HARARE – Our production editor Eddie Zvinonzwa speaks to opposition Transform Zimbabwe (TZ) president Jacob Ngarivhume about Zimbabwe’s political and economic terrain as the 2018 elections beckon. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: Who is Jacob Ngarivhume?
A: I grew up in the village, in Bikita District although originally my Satiya clan is from Chimanimani from where my father moved in 1975.
I did my primary education at Mandadzaka Primary School in our area before proceeding to high school in Mutare. I wore my first shoe at 14. I am a devout Christian.
I only came to Harare in 1998 when I joined the University of Zimbabwe. Suddenly I was in charge of a number of things at UZ, including being asked to lead the local Movement for Democratic Change branch at campus.
Q: Would you want to share your professional background with Zimbabweans?
A: I am a trained statician or mathematician in simpler terms, meaning I am a researcher. I have been running international research institutes that I established after school before getting into fulltime politics.
Q: How have you been able to balance being a father, professional and political leader?
A: It has not been easy to strike a balance but I have always had support from my family because I consult them all the time.
I feel political leadership is a calling from the people of Zimbabwe.
Q: How have you found the political terrain like in Zimbabwe since entering fulltime politics?
A: As soon as we launched the party, we went around the country meeting our structures.
We were arrested while meeting our membership in Tsholotsho.
Some of our people were distributing fliers. We never appeared in court but were released without charge.
Again arrested in Gweru and detained for five days which is when I came face to face with detention facilities in our country.
At one time, there were over 25 of us crammed in a single cell. Asked for a Bible but was told that they do not provide Bibles. I could not even get tissue paper.
In Chimanimani, it was an abduction. I was driven into the bush.
Q: You also referred to another arrest in Gweru. What happened?
A: The people who came to court in Gweru in solidarity were also arrested and appeared in court, including my wife. I was then moved to Harare on a bus with handcuffs and in leg irons.
It was quite strange. I was detained at Harare Central Police Station and later released into the custody of my lawyer. As soon as I was acquitted, I was arrested again and taken to Nyanga to answer to other charges.
Q: The issue of abductions and torture, what do you say about these in Zimbabwe?
A: The country has a tainted record as far as the rule of law and property rights are concerned.
The country cannot build credibility to attract investors because people’s rights are violated all the time. When this credibility is there, you are able to even attract local revenue.
When government has respect for them, people in turn are willing to pay their taxes. They know their money will be used properly.
It boils down to consistency and as TZ, we are making sure we build our political party on those pillars and principles.
Trust, accountability and responsibility are things we value so much as an organisation.
Q: How did you finally get involved in politics?
A: I grew up ndichifudza mombe nembudzi (herding cattle and goats). You see, when I was growing up, I never took lightly to injustice even within the family.
I never thought I would get into politics, let alone lead a political party. However, as I was interacting with people who realised how honest I was in the process of getting whatever I wanted, they saw this gift in me
I was to become part of the founding team of the MDC. My experience with people like Learnmore Jongwe (the late) and Job Sikhala at the UZ ushered me into politics.
This is where we learnt of the ability of students to face up to terror
Back then, if we felt the injustice was so bad that we needed to throw stones, we would do that. But then, we were young then during these years of student activism.
We began to learn that consistency pays. Even when you look at the system, when they start robbing the nation, they do it consistently.
I think our young generation has to learn this. They should never give up when they start on something.
It’s not easy but we need to raise this generation of people who stand up to what they believe in. If you have lost one “Chinhoyi Battle” you can still go on and win the other battles. I am always reminded of Winston Churchill’s words; “When you are travelling through hell, keep going.”
Q: Would you say the coalition of opposition political parties is the answer to removing Zanu PF from power?
A: The coalition is definitely a good thing. It is something we have taken on board and we have agreed but we remain careful that we do not lose our identity, our brand and the party we worked so hard to build.
What we have agreed on is more of an electoral alliance where we will not contest each other in 2018 at all levels. It is not a coalition per se that we are developing together with other players, including the MDC.
We took part in the anti bond notes march as a part of Nera and government heavy-handedness in dealing with opposing views was exposed.
Q: But President Robert Mugabe has said a coalition of zeros equals zero, how do respond to that?
A: He is not the best person to advise opposition political parties.
He realises the zeros are not adding up in his own party. What advice can your enemy give you?
