Earlier this month, the church, under the auspices of the Kenneth Mtata-led Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) convened a breakfast meeting with various stakeholders to initiate the national dialogue process. The Zimbabwe Independent (ZI) reporters Tinashe Kairiza and Lisa Tazviinga spoke to the Reverend Dr Mtata (RM), the general secretary of the ZCC, to understand how the national dialogue process will unfold and what it seeks to achieve. The ZCC is one of several “national dialogue” initiatives. Below are excerpts:
ZI: The breakfast meeting was followed by a national training workshop in Basel, Switzerland. What was the purpose of the training and what does it mean in the context of the broad national dialogue process?
RM: What we needed to do on our part was to be a little more scientific in the engagement. National dialogue is not an arbitrary process. You need to be thinking about it in a more systematised way and to make sure that we follow precedence from other countries that have carried this out. You want to learn from them so that you can design your own process. So, we think that this was a very good training for us to prepare ourselves for this process. We don’t want to get into a process to which we do not have a full understanding. This training was mainly meant to equip us for the process.
ZI: We understand that the training workshop was attended by representatives from the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) and government officials. Who was coordinating this trip?
RM: We were invited as ZCC and then we decided to invite others to come and join us so we thought the whole national dialogue process will require different actors and we know that the office of the Vice-President Kembo Mohadi has a responsibility for the national dialogue and national healing process. We know that the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission has a responsibility, so we invited them. We also know that there are things to do with the MDC-Alliance; we also invited them to give us one person, so that is what ended up making up the composition of the participants.
ZI: Why was invitation limited to those individuals?
RM: It was financial, actually the invitation was only extended to ZCC and then we said since we had the possibility of sending four people, it would be pointless for us to send all four from ZCC; can we not broaden the participation and have more organisations attending?
ZI: We do understand, but our question is: why not to fringe opposition leader Brian Mteki, but the MDC-Alliance, was there any particular reason?
RM: What do you think? You must ask questions that enrich the conversation. You know who we should have invited? We should have invited you actually and some guy also who is selling airtime tickets in the streets. This is why I am saying this is a question that no one should ask. They are part of the contestants in the national question, so they must be there when we are talking about these issues.
ZI: We ask this question because there have been suggestions that this national dialogue process should not encompass other stakeholders but should rather be confined to the MDC-Alliance and Zanu PF. Is that your view as well?
RM: That is a misreading of things. Actually, there is what we call a political settlement — it is between those who are contesting what happened, and we are not part of this. There is a comprehensive broad-based national dialogue, this is our interest. The former contributes to the latter but we cannot be held to ransom by disagreements at political level. For example, we are not asking questions about the legitimacy of the President, it’s not our question, but it’s a question that politicians are asking among themselves.
What we don’t want in this national dialogue process is to fuse individual interest groups to shape the whole agenda of the dialogue. For example, the process that the President is having now with political leaders, it is relevant and important, but for us it is not the national dialogue. The national dialogue is bigger, and it involves more actors and it asks all citizens to participate. It is not an elite process. It is a process that must encompass everyone and, therefore, it raises the broader question, not the specific questions that are being raised at these conversations.
ZI: Can you briefly take us through the chronological steps that we should expect after the breakfast meeting and the national training workshop? What’s next?
RM: We now need to finalise our own national dialogue framework draft now. The one that is being produced by the churches is going to be produced in the next few days. We want to share this framework with different civil society actors because we need to share this national agenda with other actors. Once it gets the input and recognition and finalisation, then it will be launched. Once it is launched, different tracks will be opened up for dialogue, because national dialogue requires different tracks.
ZI: How is that convergence going to happen?
RM: We will find each other. Right now everyone is anxious. When we are having dialogue everyone is anxious: what does this mean? What will people think? How do I make sure that I protect myself? So many people have been showing interest. The problem is when negotiations are for a very small cake, everyone is trying to see how they can have the biggest piece, but the more people will realise that national dialogue is producing a bigger cake, everyone will start to see the benefit. Right now people think this is a dialogue that is going to produce winners and losers, because this is the nature of our politics — winner takes all, but if the outcome of a national dialogue benefits the majority of Zimbabweans, many people will locate themselves. That is why we think at some point, everything is going to converge.
