In our previous edition we carried a Q&A with former Education minister David Coltart where he spoke about the culture of political violence in Zimbabwe and how it has also influenced the MDC.
Today we carry the second part of the discussion where Coltart (DC) was speaking in an exclusive interview with Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor. Below are the excerpts from the interview.
TN: I would like to go back to your book and discuss what you call tyranny in Rhodesia and tyranny in Zanu PF and what that has done to our national psyche as a people; where our language is a language of insults and the way we deal with each other is disrespectful because violence is everywhere. I hear you saying that it is a false equivalence, but is there not something wrong with us, David?
DC: Well, that is the tragedy of war. You just have to look at the aftermaths of the Vietnam war in America and the amount of money that America spent on war veterans because of post-traumatic stress syndrome.
When I was minister of Education, I looked at how much money we were spending relating to different sectors for supplementary school fees.
I looked at the amount of money we were paying towards war veterans and I put forward a proposal to cut that a bit so that we could fund some kids who weren’t at school at all.
Joseph Chinotimba got wind of this and they threatened a demonstration against me and so I said I wanted to meet with the war veterans and Chinotimba.
Former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara organised the meeting and it was a fascinating meeting. I wrote about it in my book.
The first 15 minutes comprised of Chinotimba haranguing me and recounting my past as a former Rhodesian Selous Scout, which I never was. I eventually had to say, ‘Mr Chinotimba, I am the minister of Education now and I have got a relationship with (then) president Robert Mugabe and he understands that I am trying to act in the best interests — not of white children — but of black children who are out of school and that is what is motivating me.
He eventually relaxed and by the end of about an hour and a half meeting, we had a very good discussion, and since then we have had a very good relationship.
It illustrates to me the problem that we face in our nation.
Although you were not involved in the war, you had to suffer racial discrimination during our generation.
Black people suffered racial discrimination and white people suffered false notions of white superiority — and all of us had to suffer a war, which affected our national psyche.
It has given us a national dose of post-traumatic stress.
TN: How do we deal with that David, how do we get to normalcy because we are not a normal society anymore?
DC: The first step that you have to take with an illness is recognising it and not denying it. I think we need to recognise it in our country that we are still afflicted, and 40 years after independence many people are still fighting the war in one way or another. We need to recognise that it has resulted in some of the crazy policies that we have seen in the last 20 years.
TN: ….and crazy behaviour, David. Moving on to the January protests — I was shocked by two things: the level of violence from the military side and the loss of innocent lives. I was equally shocked by the violence from the protesters — the damage to private property, looting and that kind of stuff. I stopped and said: Who are we and what have we become?
DC: That is a very important point — and using this opportunity and coming back to the issue of dialogue, what Zanu PF and President Emmerson Mnangagwa need to understand is that they have a unique opportunity with the current MDC leadership.
The sentiment out in the streets is a very angry sentiment.
What we are trying to say is that let us stabilise the country — let us take us back into constitutionalism.
The danger is that if that voice is ignored — that this very angry sentiment that we saw in January gets out of hand — Zimbabwe is rather like the bush in October. The bush is dry, it is like a tinder box. You might want to burn a fire using matches. There is a strong wind that can take hundreds and thousands of hectares and burn them. That is the danger that we are in. At present, when you go into the high-density suburbs, which I am sure you do, and you speak to people, many people do not know how they will survive until the end of next week.
It takes responsible leadership right across the political divide to recognise that and to start genuine dialogue.
TN: Do you think you have partners for dialogue within Zanu PF? Are there moderates like you who are prepared to countenance what you are saying?
DC: Well, I have friends but I am not going to name them and compromise them. Yes, I have people that I interact with. This situation is analogous to South Africa in the early 90s. I am not equating Zanu PF rule to apartheid, but what I am saying is that you have two dominant political parties and two leaders that are finding it very difficult to interact with each other.
We need one tier dialogue, which is committed to constitutionalism, committed to dialogue and committed about the country and to take the nation forward and avoid conflagration.
TN: I like the way you describe what our society is like in terms of what it would be like with a matchstick to be responsible. In this kind of environment, how responsible is it to be calling out for street marches and protests, rather than pursuing as much as possible the issue of dialogue?
DC: What you need to understand — and you have seen it on social media in the last couple of months — that Nelson Chamisa has been attacked, and I have been attacked for being too moderate.
There is a groundswell of political opinion coming up saying that this is intolerable and we cannot survive like this. That same opinion is deeply sceptical of what Zanu PF is doing.
Zanu PF needs to understand that when we call for things like these — and we have been very deliberate to say that it is a march — it is not going to the streets one day.
