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Behind the headlines talks to Munyaradzi Gwisai
Lance Guma, SW Radio Africa
May 24, 2005

Lance: This week on the programme my guest is former Highfields MP and ISO leader Munyaradzi Gwisai. As our listeners will know, he left the MDC under a cloud of controversy and on the programme today we are going to be looking at various issues; why did he leave the MDC, what really happened, what were their differences, what was the bone of contention? He also comments on various other issues affecting the political landscape in Zimbabwe.

Lance: Now, Comrade Gwisai, your departure from the MDC came as a shock to many, especially those in the student and worker movements. Could you in a few words, explain what the bone of contention was between yourself and the MDC?

Gwisai: Well, it's at two levels. At the first level is that myself, as a member of the International Socialist Organisation who had joined the MDC because it was a party that had been formed out of the struggles of working people after 1997, to fight for two main things. Firstly, to fight against the ZANU PF and Mugabe dictatorship to ensure that the goals of the liberation struggle of democracy would be achieved, which obviously had not been done. And they are still not being done by the current government. And then secondly, it was because that same government was not only denying people their democratic rights, but that same government had also now adopted economic programmes that had bought massive poverty, suffering on ordinary people, I'm talking about ESAP. So this is why we joined the party because it was a party of working people. We then left, or, I was expelled and the ISO was also asked to leave in 2002.

The main reason being that we had started criticising openly what we felt were the wrong strategies and tactics that were being used by the party leaders to confront the regime and also to confront the issue of poverty. In particular, we felt that the leaders of the MDC had, after December 2000 when they called for the mass action that had been demanded by the people, and that were accepted by the leadership, but we felt that the leaders were now afraid to take on the government. That instead of mobilising the masses so that we could take on this government in the streets, in the factories and in our colleges, the leaders were now getting comfortable with their positions in parliament and in city councils and were thinking that the way forward was to use litigation. That is the courts, and to use Western pressure. So we disagreed completely with that route, in particular after 2002 when the government again stole the elections. It rigged its way and people were demanding action. Instead of leading the people, the leaders of the MDC decided to go into dialogue or talks with ZANU PF. So when that happened, we said 'enough is enough'.

Then Secondly and finally, we also took at issue the fact that the leadership of the party was driving the party into an alliance or into a friendship with the very people who were collaborating with Mugabe into making life difficult for ordinary people. The party had now, in terms of its leadership, was now being led by employers, the party had become very close to Western governments like Britain, America, the IMF, the World Bank. These were the very same people who had worked with Mugabe to introduce ESAP.

Lance: But Comrade Gwisai, when you look at the MDC it is a combination of various constituencies. You've got workers, you've got students you've got business interests. Was it not better for you to fight for workers rights within the MDC rather outside it? Where you know outside the constituency looks a little bit diminished.

Gwisai: I don't know but when you say its a broad church, a broad thing involving business and so forth, the problem is that there are some people who are more equal than others in that movement. Their are others who are now sitting at the head of the table and deciding how much the others should eat in particular those who formed the party. So it's not just a question that it involves everyone. Its a question of whose interests are now being championed by the movement? And our problem was that the interests that were now being championed were not the interests of working people. And mind you, comrade, the MDC was not formed as a broad movement for everyone. The MDC was formed after the hosting of what was called a 'Working People's Convention' on the 28th and the 29th of February 1999. So I want you to be very clear about this.

The MDC was formed as a result of a convention or gathering which was called a 'Working People's Convention'. We didn't say 'People's Convention', we said 'Working People'. Which means those people who work and toil and suffer are the ones who formed the basis of this party. And then secondly, it was the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions that actually convened it. So right from its base, the MDC was marked with the stamp of workers, the unemployed, the poor and the peasants. And then, intellectuals like ourselves, who sympathise and fight for the cause of these people were also part and parcel. The rich, the white farmers, the business community, only came in after February 2000 if you take like the economic Eddie Cross and a whole lot of other people who moved in.

