/ 11 July 2014

Fast forward to a new Zimbabwe: Q&A with Tendai Biti

Sweeping change a necessity: Tendai Biti says the key elements of the new movement are democratisation
Sweeping change a necessity: Tendai Biti says the key elements of the new movement are democratisation

In his first interview since he split from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by Morgan Tsvangirai, in March, Tendai Biti, the party’s former secretary general, sat down for an exclusive interview with the Mail & Guardian.

Since the break with Tsvangirai, where is the MDC Renewal Team going as a party? 

We are building a movement – that is, a sustainable movement that seeks to rise above the mediocrity and failure of the post-liberation movement MDC-T. It seeks to rise above the mediocrity and destruction of the liberation movement itself. So we are essentially creating a new narrative, a new discourse. 

Why does the new narrative exclude Tsvangirai?

It excludes him because he doesn’t fit. He does not belong. He had his chance and he squandered it, and now he has become a fetter to the democratisation of this country.

The greatest gift that any democrat should have is to know when to depart, to know when you are now a spent force.

Tsvangirai, like all dictators, will never know the flashing lights for their departure. So he will continue carrying on and driving himself to ultimate oblivion. But he doesn’t know that. The tide turned a long time ago.

Are any more defections going to take place from those still in the MDC-T?

We would be worried if everyone was to come to us now, because we are building. We want people to understand us so that this movement is grounded on principle and not populism.

If we do end up being a mass movement, so be it. But our intention now is to create a vanguard movement anchored on principle.

We don’t have a name yet and we are fighting on the basis of values and principle, but already people can understand what we are doing in this narrative – that we are trying to create.

Tsvangirai’s predominant message has been that President Robert Mugabe must go. Yours seems to be that Tsvangirai and Mugabe must both go?

It’s about creating a new narrative. Only a mad person does the same thing over and over again.

The challenge in Zimbabwe is that of democratisation, economic and social transformation, and moral rehabilitation. None of the movements have the capacity to understand these challenges and find solutions to them.

In the case of Zanu-PF, problems are never solved by the same mind-sets that created them, and, in the case of Tsvangirai, he has been equalised with these problems.

He belongs to that same nationalist generation, He is in his mid-60s so he belongs to the generation that went to war. That generation is history and is now a footnote in the history textbooks. That is where he belongs.

So a younger generation must take over to fight their fight. So we are calling this a fifth chimurenga, a sixth chimurenga, using sophisticated methods such as information technology.

Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai do not understand that.

This month marks a year since the last election, which the MDC lost. What went wrong in that poll?

The election was massively rigged, but the MDC must take full responsibility. It had no right to be anywhere near that election in the absence of reforms.

One of the things we are pushing as a renewal movement is that we cannot hold an election without reform; it is a waste of time. The entire country needs regeneration, renewal and rehabilitation, and that is what we are doing.

Are you engaging other opposition players such as Welshman Ncube to support your cause?

One of the things we are trying to do is build a grand coalition, so we are in serious discussions with other like-minded democratic forces.

I have no authority to give any details but we believe in a grand coalition, a smart coalition, and we don’t believe that a little party fighting in its own corner can deal with this entrenched dictatorship.

So part of rethinking Zimbabwean politics is that there must be a united front to deal with the current dictatorship.

Why did it take you so long to detach yourself from the MDC-T?

We are founding members of the MDC. I was part of the group of 10 people that conceptualised the MDC. I was lucky enough to be part of that when the MDC was just an idea. So, you don’t dump your baby.

I grew up in the MDC but then it gets to a point when the child can no longer be rehabilitated and that’s the point we got to. It was not an easy decision.

What was Tsvangirai’s reaction to your attempts to tell him things had gone off the rails?

It is his leadership failure that has brought us to this level. He is too blind, too mediocre, to understand how he himself had become an impediment to the democratisation of the country. He is too busy chasing shadows and, therefore, he is going nowhere.

But the struggle is not about him but about the people of Zimbabwe. He did a good job, we appreciate him, but there must be a change of the guard generationally.

The fight between Tsvangirai and you has escalated to control of properties, and his faction has refused to recognise the expulsion served on him last month.

Those are petty issues; we are building a movement. With or without properties, we are going to build this movement.

How has your engagement with regional and international organisations progressed?

Our first briefing was with our African brothers. We are internationalist, we are pan-Africanist and we are engaging.

What are your thoughts about the MDC-T congress scheduled to take place in October?

It is none of our business. It will just be the same tired people being recycled. As long as Tsvangirai is there, that party cannot move forward.

Your campaign trail has seen you focus on Bulawayo, a key stronghold for the MDC-T. How important is it to your efforts?

We are building a national movement and there are two centres in Zimbabwe – Harare and Bulawayo. As a result of the historical injustices committed against the people of Matabeleland, the people of Matabeleland were the first renewalists in the country, so their DNA is lucrative to our movement.