We indicated the route that we wanted to take and encouraging leaders to be there saying that we want discipline, we want to cut down on agent provocateurs to come in.
TN: How confident are you that it is going to go according to plan?
DC: I am absolutely confident that if the MDC can be allowed to conduct a peaceful march….
We have demonstrated before and during the run-up to the elections, there were thousands of people in the streets. You referred to November 2017 — Zimbabweans naturally are peace-loving.
I am confident that if there are no agent provocateurs and the state authorities allow the march to take place along the route designated, there won’t be violence. But the danger is there are agent provocateurs coming from who knows where.
TN: But you also have the Job Sikhalas who have announced a number of times that his mandate — his mission — is to get rid of Mnangagwa even before 2023, those are worrying sentiments from somebody who is high up in the MDC leadership honestly.
DC: First of all, he did not say he wants to get rid of Mnangagwa. The word that he used was overthrow — and even if you look at the Criminal Code you will see that the crime is to overthrow unconstitutionally. One can be overthrown through constitutional means. Ironically, that is what Mnangagwa would say about former president Robert Mugabe, he would say that it was perfectly constitutional and to his rule pressure was put over him and he resigned. That is an overthrow, but it is an overthrow through constitutional means. I have no doubt that when Sikhala talks about this, he talks about it using constitutional means and non-violent means.
TN: But that does not come across, David.
DC: It does come across if you look at a wider context and you will understand Sikhala over the last 20 years as I do. I have been in Parliament with him. But one needs to look beyond that and recognise that Sikhala is reflecting a sentiment that is held at grassroots level. There are many people — not you and I — we have incomes and savings — but if you drive around there are desperate people out there.
That is what Zanu PF needs to understand — not to look so much at the messenger in Sikhala, but understand that actually in many respects, he is speaking on behalf of others.
TN: The MDC controls the majority of urban councils. Is it not a fair thing to say that shouldn’t MDC be doing a lot to ensure that they impress on the electorate by ensuring that those local authorities are properly run and governed to prove to the electorate that it should be happening? Is there something missing?
DC: In the run-up to my own personal election to the MDC, I said we cannot say to the electorate that we are capable of governing the country when we cannot govern the party well and the institutions that the party controls.
There is no doubt in my mind that the MDC has not run the councils as best as it could have. We have a lot of work to do and the recent shenanigans in Bulawayo are very damaging to the party.
TN: What is behind that?
DC: Well, I think part of it is complex, it is multifaceted, it is deeply-rooted and is brought about by corruption, which is also brought about by the wider corruption in our society.
There is an element of tribalism and personality.
Coming back to your question, yes, the MDC has a lot of work to improve delivery in councils. But you cannot look at how council is run in isolation. You have to judge how councils are run in the wider context of the country.
We know that Zanu PF has routinely interfered with the operations of councils.
In the run-up to some elections, we have had ministers of Local Government waiving rates which has seriously undermined the balance sheet of local councils.
So, yes the MDC is responsible, but it is not solely responsible.
TN: Let us go to your programme Reload, which you have just launched. How is it going to ameliorate some of the problems that the country is facing?
DC: Reload is how we stabilise the country and the focus of RELOAD is how we get to dialogue. We believe to get to genuine dialogue we need an independent mediator. We need respect for constitutionalism. we need a return to the rule of law. We need to agree on the process that will follow through to the next elections.
Looking at Zimbabwe with a completely objective perspective — the two political protagonists MDC and Zanu PF, what the MDC needs in the run-up to elections is constitutional compliance. We need food aid, not to be a factor.
We need all Zimbabweans to be registered, a genuinely independent electoral commission, we need a ZBC which is an impartial body and that is what the constitution says.
All those are needs, not just for the MDC, but all opposition parties.
On the other side of the spectrum is what Zanu PF needs.
Zanu PF has the control, but if there is no political and economic stability in the run-up to the elections, it will make its job of winning free and fair elections very difficult. That is the quid pro quo. That is what we need and that is what Reload talks about.
Let us return the country to constitutionalism, respect the rule of law, and then the international community — we hope — will respond to that. Zidera can go, balance of payments support can come in and we can stabilise the economy and we then move towards a new election with an entirely different political and economic climate.
TN: The economy is in a crisis. There are electricity and fuel shortages. What quick solutions will the MDC give if it were to come into power?
DC: You know as a businessman that the problems are so deeply-rooted. There is no silver bullet — no magic wand.
TN: Would you be able to tell that to MDC supporters that there is no quick solution?
