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Transcript: Q & A with Minister Tendai Biti

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who is also secretary general of the MDC formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has insisted that his party would oppose changes made by Zanu PF to the final draft constitution. In this interview with Voice of America’s Violet Gonda, Biti talks about the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediation process, and accuses Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara of being an “imposter to democracy” with “no legitimate claim” to the MDC presidency.

Gonda started by asking the MDC-T lead negotiator to talk about the constitution deadlock.

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Tendai Biti: I am thoroughly going through the Zanu PF draft –you can’t even call it a counter proposal. It’s a standalone document with little relation to the work that we have painstakingly done over the last three years, which we concluded on the 18th of July 2012. We are disappointed that that this document is such an asymmetrical document to the things that we painstakingly agreed to on the basis of give and take. So there is more than bad faith being reflected by Zanu PF.

Violet Gonda: So can you tell us some of the key issues that Zanu PF is proposing?

Biti: They have basically altered this document fundamentally. I am summarizing on the key issue - they have altered the provision on citizenship. The agreed draft makes it very clear that any offspring, any descendant born in Zimbabwe of a SADC citizen is a citizen of Zimbabwe by birth. So you are talking of the thousands of immigrant labour that is in Zimbabwe from Malawi, from Mozambique, from Zambia who were born here. You recall that these were made stateless and citizen-less by Zanu PF in 2000 unless you had renounced your citizenship – that is now gone.

Secondly, they have drastically altered the provisions to deal with the national objectives of the state. For instance there is now a stand-alone provision that deals with the issue of indigenization and empowerment. Everyone knows that indigenization is temporal. The constitution which we had drafted allowed for equality but recognized that they took affirmative action. So they are now making something that is temporal to the extent that affirmative action is only used to redress a situation but once the balance has been achieved it dies – but that’s now a permanent situation. This is most unfortunate because all of the parties on the table have got their own party policies – you can’t take your party policy and then put it in the constitution.

Another party policy that has been put in this constitution is their preferred position that all youths should go for a National Youth Service in this country. That was not in the original constitution but it is now in this constitution. So this is most unfortunate.
They have also totally abolished the issue of devolution. They are now calling it decentralization and you will not find the word devolution in this provision.

We had also, in the agreed constitution, come up with a President who was subject to clear separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature and a President who exercises executive power sharing it with Cabinet. This constitution reverts to the situation where the President only has got executive powers and that cabinet only sits at his insistence.

The current draft that we had negotiated obliges the President to seek the authority of parliament before he declares war but in this one the President has got a blank cheque and so forth. They have recreated the old imperial President that some of us spent all our lives fighting.

You remember we had created an independent office of the National Prosecuting Authority and a standalone Attorney General who would be appointed by the President to advice the President? But ‘no’ says Zanu PF. They have abolished that and that same Attorney General who will sit in cabinet, who will sit in parliament is also the one that will attend to the issues of prosecution.

They have also virtually abolished the Constitutional Court. What they have simply said is that the Supreme Court will sit as the Constitutional Court. So that independent standalone Constitutional Court, that we had created, also falls away.

Zanu PF has done a lot of things but I have just tried to highlight the major changes that they have done to this final draft constitution.

Gonda: So what is the response from your party?

Biti: As far as we are concerned there should be no further negotiations on this constitution and let the people of Zimbabwe now decide in a referendum whether or not the political parties, who negotiated this draft, drew from the people’s views as expressed in the outreach program. So in our view let the people of Zimbabwe be the referees in this matter.

Gonda: But how will you force a referendum if Zanu PF is refusing to move on to that stage, using the final draft constitution?

Biti: We have to resort to the Global Political Agreement. Remember Article 6 of the GPA, which is now Article 6 of the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, is the one that obliges the political parties to come up with a constitution following the process that we have followed – of first stakeholders public consultations, the drafting, the constitution itself and the referendum.

So what this means is that the guarantors to that agreement – who are clearly specified in Article 23 of the GPA, which is also Article 23 of the 8th Schedule of our Constitution, must intervene - and that is to say President Jacob Zuma and SADC.
One of the resolutions of the Maputo summit, where we have just come from, was that the facilitator will be watching closely whatever happens on the constitution and that he will be called to intervene and I would expect that whether we like it or not the facilitator and indeed SADC will be versed with the situation.

But one will hope that the few decent people in Zanu PF, we hope that wisdom and common sense can prevail and we can go back to our original draft and we can move this country forward. The people of Zimbabwe have suffered and if Zanu Pf insists on the current draft as it stands then I foresee months and months again of attrition, of debilitating negative energy, which will again throw this country backwards.