They only came in in February 2000, that is six months after the party had been formed, because they saw that the MDC was offering a real chance of unseating the government and bringing in a working peoples' government. And they came in to ensure that they would try and hijack this programme. So we remained in the party until 2002 when we were expelled precisely because we wanted to fight from within. But it is clear to us that after 2002 the party leadership had then been hijacked. And indeed, we have been vindicated up to this day, in 2005 when you now have elections in 2005 which again have been rigged, which have again been done in a fraudulent manner and the MDC still insists on going into that parliament and taking on this thing. As we speak today, its the kind of thing that we were talking about. If the MDC had been ready to mobilise its membership and the working people, the urban people, by now, Mugabe would be history.

Lance: Whilst you were still in the MDC you made several statements in support of the land reform exercise and people labelled you a political chameleon. I remember even the Daily News had a cartoon of you wearing Robert Mugabe's T Shirt. Take us through your reasoning on land reform. Where you correctly labelled and do you think people misunderstood you on that.

Gwisai: Well it's not a question the ordinary person, some people might have. But, one of the tragedies was that the MDC leadership was not prepared to accept the advice that myself and the International Socialist Organisation, ISO, were giving them. In 2001, in January, at a leadership meeting, a National Council Meeting in Nyanga, I produced a special document, this was after the defeat in Bikita, which was entitled 'MDC Go Back to the Working People'. In that document I expressly stated that the Mugabe regime was no longer popular and was left remaining on its last legs. And the only leg that was left to it was the land question. And that the MDC as a working people's party, had to support the movement of poor peasants, war veterans and other people who were demanding land. Because you must remember that the first land invasions in the 1990's were not started by ZANU PF. They were started by poor peasants and war veterans in places like Svosve and Nyamandlovu, in '97 right? So I made it very clear that unless the MDC was going to be very clear and come out in support of land, they were going to allow Mugabe to get back into power through the back door. This was January 2001, and if you look at the results of the elections in 2002 and even the latest elections, it is clear that the only reason why Mugabe and ZANU PF has survived is because they were able to divide the rural peasants from the urban workers. Mugabe was then able to pretend to be a champion of peasants.

Lance: Maybe it is important to note that the MDC have not objected to land reform per se, but have qualms with the way it has been implemented by Robert Mugabe's government.

Gwisai: Ah, but that's an excuse you see. What is open and clear, is that, and this is the message I was putting across when I was in parliament and in the MDC, is that if you look at the history of what is happened in the world, what is clear is that when land is taken from people, it is not taken through... it's not a tea party. Thousands of our people were killed and massacred by the colonialists in order for them to get land. Tens of thousands of people were murdered, were robbed, were raped in the 1890's.

So that those who today, by and large owned our land, before the land possession, could have that land. And it is on the basis of that physical violence dispossession, and also chibaro, where our ancestors were forced to do forced labour on these farms, that this privilege was built. Now to think that you can actually get that land back through the courts or through negotiations, you are either an idiot, or you are naive, or you are a liar. So for the MDC to tell us that they disagreed with that method, and that the method they thought was proper is the lawful method of negotiation, it's just daydreaming.

Lance: The country is currently in the midst of an economic crisis where food, fuel, electricity and water shortages. Surprisingly there has not been a single protest on the streets. Has Mugabe successfully cowed us into submission?

Gwisai: Yes. No, but what I've been trying to argue is that over the last five years once the MDC went into parliament and once they decided to renounce the route of jambanga or mass action, they had then persuaded and tried to convince their supporters that the way forward to achieve liberation was to go through the parliamentary elections, was to go through the courts, you know those petitions in the courts, was to go through the West, you know where they went to their friends in the West and together with their friends, imposed sanctions, both targeted and financial and economic sanctions in the country . And in the process, also demobilise some of the best activists of the MDC who fought when it was hardest, were removed from the structures after 2000. So for all those reasons, the MDC as the biggest party by far in the urban areas, has helped in demobilising their members.

