A couple of nights ago, I attended an event hosted by the Southern Africa Political Economy Series (SAPES) Trust. The discussion brought together three panellists; Ambassador Chris Mutsvangwa of ZANU PF, Honourable Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga of MDC and Honourable Jameson Timba of the MDC-T. Dr Ibbo Mandaza facilitated the discussion in which the panellists gave their personal reflections on the recently held Extraordinary Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit of heads of states and governments held in Maputo, Mozambique on the Zimbabwean situation. The Summit culminated in the issuance of a Communique whose recommendations are captured HERE.
Jameson Timba (Deputy Minister of Media, Information and Publicity and Member of House of Assembly for Mount Pleasant)
Mr Timba mentioned that the purpose of the SADC Summit was to discuss the Zimbabwean Situation in the context of the Global Political Agreement. Given that SADC are the guarantours of the GPA, they serve the role of a service station, when the GPA needs a push or boost. He explained that the reality is that Zimbabwe is facing a political rather than a legal crisis because the Constitutional crisis the nation is in could have been avoided had the wrong political decisions not been made in the first place. He said that the MDC-T went to the SADC Summit very confident that the 31 July date set for elections could easily be changed to accommodate the reforms agenda given that there is already precedent in our courts where the President has sought postponement of by-elections on the grounds that the state is ill-prepared i.e. the case of Bhebhe & Others v The State.
Mr Timba felt that the Summit went very well and that the final Communiqué that came out of the discussions expressed SADC’s wishes for Zimbabwe’s successful transition into a democracy through the holding of credible, free and fair elections. Mr Timba expressed his admiration for the President of Zimbabwe and his conduct at the SADC Summit. In Mr Timba’s view, the President-unlike those who surround him- showed that he respects SADC, something which Mr Timba accredited to the President’s deep admiration of the regional body whose origins from the Frontline States during the struggle for independence represents a point of solidarity. He however expressed disappointment with some individuals within the President’s Party whom he said were constantly acting in bad faith. He cited the example of Honourable Patrick Chinamasa whom he said has shown bad faith in two instances:
- According to Mr Timba, on the Tuesday before the proclamation of the election date, Honourable Chinamasa was asked in a Cabinet meeting when he was going to present the Electoral Amendment Bill. He responded saying the Bill would be presented in the coming week meaning this week. According to Mr Timba, at this stage, Mr Chinamasa already knew that he was working on a Bill but that he had no intention of bringing it through Parliament but through the Presidential Powers Temporal Measures Act, which in Mr Timba’s view was an unconstitutional and underhanded manner of effecting electoral changes.
- Mr Timba also stated that the SADC Communiqué in Paragraph 8.5 says,
“Summit acknowledged the ruling of the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe on the elections date and agreed on the need for the Government of Zimbabwe to engage the Constitutional Court to seek more time beyond 31 July 2013 deadline for holding the Harmonised elections.”
Mr Timba emphasised that when SADC said government, it was referring to the whole inclusive government. This then meant that the government of Zimbabwe (the inclusive government) in its entirety was urged to bring a case before the courts to remedy the situation of the election date proclamation. Mr Timba said that he was however disappointed that at 5p.m on Monday, Mr Chinamasa served him with papers in which he (Mr Chinamasa) filed an application to the Constitutional Court and made the President of Zimbabwe-Robert Mugabe, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC Party-Welshman Ncube, the Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Arthur Mutambara and Jealousy Mawarire the Respondents. In the Application Mr Chinamasa asks for an extension of the election date to August 14. Mr Timba explained that this application is against the spirit of the SADC Communiqué. Instead of making the parties mentioned above respondents, they all should have been cited as Applicants, they should all have contributed to the application’s contents through their legal representatives’ interaction with the Minister of Justice and the application should have been unopposed (one without respondents).
Chris Mutsvangwa (Member of ZANU-PF and former Ambassador of Zimbabwe to China)
He began his presentation by stating that he does not agree with the view that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe, be it political, legal, constitutional or otherwise because to him the current situation is a mere disagreement not a crisis. He then went on to give a disclaimer stating that although he was in Maputo he did not actually participate in the discussions that took place at the Summit nor was he privy to the outcome until he saw the Communiqué when it was presented to the public. [This admission for me was particularly interesting having read THIS article in which the author complained that the President’s delegation was bloated].
Mr Mutsvangwa however explained the position of his party where the Summit was concerned. He said that the President went with the simple position that ‘THE’ Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe had made an order setting the election date as 31 July. The president had no option but to respect the order of the Court or else he would have risked being in contempt of Court, something that could cost him his presidential candidacy. According to Mr Mutsvangwa, the President’s hands were tied and he had no option but to proclaim an election date as provided for in the Constitutional Court Judgement.