I think what the people of Zimbabwe want is to have the constitution, go to a referendum, have important reforms including media reform, security sector reform, put conditions that create an uncontested election – that is what the people of Zimbabwe want.

Gonda: But if you bring in SADC or the mediator won’t you be forced again into these endless negotiations that you complain about?

Biti: Well I can’t prejudge what the negotiator or SADC will do, but certainly from our point of view as MDC we agreed on this process and we signed onto this process and when we signed onto this process the GPA doesn’t say that the parties must all support in a referendum the constitution that they signed to. So we think that let’s go to a referendum and those who are unhappy with this constitution, those who feel that this constitution is not a true reflection of the people’s views – they must campaign against that.

With all the risks that you know might lead to violence but let the people express their views and those who are unhappy should do so in the ballot box of the referendum.
Another option, and we are not suggesting this or imposing this on anyone, another option is to say: ‘fine, the parties came up with their own draft on the 18th of July, you Zanu PF you want to exercise veto over the people of Zimbabwe let’s take your draft, let’s have two drafts and let the people of Zimbabwe either reject both drafts or vote for the draft they think is closer to what they aspire for’. And in short, Violet let the people of Zimbabwe decide.

Gonda: Just going through some of the comments on your Facebook on this issue, it seems that a lot of people are not surprised that this is happening. One follower says ‘you are sleeping with an enemy who will never change and no matter how flexible you become something else will be brought up again by Zanu PF. So what is your response to this?

Biti: Three things. The first one is that miracles do happen and sometimes we do things not because we want to but reality demands that we do so. That is why Zanu PF, unwillingly, were brought to the negotiating table, signed a GPA, signed numerous agreements that brought us to the inclusive government that started work on the 15th of February 2009. And you will agree with me that if you had asked the majority of people in Zimbabwe, the majority of international opinion in SADC, overseas they would not have given this inclusive government more than six months but it has lasted so that is a miracle.

It is on the basis of that, knowing full well the kind of characterless or clueless individuals that we have dealt with, that we have persevered. We have persevered in a very painful inclusive government. Some of us, like in my case we have had bombs sent to our houses, bullets sent to our letterboxes, we are daily vilified every day - the Prime Minister and members of our party - but we have stuck on.

And the constitution that we came up with that we agreed on the 18th of July we did not negotiate it as the MDC we negotiated with Zanu PF and in fact we actually came up with a draft that can hold its own against any other constitution in the world.

When you draft a constitution you are bound by certain self-evident principles - for instance the principle of separation of power; the issue of ensuring that citizens are protected - so you have a strong Bill of Rights; the need to ensure that there is good governance; the issue of free, fair and regular elections.

So all these basic things you find them in this constitution and on the basis of this constitution principles the modern constitution you can basically download it from the internet – in other words it can write itself.

And I am saying those basic fundamental things you find them there. There are certain things you might be unhappy with – for instance the size of the legislature, the issues around running mates - why should we have two vice presidents in a small country like this one? The issue around land provisions – there are certain things that are unique to Zimbabwe but as a constitutional document respecting well-known fundamental constitutional grund-norms - the constitution that we agreed on the 18th of July passes that test.

Gonda: Either way whatever constitution Zimbabwe was going to get was going to be a compromise but comparing this… (interrupted)

Biti: … there is no constitution in the world which is not a compromise … (interrupted)

Gonda: … yes but … (interrupted)

Biti: … the constitution which is generally granted as the best constitution in the world is the South African one and I can tell you that it was negotiated at Kempton Park in 1992 so there is no constitution in the world that is not negotiated. What is critical is that in the process of negotiations do you have authority from the people?

Authority in terms of the authority of the people that are representing and secondly the authority in terms of the views – the public legitimation exercise which Zimbabweans carried out through the public outreach program.

Gonda: In hindsight would it have been better to go with the Kariba Draft or even the 2000 Draft?

Biti: No ways! This constitution is far much better than Kariba and Kariba itself, which is far much better than the rejected constitution. There is no competition between the two documents; absolutely no competition at all.

Just to give you an example the issue of devolution - you don’t find it in any of the other documents and it’s so fundamental in principle, in our constitutional dispensation, given 32 years of uneven and unequal distribution of resources in this country.

The issue of two terms of office – not just for the Head of State but even for army generals, for heads of parastatals – is such an important thing. For permanent secretaries – it’s such an important issue in the devolution of the State.

