MDC-Alliance vice-president, businessman and constitutional lawyer, professor Welshman Ncube (WN) says despite the terrible things done under the rule of the former president Robert Mugabe, the late leader never managed to capture the judiciary while Parliament was largely independent. Ncube told Alpha Media Holdings chairman, Trevor Ncube (TN) on the programme In Conversation With Trevor that it was regrettable that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime had succeeded in capturing the judiciary, placing the liberty, rights and independence of everyone in jeopardy.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Professor Welshman Ncube, welcome to In Conversation With Trevor. I know you are busy, you have been running around the countryside meeting chiefs. welcome and thank you for creating the time.
WN: Thank you Trevor, thank you very much.
TN: Tell me Welsh, you say you have just been meeting with chiefs, what are the chiefs saying?
WN: Well, this is actually a distressing and depressing picture that they paint; the condition of the people that they lead in the communities. They speak of deprivation, they speak of general poverty, they speak of families that go for weeks and weeks without access to even a single dollar. They speak of the frustrations of the rainy season, whole families without immediate access to seed, without immediate access to fertiliser, having to wait and hope for the state to provide those. They also have to endure all sorts of political manipulation in order to be in the good books of those who have the power to distribute those products which are so essential for their livelihoods. So it is not a very pleasing picture. One hopes that one day our country will get out of this bind and this misery that our people face.
TN: Well as you are talking Welsh right now it pulls at your heartstrings, these are human beings. What are you saying to them? Do you say anything?
WN: Yes, we have to make sure that we have hope, we have to be saying to people it does not matter how difficult it is, we have to say that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, that it is within our power to change the condition of our people and the condition of ourselves. That, in fact, is the essence of democracy, that we do not need to take guns, we do not need to fight anyone, all we need right now is to be committed to the democratic processes. Go and register as voters no matter how difficult the processes are made to be. We must keep encouraging people, we keep encouraging traditional leaders to encourage their own people to register to vote and to seek peaceful transition, peaceful change in the hope that their vote will count one day, that we can have change in this country, we will deliver to people.
TN: In the hope that their vote will count one day? You are selling the, this hope, you have been selling us this hope for a long time. If I push back Welsh, as one of the chiefs who was sitting there listening to you. Welsh, I have heard you say this for 40 years, maybe 40 years is an exaggeration, maybe 20 years. I mean what, yeah register to vote, Welsh it has not changed my life, it has not changed my condition, what do you say when I push back as a chief and say that?
WN: It may be so, it may have taken this long, it may have been difficult, lives have even been lost in the process but there are inspiring examples in the region for people to believe that change is possible. We have examples in Zambia, we have examples in Malawi; they might not have the full change that they expected, but change is possible when people come together, when people unite.
In particular, when the young people; me and you are in the twilight zones of our life, there are young people many of whom are in the Diaspora, many of whom cannot even afford a car, have no homes, they have no prospects under these conditions. If people come together, if people unite, young people in particular like they did in Zambia, they take their own future into their own hands, it is possible. You cannot be cheated forever. If you are united, if you vote in your numbers and you make sure that you protect your vote, you make sure that the powers that be will listen to you when you vote in your millions in a particular way. That is what we are saying.
TN: Welsh, so the President comes back from Zambia after seeing the elections and says if you think what happened in Zambia is going to happen here you are fooling yourselves?
WN: Trevor this takes me back. You remember you and me as teenagers at high school in Mzilikazi just before independence. You remember the vibrancy, the hope. You remember then the Lancaster House negotiations were taking place, they were successful. You recall that the first vote in 1980 which was taking place — we were young boys — we were idealistic and believed in a different Zimbabwe. Regrettably it is that dream, it is that idealism which has been betrayed by the nationalists who led the liberation struggle. The Zimbabwe you and me foresaw at that time, the Zimbabwe we yearned for has not come. What we have is this condition now. So that statement in itself, that statement to say of you think what happened in Zambia can happen here you are fooling yourself.
What does it mean? It basically means someone is saying if you think democracy can prevail here you are fooling yourself. If you think the people of Zimbabwe will have the right to vote for a government of their choice, like the Zambians did you are fooling yourself. That actually tells you that you have a nationalist group which has betrayed the aspirations, the ideals of the liberation struggle which was about the freedom of people, which was about the livelihood of people. They are basically saying now they are holding us in bondage, and we need to understand this betrayal, we need to fight against it peacefully, we need to use our vote no matter how constrained it is to make sure we change the condition of our people.
TN: There is a clear intent on the part of President Mnangagwa and Zanu PF, particularly President Mnangagwa, in terms of concentration of power. It is clear there what the intention is Welsh, and President Mnangagwa would not do this if he does not intend to lose the election. It is clear where this roadmap is going. What are your views on the amendment, the judiciary, the appointment of prosecutors, the interfering with devolution before some of the provisions have been implemented? To me, it is a flashing red light to 2023? Am I exaggerating things?
WN: Far from it. You are not exaggerating at all. Let me contextualise this in its historical context. For some of us, who spent a great deal of our younger lives struggling for a new constitution from the days we were teaching at the University of Zimbabwe, to the days we were in the National Constitutional Assembly, you will recall I was the spokesperson of the NCA. For me personally, one of my greatest and most satisfying moment was the day Zimbabweans voted in a referendum for a new constitution. Some of us genuinely believed that this was the first phase of a break from the past. Here we had, not a perfect document, but a document far superior than many in the world, a compromise document. To which everybody signed up, whether you were Zanu PF, MDC, whatever political formation, we all signed up to this constitution.
We took it to the people, the people voted overwhelmingly for it. It had certain fundamental features of it, the independence of the judiciary, the moving away from an imperial presidency, ensuring that elections would be free and fair, trying to create independent institutions, in particular electoral ones. For me, when we voted for that constitution I thought at last we are moving in the right direction. So it is very distressing so soon after the referendum, so soon after that constitution was adopted not only have we literally parked the constitution and ignored it, but we have begun to actually claw back on it. For me, one of the things that comes to mind looking back is that, in spite of all Mugabe’s faults, in spite of all the terrible things that were done under Mugabe’s rule, the one thing that Mugabe never managed to do was to capture the judiciary. They would try, they would do all sorts of things.
The legislature in this country remained largely free, largely independent. To release people who were being wrongly detained, to acquit people who were being falsely accused of crimes, to allow people out on bail in terms of the bail rules of this country. Regrettably what has since happened, what this particular regime has succeeded where Mugabe failed is the capture of the judiciary. This places all of us, places the liberty of all of us, places the rights of everybody, places our very independence in jeopardy because the moment you have a judiciary that is controlled almost 100% by the Executive, it is as if you have taken a pen and erased liberty, freedom and everything one by one.
TN: Welsh, distressing. I am looking for a stronger word than distressing, because this is an assault on our democracy, this assault on our constitution. Interesting your last statements right now, they mirror my fear, that whilst Robert Mugabe was this monster, what Mnangagwa is turning out to be because of the constitutional changes, none of us is safe. If I cannot run to a judge to make a ruling on a case fairly, I mean I will give you an example of me, they are taking away my citizenship. I went to a court, I was confident that I would get a fair trial, I got my citizenship back. I am not sure where to go to, I am not so sure. I know that a judge who is going to preside over any case that I face is going to be a judge who has been captured. That is frightening.
WN: Extremely. Extremely frightening because at the end of the day the guarantor of your liberty, the guarantee of the constitution, the guarantor of everything that we stand for are the courts of the country. The moment you can make no distinction between a minister and a judge, between a soldier and a judge…