BULAWAYO – Our reporter Jeffrey Muvundusi had a wide ranging interview with Bulawayo-based respected lawyer and former Education minister, David Coltart. Below are the excerpts of the interview.
Q: To begin with, what’s your analysis of Zimbabwe’s current economic situation?
A: At the core of our current situation is a collapse of business confidence in the country. The country appears rudderless at present with so much confusion right across the political spectrum. The president is increasingly out of touch and government is paralysed as a result. There is no clear succession plan within Zanu PF and the opposition is in equal disarray with no national consensus emerging about who in the opposition should lead. This uncertainty manifests itself in capital flight and reluctance by Zimbabweans to invest.
Q: When Zanu PF won the 2013 elections, many anticipated the worst economic situation; would you describe this current situation as the worst?
A: This is not the worst economic situation we have found ourselves in. The hyperinflation of 2008 was far worse but if left unchecked, the current economic malaise could result in a worse crisis than 2008’s.
Q: With less than 18 months to the next elections, do you think Zanu PF is still marketable considering its recorded failures in decades?
A: Zanu PF has not been marketable for the last two decades but does not need to for so long as it is prepared to intimidate the electorate and subvert the electoral system.
Q: You are on record talking about opposition parties coming together, putting aside their egos and allow one presidential candidate to face Zanu PF, are you content with the manner in which the parties seem to be moving towards that direction?
A: I am very dissatisfied with both the pace of seeking agreement and manner of negotiating. What we desperately need now are Statesmen and women who are prepared to put the nation ahead of their personal interests. This applies not only to prospective presidential candidates but also to prospective parliamentary candidates. Everyone seems to be determined to put their own narrow partisan or personal interests ahead of national interest. It is time for everyone vying for the presidency to publicly state that they are prepared to stand down in favour of the person most likely to attract the most support. To establish who that person is, we need some independent polling to be done to establish who objectively commands the most support.
Q: We also hear of egos coming in different forms on who is going to lead the coalition, is that really necessary at this stage?
A: I am not sure the question of who should lead is necessary at this stage. What we primarily need is agreement regarding the policies that will be implemented in the event of the coalition winning. At present, all that seems to bind the coalition together is the goal of removing President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, and that is not enough. The electorate wants to know what specific policies will be implemented. Accordingly, I think our focus should shift from who will be our presidential candidate to what policies do we all agree a coalition government will pursue.Secondly, I think we need to discuss who will be in coalition Cabinet. Only one person can be president but nearly all of those vying for the presidency would make excellent Cabinet ministers. With this in mind, we need again to shift our focus from who will be captain to who will be in the team.As any football lover knows, the main component in establishing a winning team is agreeing on who is best at goal keeping, who is best in the mid field and who our best strikers are. The choice of captain is often the last thing we think of and even when a captain is chosen, we always anticipate that a captain may be injured and will need to be substituted.The performance of the team obviously improves with a good captain who everyone respects but its success is not absolutely dependent on who is captain. If we use the same principle I think our focus should rather now be on who would be our best Finance minister, our best Foreign minister, our best Defence minister and so on. It seems to me that, for example, Morgan Tsvangirai would make an excellent Labour or Foreign minister, Joice Mujuru an outstanding Defence minister, Tendai Biti an experienced Finance minister, Nkosana Moyo a brilliant minister of Commerce and Industry and so on.In other words, whilst every single person presently aspiring for the highest office cannot get that office, every single one of them should be included in a Cabinet. Once we agree on that shadow Cabinet, our focus should be on selling that and the policies it will implement. Once we have that team functioning, towards the election, that team can agree on who should be the best captain and vice-captain. The captain and vice-captain should be chosen on the basis of who best unites the team and who inspires the supporters, particularly the electorate.We do not have to choose the candidate for president until just a few months before the election. But the main focus on the campaign will not be on who is president but rather, the team as a whole and the policies it will implement.
Q: Then also comes the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) issue; is it a positive initiative in holding a free and fair election?
A: In theory, BVR could improve our electoral system but as anyone will tell you, any computer is only as good as the person operating it, and the same applies to this system. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is still hopelessly partisan and compromised and until we have a genuinely independent Zec, the implementation or non-implementation of BVR will have little impact on the fairness and legality of the electoral process.As I have said publicly recently, I fear that BVR is just another red herring; a devise used by a brazenly partisan Zec to delay the registration of voters as long as possible so that the roll can be manipulated in favour of Zanu PF. My fears in this regard have been heightened by the recent allegations that the Chinese firm contracted to do the initial registration of voters will not be involved in the final collation of the data and the production of the final voters’ roll. As far as I am aware, Zec has not sought to refute this story and if it is correct that a company like Nikuv will be surreptitiously involved behind the scenes, then I see very little prospect of free, fair and legal elections being held.
Q: Some have raised dust over the BVR kits supply tender being awarded to a Chinese company, what’s your take?
A: I do not know enough about the technical details of the tender or systems used to make any informed contribution towards which company was best suited to win the tender. However, so long as Zec and its chair remain brazenly partisan suspicions will remain, even if the Chinese company in fact provides the best deal. In that regard, the recent allegation that the Chinese firm itself has reservations about the process gives rise to mixed emotions. On the one hand, if the story is true, then it is heartening to know the Chinese company prides itself in its international reputation. On the other hand, if Zec doesn’t respond to the story by demonstrating that the electoral system will be lawful, fair and transparent, it will be a further sign of the unsuitability of the current Zec leadership to run the elections.