DC: As I said during the congress week, I was interviewed and that interview was published when I said just that. But what the MDC would do is two things:
firstly, it has a better chance of restoring business confidence, and, secondly, it will be prepared to completely liberalise, for example, access to finance.
TN: Unpack those two.
DC: On business confidence, we saw Tendai Biti (former Finance minister MDC) restoring business confidence primarily in the business sector and this is objectively ascertained.
Bank deposits during his tenure dramatically increased.
Both businesses and people felt that they could put their money into bank balances rather than under their pillows. That was reversed soon after the elections.
That applies to commercial banks and the central bank. I recently read an article about the Federal Reserve in America and they said actually the most important element in the running of any central bank in the world comes down to one word: ‘trust’, and so you cannot restore trust when you say one thing one day and do another the next day. That applies to marriages and running banks where trust is fundamental.
Secondly, you have to be prepared to release foreign exchange to allow the market to determine how it wishes to spend foreign exchange.
There is a third element and that relates to corruption, which is now endemic in our society and it seems to be growing. You have to root it out deeply.
TN: And this is corruption that we find in MDC run city councils and all across our institutions?
DC: I am being candid with you today that we can see that there has been corruption in the running of some MDC councils but you cannot equate that with the corruption that we have seen in the past few weeks where we have seen US$98 million worth of houses alleged.
There is not even a single councillor in Zimbabwe.
They might have a house in Highlands but they do not have a house in Britain or Canada or Cape Town. It’s a false equivalence.
The deep-rooted corruption is what we see emerging in the past few weeks. We have to root out all corruption.
I come back to my profession of faith. A key element to the Christian faith is that all people have fallen short.
There is nothing such as a perfect politician or a perfect political party.
Anyone who says that they are perfect or that their political party is perfect is simply not telling the truth.
We need to have that national honesty to realise that just as violence which has now become a national disease, violence is also a national disease and those two diseases are affecting our country and everyone has to work to eradicate them.
TN: Let us now get into something that you have extensively written about and that is Gukurahundi. Are you happy with the way that the current government is dealing with this issue?
DC: I think to be fair you have to say that there is progress in that one could not speak about it at all during Mugabe’s rule but now people are speaking about it.
It comes back to genuine-ness. We need to see more of that from government; unfortunately it is going to take action.
When I and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the Legal Resources Foundation did a research for breaking the silence which was published in 1997 — we did five years of research and we interviewed over 2 000 victims during that period and it was very interesting for me on the what the common demands of the people were.
I was expecting, as a lawyer, that the victims would say that we want justice and people prosecuted, but that was not the dominant request. There were three dominant requests. The first was an acknowledgement that what had happened did happen by those responsible for it happening.
Secondly, they wanted an apology from those responsible for what had happened and thirdly, they wanted communal reparations.
You know that if you drive to Kezi or Tsholotsho or Gwanda you will travel on roads that are over 60 years old — they have not changed since the 1950s.
If you travel to Guruve, Bindura or Chipinge, you will travel on roads that were constructed since independence.
That is a hard developmental fact in our country. The roads are just a tip of the iceberg.
If you go to clinics and schools — there are less schools that teach ‘A Level chemistry and biology in the South West of the country than there are elsewhere in the country.
During the first 10 years — during Gukurahundi, there was underdevelopment of those regions.
That is what people called for. They want affirmative action.
It needs to be shown in dollars and cents and in the budget. Those are the three critical things that I think are going to heal and at present we do not have any of those demands. These are not my demands — in fact they were not even demands. They were the requests of the 2 000 victims.
TN: David what a fascinating conversation that we have had and you have been very candid. But I want to ask you — are you optimistic about where this country is going? Are you hopeful? If you are not, what is it that is going to make you hopeful and optimistic about this county?
DC: Trevor, I have a deep passion for this country. I love it to the depths of my bones — and because of that I still retain this faith in our nation.
I was in London in June and I said this is the country which should and can be the jewel of Africa.
It has every possible ingredient to become the best country in Africa, primarily because of our people.
We have the least racist people in the world in my own personal experience. We have highly educated people.
We have an incredible workforce — trustworthy, dedicated, hardworking pe
On top of that, we have this beautiful country, this amazing climate, amazing soils, amazing rains and this diverse resource base, tourist base, our position in Central Africa, our infrastructure — we have got everything, but we are missing only one ingredient, and its democracy, constitutionalism.
I believe that if we tackle our past, recognise the errors of our past and we genuinely respect our constitution and rule of law, we will build a sense of patriotism in this country and it is going to bloom.
So, the short answer to your question is that I still — for all our huge problems — still have faith that it will yet become the jewel of Africa.