her all the counsel I could give on this point and regrettably we were never able to agree. The position of Secretary General entails that one be able to service each and every department and to work with each and every member at all times, whatever one’s personal predilections might be about that member.
I am, however, aware that her major difficulties within the party had to do with the numerous articles penned under pseudonyms, defaming and abusive of her person and she was gravely offended by them, particularly as she believed they were authored by colleagues within the party. Those she believed to be the authors denied their authorship. She then felt that I as President had not and was not doing enough to protect her and others from these attacks to the extent that she believed that I was sympathetic to what she believed to be the cause of the authors since they were purporting to be defending the office of the President of the party. By this time she believed that I had lost confidence in her and she resigned.
NZ: Your 5 year tenure as MDC president has seen many top ranking party officials resign either to go into private business or joining other parties, what is causing their exit?
WN: My friend Frank Chamunorwa and Nhlanhla Dube resigned from their respective positions as Deputy Chairperson and Spokesperson for principally the same reasons. Dube, in particular, felt very strongly that the party and to some extent myself, had not done enough to protect him from the hurtful attacks of these individuals who savagely attacked them under the cover of pseudonyms.
Maybe with a little more effort and more trust all round we could have prevented the resignations of these three by doing more to demonstrate that as the Presidency of the party, we did not in any way condone the attacks.
My colleague Qhubani Moyo left in order to pursue business interests which he deemed incompatible with a direct and active role in politics. We spoke at length and we wished him well in those business endeavors.
Let me add that since the 2013 elections all of the parties represented in parliament have gone through one or other form of convulsion. We have had our share of those convulsions and we have done our best to manage them in the interest of our movement. We would have preferred to have been spared these convulsions. We were not. The causes of the convulsions in our movement have been varied but have largely been about disputes on the direction the party must chart on the way ahead given the nikuv tsunami of 2013 and also on the procedural matters on how we should exercise our collective mandates as elected leaders with a responsibility to each other and the general party membership.
Some of our party colleagues who might have thought that the struggle will be a short one simply ran out of steam and suffered severe fatigue. Like I said earlier, the political market is a free market economy determined by supply, demand, competition, financial benefits. But let me put it into perspective. Our so-called poor performance in 2013 caused some fatigue, and when a team is in that state, it requires courage to maintain momentum and cohesion.
NZ: Your former acting secretary general Moses Mzila Ndlovu, whom you have just axed for alleged incompetence, says the MDC is doomed under you, your response.
WN: I am tempted to respond as would an aging professor to a poor review of his work: Ask him to spell my name!
NZ: Are you aware of a petition by more than 40 MDC members calling for your resignation? If so, how do you respond to their demands and claims that you are running barren leadership, pursuing a divisive and dictatorial agenda among the reasons?
WN: Yes, I am aware of the petition including its false, scurrilous and defamatory allegations on which I have already sought and received legal advice. If the leadership collective in the party approves, I will be instructing my lawyers to take legal action against those responsible for the publication of the false and defamatory material.
The petition I received is purportedly by 62 party members. However 48 of the signatories are unknown in the party and they do not appear in our membership register. Two or so were party intelligence operatives deployed by our security department to monitor the activities of the group which started its clandestine meetings as long ago as in or around about October last year. This means that in reality there are only 12 petitioners, two being members of the National Executive of some 66 people; one being a member of the Women’s Assembly National Executive Committee of some 30 people, three being members of the Bulawayo main wing provincial executive committee of 25 or so members, one being a member of the Midlands South Provincial Executive Committee, two being district executive committee members in Bulawayo and one in Matabeleland South and lastly one being a former deputy Minister from Matabeleland South who is an appointed member of the National Council.
I give these details in order to make the point that it is an extraordinary act of political bravado for a group of 12 party members in some two out of 12 party provinces to believe that they can petition a party president elected by nearly 5 000 delegates to stand down against the wishes of the overwhelming majority in those provinces and in opposition by some 10 of the remaining provinces. You must be wondering what could be the real intention behind this bizarre act.
But then within the party we know that all this is a game of hide and seek. The real intention of the group of 14 including the real two senior movers of the plot who lacked the courage to put their signatures on the petition is to dismember the party and turn it into a regional party under the leadership of someone who can only ever speak on one and only one issue he thinks defines the three provinces in which the Regional party would exist.
What they should have done was to place the issue of a regional party transparently on the agenda of party structures and organs for open debate instead of clandestinely seeking to dismember the party. It is their democratic right to go regional. We wish them well in their endeavors to construct a Regional party. What we will not do is to allow them to build their party on the ruins and ashes of the MDC.