The issue of citizenship that we have created in this new constitution is such a departure from the old (inaudible) of citizenship. The Bill of Rights that we have created, which can only be changed in a referendum, you don’t find that in previous constitutions. So you can’t compare this draft and Kariba and the 2000 rejected constitution.

And let me tell you something about constitutional making; constitutional making is a reflection of the balance sheet of the political forces in the country. In 2000 the democratic forces were weaker than what they were when we made Kariba. They are stronger now than what we were in 2007 when we made Kariba – after all democratic forces are also now State actors to the extent that they are in government.

So if you study closely the rejected constitution and the Kariba Draft – and don’t forget the 2004 draft that was negotiated between the MDC and Zanu PF represented by Welshman Ncube and Patrick Chinamasa respectively, it’s another constitution – you will find that all those constitutions are far much weaker than the current constitution because they also reflect the weakness of the opposition of that time. You now have an opposition that is in government. So a constitution is indeed a balance sheet of the strength and weaknesses of the political forces in that country.

Gonda: Outside of these prolonged negotiations with Zanu PF what other ideas do you have as the MDC of unlocking the Zimbabwe crisis?

Biti: Well look, I think there is little appreciation of the role that South Africa has done for this country or the role that mediation has done for this country. And I think our people have got short memories.

People must remember the problems of 2008. We had inflation of 500 billion percent, there was absolutely no food in the shops, and agricultural production for maize had sunk to as little as 200 000 metric tonnes - tobacco 32 million kilograms. People were starving. There was cholera in this country – 90 000 people were affected by cholera, 4 000 people died from cholera. We had a total collapse of the state with GDP growth falling to minus 14 percent.

So what SADC mediation did was to say ‘let’s put a stop to this’. Indeed whether you like it or not the inclusive government did put an end to that hemorrhage and we were able to restart this economy, rebuild this economy, and restore the fabrics of the social contract that had been destroyed by Zanu PF through 14 years of mismanagement that saw 60 percent of our economy being devalued.

But people have short memories – that in fact the GPA itself was actually a miracle that you have Robert Mugabe shaking hands with Morgan Tsvangirai his archenemy – it was actually a miracle. So never underestimate that dialogue.

Because of the hardcore attitudes of Zanu PF it is very difficult for Zanu PF to respect the MDC and to accept that the MDC exists. So that is why you need the referee, the impartiality of the facilitator.

The people also misunderstand the resolutions from the SADC. I have been reading the websites where some people are saying we came out of the SADC summit with nothing, and that the issue of Zimbabwe was not resolved. I beg to differ. SADC said in Maputo:

• We restate all the previous resolutions which we have made from SADC and there are many important resolutions that have been made.
• They said ‘we know that you have a problem of implementation so you go and define an implementation mechanism that will sit in cabinet and that will oversee line ministries that are refusing to implement the GPA’.
• They said ‘you come up with a roadmap, with the timelines which will enable you to go to elections’.
• ‘Go and deal with the constitution and take it to a referendum’.

Now these are important decisions. SADC is a source of international law so international law is prevailing over Zimbabwe because domestic law has failed. So if you fail to appreciate the importance of dialogue then unless you have 40 million people and you are going to do an Arab Spring or unless you find someone who is going to bomb Zimbabwe for you then there is no option for peaceful dialogue. Some of us don’t believe in arms, don’t believe in guns. We believe in dialogue, therefore we have absolute faith in the facilitation of South Africa and President Zuma.

Gonda: Critics say the MDC seems to have succumbed and is now in a comfort zone of being dragged into these endless negotiations. What can you say about this?

BITI: It’s very easy to say that when you are in an air-conditioned apartment in London or Cape Town – those things are easy. We have been in this struggle for many years Violet. Some of us we don’t go to nightclubs. We used to watch Black Rhinos but we don’t do that. We have been arrested, we have been tortured, we have been beaten up but we have looked at this beast in the eye and we have not blinked. We have looked at this beast in the eye without resorting to arms or weapons.

We were a small, tiny little party formed a mere 13 years ago but now we are the biggest party in Zimbabwe through peaceful non-violent means. So our means have worked and are working and we are very, very close to achieving ultimate democratic change in Zimbabwe.

Look at the ANC. They were formed 100 years ago. 100 years ago and they only attained democratic rule a mere 16/20 years ago and we were only formed 13 years ago. So the issue of impatience and so on, those are statements that are made by people who underestimate how ugly this dictatorship is.