Concerning the question of reforms, Mr Mutsvangwa stated that no reforms are going to take place and those clamouring for reforms should remember that these same issues have been under discussion for the past four years with no success hence what is the likelihood that they will be settled in a few weeks when they have failed to be settled in years. He stated that ZANU-PF in 1980 was faced with a similar situation where they had to go for elections in an imperfect environment with no reforms to the electoral law nor to the security sector yet they still won the elections. He explained that the issue is not about reforms but about the leader whom Zimbabweans want to vote for. He said that each party has to be creative in how it “deals with the imperfections of state craft.” Mr Mutsvangwa went on to say that refusing to have elections on the basis that the environment is not perfect is akin to a pregnant woman who opposes the course of nature and refuses to give birth to her baby after 9 months of pregnancy because she thinks the baby is not mature enough.
Mr Mutsvangwa addressed his partners in government saying that it is time government stopped ruling by arrangement but rather by the people’s choice. He went further to say that yes SADC issued its Communiqué but people must remember that SADC is not Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court, it is just a club of states hence if Zimbabweans want elections on 31 July, SADC cannot stop that from happening.
Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga (Secretary General of the MDC, Member of the House of Assembly Glen Norah Constituency and currently Minister of Regional Integration and International Cooperation)
Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga began her presentation by expressing her disappointment with the way in which this nation has been subjected to blatant lies, abuse and distortion of information She stated that she was disappointed with the fact that Honourable Chinamasa who was negotiating on behalf of ZANU-PF was not at the SAPES discussion as he was the person who would have best explained the distortions coming out of some quarters of the press about the outcome of the SADC Summit. She felt that Mr Mutsvangwa’s representation of Mr Chinamasa was an act of abuse since Mr Mutsvangwa had no clue what took place having been “on the corridors” of the Summit.
Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga then went on to give a detailed description of what transpired at the Summit as follows:
SADC was appraised with the situation of Zimbabwe which they understood to be that Zimbabwe was faced with a legal crisis in which there was a Constitutional Court judgement but that judgement juxtaposed to the practical realities on the ground would not be possible to implement. The Facilitator for the Zimbabwean negotiations, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa presented his report which came out of discussions held by the parties to the GPA on the 4th, 5th and 6th of June 2013. The facilitator’s report was therefore not challenged nor disputed by all three political parties i.e. ZANU PF, MDC-T and MDC.
Ms Misihairambwi Mushonga then went on to state where the parties seemed to have different positions and she explained them as follows:
President Mugabe’s position was that he believed that as long as there is no violence then an election can go on. He agreed with the need for media reforms and also stated that he has been a victim of the media’s unprofessional and unethical conduct several times but that within the given time there is nothing much that can be done about this. He also addressed the issue of the rule of law, in particular the security sector, acknowledged that statements by some heads of security departments were not acceptable nor appropriate but that they could be explained when one understands that these statements were made by people who shared the liberation struggle with ZANU PF and hence would feel protective over their ideals. He then requested that these Chiefs be treated gently and with such sensitivity as would take cognisance of their socialisation and history. On the election date he explained that his hands were tied and he had to make the proclamation because the Constitutional Court had ordered him to do so. According to Ms Misihairambwi Mushonga, the President never disputed the facilitators’ report, never said that the report lied or that the facilitator was biased.
Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga then went on to explain that Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s contention at the Summit was with the dishonesty shown by some members of the inclusive government. He explained how Minister Chinamasa had withheld the truth from Cabinet about his plans to amend the Electoral Act through using the Presidential Powers instead of introducing a Bill for debate and inclusive input before both houses of Parliament.
Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga then explained Professor Welshman Ncube’s position; that he was concerned with the legal and political illegitimacy that would follow whatever government that would emerge out of the elections that would be held under the ruling of the Constitutional Court.
Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga was pleased with the Communiqué, disappointed with some people whom she said were ill advising the President and hoped that the spirit of the Communiqué would be upheld.
Some interesting quotes from the discussion
“I am tired of this fixation of men on who is bigger than who which leads them into this bravado game where simple information is distorted and the truth withheld from the public.” Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga
“Chinamasa and others’ advice to the President on this elections issue is misleading, in fact it is treasonous.” Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga
“I hate it when leaders of this country behave like landlords and treat the people like their tenants. Leaders are just caretakers and the people are the real owners of all processes.” Jameson Timba
“For goodness’ sake no one owns this country.” Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga
“If anyone is not happy with the way we do things here and thinks there is a crisis let them come and I will fly them to Somalia so they can see what a real crisis looks like.” Chris Mutsvangwa
It was an interesting discussion and all the views presented here are the views as expressed by the panellists to the discussion. In the end Ambassador Mutsvangwa walked out of the meeting in protest over what he said was “utter disrespect” by Ms Misihairambwi- Mushonga of those who “delivered the country into her hands so that she could become a Minister.”