Q: We have seen some opposition parties initiating voter registration and mobilisation campaigns, is it the best way to woo voters?
A: There is no doubt that all democratic parties need to mobilise their supporters to register and vote despite whatever Zec is up to. In all countries, it is incumbent upon political parties to get their own supporters to register and vote and if they fail to do that, they cannot blame the process.Even though Zec is partisan, elections are the only peaceful, non-violent means we have of changing the government and so, we all have no choice but to encourage our supporters to register and vote.
Q: What can you say opposition parties need to do in order to capture the majority of non-voting but eligible voters who make up the largest constituency in the country?
A: More than anything else, opposition parties and leaders need to inspire those who have given up on politics that we can offer something better. One of the worst things which happened during the inclusive government was that both MDCs did not clearly differentiate themselves in their conduct from Zanu PF. The electorate is wary of politicians who are only interested in power, and not in the genuine transformation of the lives of common Zimbabwean people. In that regard, I come back to the issue of formulating and explaining the different policies which will be employed, which will attract foreign investment, the reopening of factories and other businesses and Zimbabwe’s reintegration into the international community. At the same time the electorate needs to know who will run the various ministries responsible for implementing these policies.
Q: We have the National Electoral Reforms Agenda (Nera) and other concerned stakeholders playing a crucial role in pushing for electoral reforms, is this achievable by the time we go to the elections?
A: Whilst I appreciate the great work that Nera is doing, we need to be realistic and remember that Zanu PF is never going to agree to electoral reforms which will lead to a level playing field. We must certainly continue to wage this battle but our primary battle should be to forge agreement on a coalition team and then sell the electorate an array of policies which will be fundamentally different to the policies Zanu PF has used to ruin Zimbabwe. Only then can we hope to achieve the landslide we need to overcome the chicanery of Zanu PF and its acolytes in Zec.
Q: What can you say is the biggest dilemma currently faced by opposition parties in the battle to remove 93-year-old Mugabe?
A: The biggest dilemma facing the parties in their battle to remove Mugabe is that they are fixated by the very thing they abhor in Zanu PF — personality driven politics. It is almost as if they have been infected by the same virus that the ruining party suffers from, namely that everything is dependent upon who will lead the party. In most democracies, the party is bigger than its leaders it. The moment individuals become more important than the party or its principles, the party is seriously undermined.
Q: Do you foresee Mugabe managing to stand as a presidential candidate in next year’s elections, considering his age?
A: I think there is a serious convergence of powerful actors within Zanu PF who will do all in their power to ensure that Mugabe will stand. Mugabe himself wants to stand because he fears the loss of power. His immediate family wants him to stand for the same reason. The G40 faction wants him to stand because of their bitterness towards the Lacoste faction. And even within the Lacoste faction, many will want Mugabe to stand because of their understanding that they will find it easier to win a battle of Zanu PF leadership when Mugabe dies or retires, than it will be winning a national election. I think that applies to senior leaders within the military who understand that it will be easier to coerce Zanu PF supporters within the party to support a candidate of their choice than it will be to use the military to coerce the entire nation to support an unpopular candidate. So, we must assume that so long as Mugabe is alive and able to make the odd appearance, he will be the Zanu PF candidate next year.
Q: How effective are anti-government demonstrations or protests?
A: These groups obviously have a constitutional right to demonstrate and it is also important that issues such as the biased nature of Zec and State violence be exposed so that no one in the international community can have a free ride in arguing that our Constitution is being complied with. However, shut downs and demonstrations have limited value in mobilising people to register and vote and we need to understand those limitations. Furthermore, many of these groups have been seriously infiltrated by agent provocateurs and there is the constant danger that activities done in good faith will be subverted and become violent, to provide the ruining party with a pretext to shut down democratic space. So, we all need to be constantly vigilant and realistic about what pressure groups can actually achieve. It is important that we break the cycle of violence which has plagued Zimbabwe for decades. For that reason alone, I think we need to focus a whole lot more energy on forging a coalition, formulating viable policies and then encouraging all Zimbabweans to register and vote.
Q: Talk of the Zanu PF succession politics where Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi has been introduced in the matrix, what do you make of that?
A: I remain convinced that Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa is the only serious candidate likely to take over from Mugabe within Zanu PF. Whilst minister Sekeremayi is undoubtedly respected within Zanu PF, I see little evidence that he has the same driving ambition to be president as Mnangagwa has. As stated above, I think though that so long as Mugabe is alive and vaguely able to perform some of the duties expected of a head of State, he will be their preferred candidate because even Mnangagwa understands that it will be easier for him to be elected within Zanu PF than it will ever be for him to win a national election. I think he is prepared to bide his time and wait until after 2018. However, the one rider to this is that of course we do not have accurate information about Mugabe’s health, which someone like Mnangagwa is privy to. That will inform the political moves he takes in the months ahead.
Q: Focusing on your former ministry, Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora has lately been a man whose name is on many people’s lips, your take?
A: I am deeply concerned about the direction the Education ministry is taking. It seems to me that morale within the teaching profession in particular is low, that the implementation of the new curriculum is not going well, that teaching materials are not being made available and that generally, the entire sector is deteriorating. Fortunately, we still have a strong body of committed teachers who are the bedrock of our education system. My policy was to give these teachers and school leaders as much autonomy to do what they do so well — running schools. It appears to me that my successor is determined to do the exact opposite — to rein in teachers and headmasters, to withdraw autonomy from schools and to centralise power and money at Ambassador House. If he continues down that path, our teaching professionals will feel stifled and our entire education system will suffer.