That’s strange he realises these are genuine Zimbabweans who are coming together to face his machinery.
Q: It appears there is a systematic agenda-setting programme in State media seeking to trash bio-metric voter registration. What is your position as TZ?
A: As TZ, we are saying that BVR is one of the electoral reforms we have been fighting for as the opposition.
We are already participating in a Nera-organised demonstration next week to push for fair implementation of BVR.
We are also pushing on regional bloc Sadc to make sure they exert pressure on Zimbabwe to be accountable to citizens on BVR. There is no going back on that.
Q: If the Nera demonstration slated for March 22 does not get police clearance, what do you think would be the way forward?
A: The law does not require that police give clearance to any of our events. All the law requires is that we notify the police of our events and if they have any issues of concern, they simply invite us to a discussion to iron out those.
The police have absolutely no mandate to deny us our constitutional right to demonstrate.
So should they try to do so, we will use the courts to reverse such efforts and most importantly, we will go ahead anyway and exercise our democratic right to demonstrate.
Q: Recently, Mugabe celebrated his birthday in Matabeleland South, one of the areas affected by the Gukurahundi massacres of the mid 1980s, what would you say about that?
A: What happened in Matabeleland and the Midlands during that period is unfortunate and very regrettable.
It is only prudent for someone to take responsibility for that.
Mugabe still has a chance to correct himself on that. Nobody supported him for that atrocity and someone is supposed to say sorry.
Calling it a “moment of madness” is not an apology. An apology has to be sincere and clear.
One person who must do that in his lifetime is Mugabe, first and foremost to the people of Matabeleland and then to the people of Zimbabwe in general.
It is one thing our history can not afford to ignore.
Q: What is Zimbabwe’s tragedy?
A: We can’t have a nation where people can not put food on the table.
That is unacceptable. We would want to ensure wealth is distributed evenly to everybody.
The situation in Zimbabwe is very different — the people who work hardest are the people who are poor. If a government loses $15 billion, that is unacceptable.
It reflects a flawed system. The highest office is to blame. He obviously knows where it went to and who has it. It is a whole lot of money, way beyond our national budget.
Q: You are running with the motto “Stop blaming, Start Acting”. Why is that so?
A: It came out of the realisation of the problems around us.
We cant keep mourning, let us do it ourselves. However, some people are feeling threatened and we have heard the ruling party sending thugs to assault our people wherever they will be working with members of respective communities.
It has challenged citizens to do things differently and it is healthy for our democracy; we become stronger together.
Q: What motivates you to live with a lot of people?
A: That is where I belong. In my family, we are well over twenty. That is how I grew up. That’s who I am. Our choice is that we stay here with the people. You identify with them and with their challenges.
The images of the life they lived with you out there will stick to their minds.
You need to see and feel how people are struggling, when you see people selling cobra (home-made floor polish), you begin to understand the hardships they go through.
When people come trying to meet the president, some expect you to have gloves heavy bodyguards this is not who I am. We live with the people we stay with the people we support people from the street they ask for food we help them
Q: Who is your role model?
A: I have admired a lot of people in politics, sport, religion etc. People like Ezekiel Guti who have worked so hard to build churches, Pius Ncube for fighting injustice, of course Herbert Chitepo, General Lookout Masuku, Joshua Nkomo and the love they had for the nation. Dumiso Dabengwa, Nelson Mandela and other African nationalists like Kwame Nkrumah who believed in the values and ideals they would fight for.
In sport, Peter Ndlovu, Moses Chunga etc have been great people.
Q: What would you say about the political leaders in Zimbabwe?
A: It is very difficult to judge fellow political leaders, but all the same I will hazard it.
Zimbabwe has failed because of the failure of leadership.
For instance, right now, so much rain has fallen but you go to residential areas and find there is no water in taps. It’s pathetic; it’s really surprising to say the least.
How can a person change from being a freedom fighter to being a dictator? We have forgotten about the people and thought about ourselves.
Leaders must be servants of the people who must be dictating to me what to do. We have been brought up with the wrong doctrine of leadership and we need to redefine what leadership is about.
Q: Do you have presidential ambitions?
A: If the people of Zimbabwe bestow the honour on me, I will do it.
It’s not about me; it’s about the people. If they vote for me that must be respected if they vote for somebody else let that be respected too.
We have seen elections stolen through massive vote fraud during our time.