Battling for Change in Zimbabwe

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Arthur Mutambara

Arthur Mutambara, leader of Zimbabwe's opposition faction, addresses a rally. STR/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption STR/AFP/Getty Images

Arthur Mutambara, president of the breakaway faction of the opposition party Zimbabwean Movement for Democratic Change, talks about his country's political tensions, crippling inflation and the future of what used to be called "the breadbasket of southern Africa."

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Now to Southern Africa where Zimbabweans are dealing with the political tensions and crippling inflation. The prices of everyday essentials are up nearly 4,500 percent. Most residents can barely afford a loaf of bread in what was once considered the breadbasket of Africa. And grocers can barely afford to stock their shelves. That means even if you have money, you may have a hard time finding food to eat.

Arthur Mutambara is a former student leader. He now heads the Zimbabwean Movement for Democratic Change, one of the main opposition parties. Members of the MDC, as it's called, have been beaten and harassed by officers of President Robert Mugabe. The 83-year-old Mugabe has held power since 1980. For his part, Arthur Mutambara holds out hope for political change and that he believes will also bring economic change.

Mr. ARTHUR MUTAMBARA (President, Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe): There is a mediation process that is taking place between the government of Robert Mugabe and the opposition in Zimbabwe. And that mediation is being facilitated by President Mbeki who got his mandate from SADC. So yes, this is SADC mandate to bring dialogue between Zenobia(ph) from one end and the true formations of MDC - one lead by President (unintelligible) and one that I lead.

CHIDEYA: SADC is the South African Development Council. And there has been a lot of criticism of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa saying he should have gotten involved earlier. What's your feeling on that?

Mr. MUTAMBARA: We're a bit forward looking. We say, yes, President Mbeki has not been able to deliver in the past six years, but things are different now. Three reasons why things are different: Number one, this is not a Mbeki mandate, this is SADC mandate. So, when he fails - if he fails - he is going to account to the other SADC leaders. So that's different.

Secondly, he's coming to the end of his tenure as president of South Africa. He's finishing in 2009. So he's got an opportunity to redeem himself. So if he has failed in the past, here is an opportunity for him to do what is right about Zimbabwe.

Number three, more importantly, South Africa cannot survive as a vibrant economy when there is a crisis in Zimbabwe. South Africa cannot have a successful World Cup in 2010 if there is civil strife and chaos in Zimbabwe.

So for purely South African strategic interest, for purely South African national interest, Mbeki and his government have a duty and obligation to deliver some semblance of legitimacy, some semblance of success and proper resolutions in Zimbabwe.

CHIDEYA: So you mentioned that the MDC has two different wings. First of all, what are you, overall, trying to accomplish with this mediation, and do the two different aspects of the MDC have different goals?

Mr. MUTAMBARA: The three elements to Zimbabwean national crisis - on the first one, on political illegitimacy, what we're saying is those who are running the country called Zimbabwe are doing so without the consent of the governed. They empower through a fraudulent election. So the starting point in Zimbabwe is to make sure there are free and fair elections - the two wings of the MDC. We are working together in this mediation.

There's only one document from the MDC, which means our demands in the negotiations are very much similar. Yes, there are differences since there was a split in the opposition. But we are also saying that, look, let's put the national interest before self-interest. So we are also involved, although with difficulties, in the process of establishing a united front in Zimbabwe.

CHIDEYA: Let's turn to what the president has been arguing that the elections were won fairly, that your party has been inspiring violence, that you are undercutting the nation at large, and that you, as a party, are basically run by colonial interests whether they are actual British or the descendants of British people who are white South Africans.

Mr. MUTAMBARA: Let me start by saying Mugabe has been very good at framing the debates in Zimbabwe. He or she who frames the debate, wins the debate. So we have made this strategic mistake in the past of allowing Robert Mugabe and Zenobia to frame the debate. How did he frame the debate? The fight in Zimbabwe is that between Africans on one end and the imperialists. We are fighting to make sure we frame the debates ourselves by saying, number one: We are an African opposition party, rooted in the history of Zimbabwe, rooted into the history of the liberation war. We are coming to Zimbabwe, standing on the shoulders of Nikita Mangena, standing on the shoulders of Josiah Tongogara. We are the freedom fighters and we believe in the legacy of the liberation war.

