Morgan Tsvangirai Sizes Up Zimbabwe Elections In a wide-ranging interview, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai — president of the Movement for Democratic Change Party — speaks with Farai Chideya about the upcoming presidential runoff election, the country's state of affairs, and Robert Mugabe's leadership.

Morgan Tsvangirai Sizes Up Zimbabwe Elections

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is News & Notes, I'm Farai Chideya. The presidential runoff election in Zimbabwe is scheduled for two weeks from now. But nothing about the country's election process has been simple. In March, Zimbabweans went to vote on whether to keep President Robert Mugabe in power, or to elect one of the challengers. President Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have held power since independence in 1980. An opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, of the Movement for Democratic Change, has been his main challenger in recent elections.

The government said the first round of elections didn't produce a majority. That meant a runoff, but since the runoff plan was announced, locals have died or been beaten in election-related violence. International reporters and diplomats have been detained or expelled, food aid for malnourished people has reportedly been confiscated by the government, and Tsvangirai has faced threats and government detention during his campaigning. In fact, Tsvangirai was just released hours ago from yet another detention. We spoke with the Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, shortly before his latest detention. He shared his perspective on the election, and told us about the work he is doing with the American-based media outlet MTVU.

CHIDEYA: You have stood for election, seen that the government says that you did not win a majority, been detained, waited for a runoff. What was the moment when you most despaired during this process of the election and the post-election?

Mr. MORGAN TSVANGIRAI (President, Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change Party): I think the most despairing moment was the waiting for the results, when we knew that we had won the election, and that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was not announcing the result. I think it was the worst moment, of waiting.

CHIDEYA: How do you think the MDC supporters are doing right now? Have people - there have been widespread beatings, detentions. Do you think that people are still willing whenever the runoff actually happens, to go out and vote? Or are some people going to be too afraid?

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: I'm quite confident that the people will reaffirm their vote of the 29th of March. I have - you have to appreciate the hostile environment in which everyone has to operate in terms of those violent - the evil that they've seen. And so, as we go toward this election, they also know that they've got (unintelligible) me in their hands, in which case that they have an obligation to reaffirm their vote of the 29th of March, because that's the only way in which they can turn over a new leaf.

CHIDEYA: There's reports, that in some of the rural areas there is so little food, and not only for people to have to deal with the election-related violence, but what has been an ongoing era of food shortages, sometimes of drought. People are dealing with so much right now, the currency devaluation, which is so out of control. What do you find when you go the rural areas that people hope for the future?

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: Well, the hope of the people is really to see this change, so that they can start to reverse all the misfortunes they have experienced under this regime. They see any change bringing in a new, better life, a new Zimbabwe emerging out of that change. Anything is better than what is taking place today.

CHIDEYA: Give me an example of a conversation you have had with one of your young supporters, maybe someone who you just met while you were out on the road.

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: Well, I was out on the road in Matabeleland, for instance. It is a normally dry area, and from time to time there is food deficit, but this year has been even more acute, and despairing. Wherever I go, people say, look, my son, we have had enough of this. Old women talking about we've had enough, we are suffering, we have no food, and we have nothing. Literally, the desperation is written on their faces. And when they see me, they just light up, as if I'm bringing them (unintelligible). So that inspires me. Just recently I went to a hospital where these young people have had severe beatings, and they were suffering from broken, I think broken arms and broken legs. And they say (unintelligible) come the 29th, I just hope that my wounds will heal so that I go back home and vote. We want to vote this man out, we cannot let go now. So I think those are the things sometimes I experience on a daily basis. That inspires us to continuous go forward.

CHIDEYA: Now, clearly, you are opposed to Robert Mugabe as a political opponent, but also philosophically. But Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, it was one of the latest African countries to really shed the colonial shackles. President Mugabe was considered a hero by so many people. Knowing what you do now, do you see any good in him?

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: Robert Mugabe invokes these conflicting emotions. There are some who forgive him for what he has done after independence, which is horrendous and unforgivable, but there are others who also know Robert Mugabe as a patriotic Zimbabwean committed to the freedom of the people. So you do have that conflicting emotion. And I think that divide generationally, between those who grew up with him and those who were born after independence, but I suppose the aspirations are different. And so you get those kind of emotions. And for me, I think that the first decade of independence, Robert Mugabe was my hero. I think he deteriorated and I don't know what has made him transform from a hero to a villain, and now to a real tyrant, and I think it is very unfortunate.

CHIDEYA: Do you think that these runoff elections are going to take place in a fair and timely manner?