NZ: How best would you describe the mood in your party currently?
WN: We have the usual contradictions which are part of daily life in our country. Thus we have a combination of buoyance, somberness and anxiety. Party leaders are on the ground working in communities trying to build linkages with social movements. We are structure building, structure auditing and doing visibility programmes. Members are obviously anxious about the doings of a small group that I spoke of earlier. But the spirit of togetherness is overwhelming.
NZ: You were once secretary general (SG) in the then united MDC and was accused of engineering the split. You had an equally difficult relationship with then MDC President Arthur Mutambara when you were his SG and now you seem to be having the same problems with your two successive SGs. What really is it with SGs?
WN: I never had any problems with Professor Mutambara. We worked very well together until Congress did not re-elect him in 2011.
I did not engineer the split of the MDC. One day when Zimbabwe is truly free and we can openly write about our history the public will come to know that the 2005 split of the united MDC was engineered by two forces, externally to the MDC with diametrically opposed ideological agendas. I did not even trigger the split let alone engineer it. It is a matter of public record that what triggered the split were the actions of the then President of the united MDC in refusing to accept the legal and political validity of the vote of the National Council, taking at his instigation and insistence against the collective view of councilors who had repeatedly cautioned against such a vote.
I repeat that I had no problems with Hon. Misihairabwi Mushonga in her capacity as SG of the party. In fact, during her tenure as SG, I worked extremely well with her right up to the time she resigned for what I believe are reasons I averred to earlier.
NZ: MDC will have an elective congress this year; will you be running for Presidency? If so, what do you intend to do that you feel you did not do during your five year term?
WN: There is a lot that still needs to be done to begin the process of securing a democratic Zimbabwe that will deliver on the promises of the liberation struggle and the values and principles which underpinned it. I have been part of the continuing struggle to deliver prosperity to our people all my adult life including during my days as a ZAPU youth leader in Rhodesia and early on in Zimbabwe. I still believe that I still have the energy to have my shoulder, together with other compatriots, on the wheel of the democratic movement in our country. In what position I am to play that role in future is not for me to decide but that of the general membership of the MDC acting together and assembled as such at Congress.
It would be perfectly in order for Congress to repose the responsibilities of President on any of our fellow party members whom Congress might deem better suited to perform the tasks of President at this particular historical moment in our struggle. I would accept whatever role, who knows, even in the Council of Elders, which the movement might wish to repose on my shoulders. What is certain is that I will not campaign to be retained as President. The prerogative of nominating leaders is vested in the party provinces who might not even nominate me. Remember that in 2011 those provinces set the precedent of not nominating a sitting one term President. They could do the same this year and that will be perfectly within their rights and I would embrace it.
Whoever is elected the next President of our movement will have my full and unqualified support during the tenure of his or her office and I will do all I can to help him or her to deliver on the tasks that congress would have defined for us. Those tasks would no doubt include continuing to build the party and preparing the movement for the 2018 elections and working with other democratic forces sharing the same values and principles to secure a prosperous Zimbabwe which serves the interests of all its citizens.
The tasks at hand will be varied and many and include the harmonization of our laws and governance system to the new constitution; addressing the effects of climate change which induce widespread hunger, securing our freedoms and liberties and securing the implementation of electoral reforms so as to assist in ensuring that in each and every election the will of the people prevails at all times.
NZ: There is talk of a grand coalition among opposition political forces, have you been in any talks with any of the political players from the country’s opposition over that?
WN: Informally everyone is talking to everyone bilaterally and otherwise about the need for working together. Time will tell if this will lead to anything formal and structured. What is important is that we as MDC have been saying for quite some time now, that old narratives have not worked in saving our country from the clutches of a cabal cloaked as a government which has brought our people nothing but humiliation, denigration, joblessness, poverty and hunger which stalks all hard working families. This year we are faced with what is probably going to be the worst drought in living memory but alas we have a government whose leaders are exclusively preoccupied by the one issue of which one of them will remain at the frenzied helm of the feasting table to feed on the carcass of what was once a great country after President Mugabe’s inevitable departure sooner rather than later given his age.
On our part, we pledge to do all that is humanly possible to ensure that by 2018 all democratic forces who share our values and principles in words and deed or who can be made to unequivocally commit to them and agree to be bound in future by the dictates of those values and principles, have been brought together for one last effort at bringing down the elected dictatorship that is responsible for our humiliation and misery as a people. We should not fail. If we do, God forbid, it will not be out of failure to try and try again.