Their mis-leadership of the movement, and I give you the example of the latest one now where they have gone into parliament where they can do nothing, absolutely nothing with their 41 seats, but they go in there so that they can go and get pension for life, they can get new 4 by 4's and so forth and so on. But that creates disillusionment among people, it creates feelings of powerlessness. It's the very reason why when the economic situation is as hard as it is, when people in fact could rise up in resistance, our leadership is lacking.

Lance: Most people who know you admire your courage and determination, and even your intelligence, but never seem to understand why you believe socialism is the way to go when all around, the world seems to be shunning it?

Gwisai: ah well, as we speak today, today is the 5th May, there are elections going on in Britain. One of the biggest issues today in Britain is the war in Iraq, and it might have quite a large bearing on the election. For the war in Iraq to have become such a big issue in England was the result of massive demonstrations in Britain and in other Western countries like America and Australia. In particular on the 15th February, a year or two ago when over 2 million marched in London . And the people who were critical in this, like the Stop the War coalition involved Socialists in countries like Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and other Socialist movements.

As we speak today, peasants in Bolivia, a president has almost resigned because peasants and other ordinary people are demanding that the mineral wealth of Bolivia be nationalised for the interests of ordinary Bolivian people. And as we speak today, across the world we have seen major demonstrations against the imposition of Structural Adjustment Programmes in the Third World, the debt problem. What I'm trying to argue is that socialism, by destination, is the movement of ordinary working people against the poverty and against the suffering they suffer as a result of the ownership and control of the factories, the mines and the wealth of society by a small minority. The struggle that we see today of ordinary working people across the world rising up against poverty, unemployment, low wages, are the seeds for which a global and international movement for socialism will be built.

Lance: Moving on to one final subject before we end the programme. I had a discussion with Nelson Chamisa and Daniel Molakela last week on the apparent death of student activism in Zimbabwe, where we pointed out that Universities and Colleges have somehow stopped producing notable activists. Why do you think this is happening?

Gwisai: Ah, one of the reasons that we are discussing now is that students of the late 80's, that includes people like myself, Tendai Biti, Mutambara, and others, were students who fought and led the movement on a clear ideology. The clear ideology that was our pillar, was the ideology of socialism.

The ideology that students can only move forward and can play a meaningful role in society if they are on the side of ordinary working people, that is workers and peasants, the unemployed and the poor. That was the guiding compass through which the student movement was developed in the late 80's and the early 90's. But obviously the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1992, you have seen students in the last six, seven, eight nine years, participate in politics as a confused misdirected lot in terms of ideological positioning. Many students in fact and many students unions, fell victim to the money of the Western donors that descended into this country in the last five years. So instead of struggle becoming a question of conviction and ideology, struggle became a means of livelihood. The key challenge that faces the student movement today is to rebuild itself on the basis of an ideology and consciousness that identifies the real enemy of democracy in Zimbabwe, democracy in the world. And that enemy is capitalism run by local and international capitalists.

Lance: And finally comrade Gwisai, you on the other hand politically, seemed to have decided to lay low. You are not much in the spotlight these days. Any reasons for this or you are planning something?

Gwisai: No no, we are actually building the International Socialist Organisation. Obviously with the dominance that the MDC had it had meant that many activities were not coming out but now, people are beginning to question. The ISO, of which I'm one of the leaders, were very active in the rebuilding of the trade union movement working with pressure groups and trades unions that are militant, so that a new movement will be re-built in this country.

We are active in the Student's Union and at the same time we are now also very active participants in the Zimbabwe Social Forum process, a new movement that has emerged in this country in the last two years which is bringing together activists, militants, whether socialists, students, workers or those who are fighting for trade justice. AIDS/HIV activists. It's a new movement that is fighting both for democracy and social justice so that ordinary people can have a life. And indeed, in October this year from the 13th and 14th, we are going to host the Southern Africa Social Forum here.

So, tiri kumushakura saka Zimbabwe ichabuda munswisisa, but very soon we believe that the conditions are right again for the emergence of a real movement that will take on the Mugabe government and the dictatorship and that will also take on the bosses and the capitalists of this country and region.

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