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: Our hope is that the cessation of violence is imperative if there is to be some semblance of normalcy in the election. If this rate of violence continues, then certainly there is no way we can have a free and fair election. We are hoping that when the various delegations of observers start arriving, we may see a decline into these violent activities of the regime and these rogue elements.

CHIDEYA: You have worked now with MTV to do PSAs that call for a free and fair election. Why did you decide to work with MTV on this?

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: Well, you know that the background actually started as some form of informal contact, then it developed into a contact with Dispatch group. So Dispatch, which is a youthful band, staged this concert on Zimbabwe. And we are now - I was in New York, I had a meeting with them, and that's how our relationship has developed.

CHIDEYA: Do you think that global youth, people not just in Zimbabwe, but, you know, in all the different places around the world that, for example, might plug in to public service announcement like this, or just people who are young and are listening to music and, you know, going online for their news, do you think that they can help advocate for the free and fair elections in Zimbabwe?

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: I think they will. It's not that because they love music they just focus on music. I think they realize that the future is in their hands, and that's what is affecting any part of the world affect them also. And I think the youth are very conscious about the world in which they are living in. They are breaking boundaries between the developed and underdeveloped, between races. They are the ones who are path-finding and breaking these international barriers.

CHIDEYA: All right, lets turn back to this election. You are going to have a runoff, and if you get a majority of those votes, what do you think will happen? Do you think that you will be allowed to be declared the winner and take power, even if you win the majority?

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: Somebody said, you know, will you be allowed to get power? I said look, to me, that's not the focus. It is not about power, it's about seeking a mandate for the people of Zimbabwe to believe in what we are trying to offer them. If some people believe that they'll prevent that from happening, it's their choice. If especially if they try to do it violently. I am not a violent person, and therefore - that's why from the very base of the MDC, our commitment to non-violent Democratic change has been the focus of our rallies. So we will not struggle with them. We will just say, look, as far as we are concerned, we are the legitimate government. It's not about power struggle, it's about trying to do something about Zimbabwe.

CHIDEYA: Are you afraid that even if you take power, that people will quickly become disillusioned if their standard of living does not change? You have a situation now where...

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: I'm not God. I'm not God who says abracadabra and everything happens overnight.. We have to work through the crisis and we have to work through the trough. I know it won't be easy. We are going to explore today an amount of good will that the people have shown through the election to push through the federal reforms that are necessary to turn around this economy, to turn around the misfortunes of the country. And we are going to make sure that we will put all our efforts in trying to address some of the critical national questions that we will confront. But certainly to expect that after they change today, they want everything tomorrow, will be unrealistic.

CHIDEYA: What do you want for Zimbabwe in terms of international partnerships? For example, China has made big inroads in Zimbabwe and throughout southern Africa in terms of building business interests. The U.S. and the U.K. have turned away while President Mugabe has been in office. What do you what to see in terms of international relations and international business partnerships?

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: I want Zimbabwe to be back again as part of the family of nations. Especially of Democratic nations. I want East and West for the best interest of Zimbabwe to be our foreign policy. We want our foreign policy to be based on our commercial interest, not on the warrior interest that Mugabe has issued over the last 20 or 30 years. We are small nation, struggling to develop. And we started off very well but lost its way. And we want to restore that relationship with everyone. We don't want to be enemies to anyone. Perhaps the emphasis here is that we want to be friends to everyone. And from all the interests, the commercial interests of Zimbabwe, the economic interests of Zimbabwe, because our people need economic restoration.

CHIDEYA: What about the Chinese arms shipment that almost made it to Zimbabwe? In a case like that, do you consider China just doing what it had to do, which is selling its goods, or were you disappointed that the Chinese government would send arms at such a critical moment in Zimbabwean democracy?

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: Well, I think that this is a diplomatic question. We will have to investigate what happened, what were the circumstances. But as far as I'm concerned, I think it didn't serve the Zimbabwean interests very well for China to send us arms and not food. So I think one has to examine this from a broader, long-term relationship. But I think we need to get the facts. For the moment, I think that the arms shipment indicate that they supporting the government and not the people of Zimbabwe.

CHIDEYA: Finally, Mr. Tsvangirai, imagine that it is the year 2050. What is Zimbabwe like then?

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: In 2050, I think that the country will have moved from a developing country to a developed country. I think with all the aspects and all the indication benchmarks for a developed country by then.

CHIDEYA: Well, Mr. Tsvangirai, we hope that we can talk to you again after the runoff election.

Mr. TSVANGIRAI: Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: Morgan Tsvangirai is president of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change Party and a candidate for the nation's presidency. We tried to get a comment from Robert Mugabe, but the Zimbabwean embassy refused our request.

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