The Zanu PF dictatorship is probably the most refined dictatorship on the continent so the people who are fighting for change and democracy in Zimbabwe, whether or not they belong to the MDC in the churches, in the unions, they are genuine true heroes because they are fighting a complicated dictatorship that has no shame and that will take risks. So I am very proud of what we are doing collectively to establish democracy against an extremely bloodthirsty opponent.

Violet: So how do you respond to those who say you seem to have developed a bond or a relationship with Zanu PF that seems to have eroded your appetite to be able to push for a more radical approach in terms of dealing with Zanu PF?

Biti: We are in this government but we have not signed a unity accord with Zanu PF and Zanu PF has not swallowed us. We have a separate party with a separate identity and we will continue pursuing our goals until we achieve peaceful democratic change in Zimbabwe and that is as inevitable as it is foreseeable.

Violet: Do you think the MDC is still popular? By this I mean is it possible that Zanu PF could be edging you out in terms of favorability?

Biti: That is not possible. What has Zanu PF done? Zanu PF lost the elections in 2008and what have they done in the last three years that would persuade any right thinking Zimbabweans to think that our future lies with Zanu PF?

The fact that they can come up with an alternative constitution like this is a reflection of the fact that we are dealing with a party of clowns and dinosaurs and Zimbabweans want real transformative change – unfortunately that cannot come from Zanu PF.

Violet: Based on a recent opinion poll released by the US-based Freedom House there is an indication that support for Zanu PF is growing while support for your party is declining. What can you say about this?

Biti: Well I have carefully read the opinion of the Freedom House and I respect the right of any person to carry out an opinion but if anyone thinks that the 1,180 people that were polled are a true reflection of an election then let’s go to the referendum right now with Zanu PF pushing their own constitution and let’s see who will win. Let’s go to the actual election and let’s see who will win.

Violet: So basically you are saying it’s not a true reflection of the situation on the ground?

Biti: I can’t comment on the professionalism of those who carried out the opinion poll but if an opinion poll is conducted in Zimbabwe and someone tells me that the medium of choice is the ZBC and the Herald then that is insane. The most popular media in Zimbabwe is Studio 7 and we all know that.

The most popular media in Zimbabwe is DSTV that is why you see little satellite dishes on nearly every roof in Zimbabwe. So if someone were to tell me in an opinion poll that the media of choice is the Herald then there is something wrong. So I respect Freedom House and what they have done but we will do our work as we have been doing.

Violet: What is your take regarding who should be sitting on the table from the other MDC formation?

Biti: Welshman Ncube! Welshman Ncube was elected by a congress that Arthur Mutambara did not even participate in. Mutambara did not even challenge Welshman Ncube and I saw a video where Mutambara was congratulating Welshman Ncube.
I am very concerned about that issue as an individual; because this generation can’t do things that Zanu PF were doing. Even Robert Mugabe strives to have legitimacy. Now you can’t say when you have not even participated in an election you call yourself as the President of the party that doesn’t happen.

Violet: So what do you make of the accusations that have been made by Professors Arthur Mutambara and Jonathan Moyo saying that President Zuma is abusing his position in SADC to help his in-law – Professor Welshman Ncube.

Biti: That is rubbish. Zuma was not in the congress of MDC-M in January of last year. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t the one who chose Welshman Ncube. So that is absolute rubbish.

I think the energy in which Zanu PF is defending Mutambara proves beyond reasonable doubt that Mutambara has been compromised by Zanu PF. They don’t do that to any members of the opposition. Once you are now being defended by the likes of Jonathan Moyo you must know that you are finished.

Violet: But isn’t Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai also defending Mutambara if he still goes to the Principals meetings with him?

Biti: He is not! There were court applications and in the absence of court applications nobody could challenge the position so don’t abuse him, he is not. But now there are court judgments and the situation is very clear and also the SADC summit has made a decision which our president accepts.

Violet: The reason I was saying this is I understand that early this week the Principals held a meeting and professor Ncube was not invited but professor Mutambara was invited.

Biti: Remember the person who swears-in people is Robert Mugabe not Morgan Tsvangirai so don’t visit the omissions and commissions of Robert Mugabe on Morgan Tsvangirai; please don’t do that. Mutambara is an imposter to democracy! He is an imposter to democracy.

Mutambara is trying through the backdoor to rewrite the constitution. The constitution says there are three political parties with three leaders now we suddenly find that we have four leaders, and that was the point that was put to him in Maputo which nobody had an answer. Did we revise the GPA? And to our recollection we have never revised the GPA.