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‘Why we started July 31st Movement’

Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume says the July 31st Movement, which spearheaded protests against corruption early this year, was meant to give Zimbabweans a non-partisan platform to fight the vice.

Ngarivhume (JN), who is the convenor of the movement alongside the likes of MDC Alliance vice-chairperson Job Sikhala, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube on the show In Conversation with Trevor that graft was weighing Zimbabwe down.

He spoke about how the July 31st Movement was conceived, his arrest and his views on how Zimbabwe could unite to confront issues such as corruption and misgovernance.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: Jacob, you called for the 31 July anti-corruption protest and you were very clear that this should be non-partisan and non-violent.

Were you surprised by how the public reacted and how the government reacted to your call?

JN: Quite correct, I will tell you that I called the nation to act as far as corruption is concerned.

Initially I didn’t believe we were going to get that traction that we got at the end from Zimbabweans.

Given the background of issues of fear and also how divided our nation is and on who is calling the demonstration.

People ask a lot of questions, who is Jacob Ngarivhume, why is he calling for the demonstrations, who is he to do that and so on.

What really surprised and heartened me is that Zimbabweans responded, from those who are local and those in the diaspora.

Most Zimbabweans were talking about it, retweeting, posting on Facebook and all over and it was so heartening for me.

Of course, the calls from government, though expected, were so disheartening.

They took it to be something else, a monster that this was coming from the West.

I even look at my skin sometimes and say wow, have I turned into a white man?

But you know this is typically what they do.

Overall, the response from Zimbabweans was exceptional and good I tell you.

TN: Take us through your thinking process and say finally on 31 July we need to have a protest around corruption.

What are the things that got you so upset and agitated that you ought to call the nation to take a stand on corruption?

JN: We know the effects of corruption in this country and corruption has been talked about.

It has become systemic and endemic.

We all know that and we have talked about it.

There are outstanding issues and matters that we have talked about, but we have not addressed as a nation.

For instance, I will tell you five months after the late president Robert Mugabe, took off the lid on the US$15 billion which was squandered from diamonds and to me it was the wow moment to say US$15 billion and outing context US$15 billion.

When I travelled to Dubai, one of the things that fascinated me a lot was their tallest building and I was told when I was doing the tour that $1 billion was used to construct the building and to think of US$15 billion.

It was those 15 buildings in Zimbabwe that were squandered and were not accounted for.

Nothing is said, nothing is followed through.

Recently, we have been talking about the US$3 billion from command agriculture and so you look at the Drax scandal, you look at the US$60 million and you look at what is happening in our hospitals, our education, our infrastructure and so on and you see that we haven’t done anything as a nation to look into these issues.
So I really was persuaded and conflicted that together with others I have been talking about including Hopewell Chin’ono, Job Sikhala and others.
I then called the nation to action and then said let’s set a date and if you realise that I actually announced the date nearly a month and a half before July 31 so that we give the nation a chance to reflect and also to do due process and notify the police which is required by the law.
I sent my letter to the police, they sent back their reply and everything was well.

TN: What was their reply?

JN: They said to me while it is your right to do the demonstration, it is okay, but our worry at this stage concerns the Covid-19 pandemic and issues like that.

So we would like you to reflect on how you will deal with the matter.

So they did not categorically say you cannot hold it. This is the message they gave back to me.

TN: So as far as you are concerned, the coast was clear?

JN: Yes, it was, because we had notified the police as required by the law and as far as Covid-19 is concerned, I said this over and over that we will be wearing masks on the day.

We will make sure that we avail hand sanitisers in case some do not have.

We actually asked citizens to bring extra hand sanitisers.

We also encouraged social distancing as we were marching because we felt very strongly that corruption was a pandemic just as Covid-19 and corruption was reducing our capacity to deal with Covid-19.

We couldn’t wait because we felt it was important for us to do something because of the determination we had and that is why we went ahead, up until, of course, when I was arrested.

TN: What were you hoping to achieve with the protest?

JN: Firstly, our expectation was that we would bring attention to the issues of corruption from the citizens to the government and to the region.

That we have been talking about these issues of corruption and nothing has been done and now it’s time for us to show our intention to be serious in dealing with these issues.

So that is one of the first outputs we were expecting, but we want to bring awareness to the issues around corruption very particular.

Also we wanted corruption itself to be dealt with in a very active manner.

You know we have US$60 million that has been just looted, can’t it be restored rather than just arresting somebody who has stolen the US$60 million?

Can’t we have a restoration of public funds to restore the
US$60 million so that it goes to support Mpilo Hospital, it goes to support Harare Hospital and all the referral hospitals in this country.

That was our expectation that it is not going to result in people being fired, but in also making sure that part of that money can be restored because it was not a long time after the scandal had occurred.

We could have quickly recovered some of the funds and so those were some of the expectations.

We also wanted to unite the nation around these issues because these issues cut across the political divide, cut across the tribal divides and so on.

So if we can bring everybody to converge on those issues, then we should be able to achieve more as a nation.

We were hoping to build this platform where Zimbabweans can come together and talk about issues and never about who you are, who you support and which tribe you are and that is really our wish.

TN: Are you satisfied with where we are right now? You are currently on remand and what is your view on that?

JN: This is the tragic story that defines who we are as a people and as a nation that for such a cause the end result is that I ended up spending 45 days in prison.

I am on remand, I go to the police three times a week. So every other day, I’m actually at the police station and temporarily I don’t have my passport.
You actually realise that you have lost more rights in trying to achieve people’s rights.

It is very unfortunate and this is not what I was expecting.

But we knew it would come because surely the government’s reaction was clear from the outset about this march.

TN: You said the response was great in terms of retweets and stuff.

Now you are going to court and the other day I saw your tweet that one day that you are going to be in court.

Has there been support from people on your going to court? Have you seen the retweets being converted to physical presence?

JN: Yes, it has been amazing, the support really has been amazing.

Every time we go to court there are dozens of people who come and the courtroom is so small that the dozens do not fit.

The support has been amazing.

People have been supporting in many ways and also the personal messages that I receive are heartening.

I get lots of feedback from people, people asking how it is going and how they can support and so on.

So we get a lot of feedback from citizens in as far as that is concerned and that is good for us and the real battle is about the rights, about the citizens of the Zimbabwe and never about my personal rights.

This is where we are taking the fight and this is where we need to view and focus going ahead.

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