So we are saying to the world, we are Africans who believes in an African agenda. What Mugabe has done is purely propaganda, where he's been posturing and positioning himself as the liberator from Africa, as the leader of revolution from Africa. But Africans are not fooled anymore. Mugabe has become a negation of the liberation war. Mugabe has become the negation of what we all fought for in Africa. And the minute Africans are seeing Mugabe for what he is, a tyrant, a dictator who's running out of luck. Africans are sick and tired of being sick and tired of this tyrant called Robert Mugabe. And they are also realizing Mugabe is victimizing black Africans. There's nothing African. There's nothing revolutionary about what Mugabe is doing in our country. Mugabe is a dictator who tarnishes the very dignity and humanity of black people the world over.

CHIDEYA: Mr. Mutambara, let's talk about the very basics of life in Zimbabwe. As you know, I've been there not that long ago, and I saw a lot of stores that didn't have a lot of merchandise. I saw runs on sugar, for example. How are people coping with this enormous inflation rate and what do you think of President Robert Mugabe's idea that you can just cut cost across the board by, say, 50 percent?

Mr. MUTAMBARA: Yeah. The situation is very bad in our country. Just an addition to what you've just narrated, we're talking about 85 percent unemployment, 90 percent poverty levels. Every week we are losing 4,000 people to HIV/AIDS compounded by malnutrition. This year, if we don't get financial assistance in health from the world, four million Zimbabweans are likely to starve to death.

So what we are saying is Mugabe's efforts by cutting prices, by resting business people won't work. It's a stab-kept measure. What's required is a systemic and structural solution to Zimbabwe's crisis through providing for legitimacy in the country, which legitimacy can only be provided by free and fair election. So that those running our country, those that govern Zimbabwe are doing so with the consent of the governed.

Secondly, we need a new constitution that provide for good governance in our country, so that good governance becomes the foundation of the redemption of our economy crisis. And more importantly, we need vision. We need leadership in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a travesty of justice because Mugabe and his surrogates have failed to provide economic vision for our country in Zimbabwe. We're not just trying to survive and recover and stabilize. We are dreamers. We want Zimbabwe to be a globally competitive economy. We have the potential. If we look at our natural resources, if we look at our human capital, which is one of the best in the world, we can be the Singapore of Africa. We can be the Malaysia of Africa.

CHIDEYA: Mr. Mutambara, final question and just briefly, if you think the president of Zimbabwe is so destructive, how can you even negotiate with him in good faith?

Mr. MUTAMBARA: I think if you look at the history of conflict the world over, at the end of the day, people can pick up guns and fights. They can have revolutions, but when the chiefs are down, you have to sit down and talk. Now, whether someone is going to sit down and talk or not is another discussion. But dialogue and discussions, it always led to result. But when we say this, we are not depending on the benevolence of Robert Mugabe. We are not expecting Robert Mugabe to commit political suicide on our behalf.

What we are saying is the circumstances in our region will force Mugabe to the negotiating table kicking and screaming. Now, what we are saying is there has to be political will among Africans. There has to be political rule among Zimbabweans, to drive Mugabe to do what is right. We, as Zimbabweans, will be masters of our own destiny. We re not going to depend on (unintelligible) South Africa to liberate us from Mugabe.

We are going to take matters into our hands and say to the world, we believe in generational intervention. We believe in stepping up to the plate so that we can emancipate ourselves from tyranny. We can emancipate ourselves from dictator by getting active on the ground, by organizing ourselves so mediation and foreigners will be upon us. But then the chiefs are down, the buck stops with us. We'll be masters of our own destiny.

CHIDEYA: Mr. Mutambara, thank you so much.

Mr. MUTAMBARA: Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: Arthur Mutambara is president of the Zimbabwean Movement for Democratic Change, one of the main opposition parties. We reached out to President Robert Mugabe's administration. His representatives have not yet responded to our interview request.

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