Full interview: Morgan Tsvangirai pushes for democracy

Klopa Robin

Despite being arrested and beaten for challenging ousted Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, the country’s opposition leader wishes to see a peaceful transition of power.

In an interview with CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme, Morgan Tsvangirai said the top priority in Zimbabwe is installing a democratic election process that is fair, credible and “irreversible.”

On Tuesday, Mugabe, 93, ceded to pressure from the military and resigned, relinquishing the presidency he held with an iron grip since 1980. In the country’s capital of Harare, massive crowds sang and danced in the streets.

Tsvangirai challenged Mugabe in elections and was arrested several times and charged with treason. In 2007, he was severely beaten by police after trying to attend a public event that the government labelled an illegal gathering.

Speaking with CTV News, Tsvangirai did not dismiss the idea of becoming the country’s next leader, but said whoever replaces Mugabe “must be elected.” He also proposed ways the Canadian government can help during Zimbabwe’s historic transition.

Lisa LaFlamme: This is such uncharted territory for Zimbabwe. The world is watching this bloodless coup. Can this remain a nonviolent process?

Morgan Tsvangirai: Yes it’s an extraordinary situation. But I am quite confident that it will remain peaceful, and that it will remain nonviolent.

Are you the man to lead Zimbabwe, long term, now that you’re back? Is this your goal?

Zimbabwe will be led by a process and by a leader who is chosen through a process. And I cannot determine that at this stage.

Some people are casting you as the next leader of Zimbabwe. If that happens, will you guarantee the safety of Mr. Mugabe and his wife?

Well first of all, for me, it’s never been a personal issue. In fact, it’s regrettable that the old man has decided to drag this up to this stage. And I think in terms of our culture, we should have been given that dignified exit. Unfortunately, that has been spent.

Now it’s interesting that you say this is not personal for you. I mean, this is your nemesis, the man responsible for your imprisonment and torture over the years. To see him brought down now, how is this for you personally, this transition for you?

Well personally, it is satisfying to note that like all dictators, they end. Like all dictators, the end is sometimes very, very difficult.

So it has never been personal for me. For me, it has been a principled disagreement. And it has been a fight for democratization.

Are you suspicious of the motives here, both in the impeachment proceedings and the motives of the ruling party? Is a democratic Zimbabwe their priority also?

What is important is that we now need an irreversible process of irreversible democratization – otherwise all this effort would be in vain.

What does that mean? It means we need to put in place mechanisms for a free, fair and credible election process.

We still are due for elections in 2018, and I am sure that the maximum period is about August. So we have got eight months in which to prepare for those elections. And I am sure by then we should be in a position to create conditions for free and fair elections — voter registration, no violence.

So for us, it is a non-negotiable position if we are to enter a new phase.

Can that happen with Mugabe and his wife remaining in the country?

What will happen – no harm will be intended. Unless there are crimes committed that can be discovered. I mean, that will be a different process. As far as I am concerned, any criminal prosecution must arise out of the crimes committed, which can be established beyond any doubt.

But as far as I’m concerned, people who just want him to step aside because of old age and about his wife, it also depends whether she has committed any crimes.

Would you be supportive of the leadership under Emmerson Mnangagwa?

Well that’s far off the mark, because as far as I’m concerned, we haven’t even began to engage. If we are to engage to say, ‘How do we restore the country to legitimacy?’ then that discussion will include of course some transitional mechanism.

Our priority is to ensure that we create conditions that will return the country to legitimacy. That’s my preoccupation.

And are you confident you can accomplish that?

I’m confident that the people of Zimbabwe want — they don’t want to wrestle, they don’t want to return to Mugabe’s phase of rule. They want to move on to a situation where their freedom is guaranteed.

How can the Canadian government help Zimbabwe in this process?

One of the things that I think Canada and others have to demand is that we want to see an irreversible process of free and fair elections. And if there is any help that can come that route, that will help us conduct elections.

I mean, in 1980 we had the Commonwealth Contingent which came to supervise the elections here. And more can still be mobilized. We are talking here of the United Nations supervising our elections, and I’m sure that Canada can make a contribution in that regard.

And on the question of the economic future of Zimbabwe: what does your country need in a post-Mugabe era to open up to the world, democratically and fairly?

You know, economically our country is on its knees and as much as foreign direct investment and foreign aid can give us a kick start to our very dire situation, it would be helpful.

Timing is so critically important right now. People want change. They want food. They want jobs. How fast do you have to work to get this process fairly and democratically underway — if they don’t want to wait a year for an actual election?

Unfortunately they will have to have the patience to wait because delivery is one thing. Expectation is the other.

So they have to give the new dispensation an opportunity to set the process to recover the economy and to create conditions for economic recovery. Otherwise it will be foolhardy to pretend that overnight all these things will be delivered on the table.

So it’s not going to be a one-day wonder. It’s something that is going to take time — bearing in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and Mugabe has been in power for over 30 years. Did you ever imagine this day would come?

Well some of us were going into a phase of exasperation because we tried the democratic route. We won the 2008 election. He refused to go. And so people were frustrated to say, ‘How are you going to get rid of him?’

So as far as we are concerned, it’s a very convenient end.

And a very appropriate and irreversible process — that will give the people of Zimbabwe an opportunity to move forward. That’s what they have been crying for all these years.

Were you involved in how this unfolded last week, with the military?

No, I was not involved with the military. But it may have been a very convenient intervention. Even though in questionable circumstances, the outcome had very popular support amongst the people.

Do you want to be the next leader of Zimbabwe?

We don’t want to go through another Mugabe phase. The next leader of Zimbabwe must be elected. Who knows, I may be one, but there other contestants to the leadership. So I’m not at all privatizing this opportunity.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


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