ZI: Are there any specific outcomes that the church intends to achieve?
RM: The bigger picture is so that Zimbabweans can have peace, justice and unity. These can be broken down into more concrete structures; related to governance, we hope that if this dialogue becomes a success, we will not have an election result that can be contested. Economically, we hope there will be less corruption stories and those who are reported should be prosecuted. Socially, we hope that hardworking Zimbabweans will get equal opportunities, not someone who is connected to some political party. We hope to have individuals who work hard, who are patriotic. On the merging of relationships, we hope that we are going to have closure to past conflicts that separate Zimbabweans and Zimbabweans will say we think that the past is gone and we think that justice has been attained and we are satisfied.
ZI: What is the timeline of the national dialogue process?
RM: We cannot determine the timelines. National dialogue takes long and I think if we want to answer those questions comprehensively, we must allow the process to run its course.
ZI: Let us take you back to 2008 when there was a political standoff between former president Robert Mugabe and then late leader of the MDC Morgan Tsvangirai. The church also played an influential role to try and broker talks between the two political players even to the extent of engaging regional leaders. Is the church going to follow that example?
RM: You know that the church has always played a conciliatory role from the 1970s at the Lancaster House conference. Many people do not know this because it was never made public. In the 1980s after the crisis the church was also involved. It was Reverend Canaan Banana. In the 1990s, it was the churches that convened the conversation on the national constitution that brought together civil society, students and workers and, of course, that finally led to the birth of the opposition and, of course, it went on its way. In 2008, the church played a very important role which started actually with the visit of Bishop Nduma from South Africa two years or so before. The church also played an influential role during the 2013 national constitution making process. At the departure of President Mugabe you saw the clergy playing different roles. When president Mugabe left, the church had to play a midwifery role. So in Zimbabwe, the clergy always play an important role in key moments of history. We are not claiming that we are going to be playing similar roles. What we are trying to do is to create and build the momentum. The fact that right now this has become everyone’s topic, for us is a success.
ZI: And do you think the Southern African Development Community has any special role to play in that process?
RM: I think we are not insulated from the different regional and international structures. But I think what would make this process to be home grown process is if we can as much as possible deal with the processes ourselves while the other actors from the region and globally are also supporting it from behind. You can’t start by thinking that there is need for outside mediation if you have not exhausted local processes and possibilities. I think it is too early to think about external help at the moment. I think there is a possibility for Zimbabweans to find themselves.
ZI: Should atrocities committed in the past be discussed as part of the national dialogue?
RM: Actually, the national dialogue must mark those who committed crimes to be able to say that they are sorry about what happened. It must enable those who were wronged to say “I forgive you”. It should create an environment that brings about closure. I know that sometimes there is tension between justice and peace. But should we say to those who committed crimes “now we have the opportunity to put you all in prison”, or should we say “if you just confess what happened, you are going to walk scot-free”? That is the reason why we need dialogue because it allows us to bring those issues to a closure which many people agree on and identify with. At the moment we haven’t reached that point and that is why we cannot say we need to go the peace route or the justice route, what we need is dialogue.
ZI: Does the church hope to get a coalition government as an outcome of the dialogue?
RM: That is a structure that comes out of a dialogue. Who can know about the outcome? That is why we do not agree with people, who come with prescriptions of what we need, we need a conversation among Zimbabweans which must culminate in agreed content. The agreed content must then determine structure. We think content must inform structure and structure must be informed by processes.
ZI: The issue of Mnangagwa’s legitimacy has come under the spotlight; do you think this is a key issue the national dialogue should also discuss?
RM: No, I think what we should talk about is the legitimacy of processes, because the legitimacy of President Mnangagwa is a symptom. The real question is, why is it after elections someone questions the legitimacy of the President? Because, today we can question the legitimacy of President Mnangagwa, tomorrow we will ask the same question when someone comes. For us, as the church, the question we must ask is: how do we make sure that no one’s Presidential legitimacy is ever questioned? This is the pertinent question.
ZI: You have been criticised for advancing a dialogue process that is perceived to be favourable to the opposition. What is your take on that?
RM: I am not the only one calling for national dialogue, the President is calling for it, Nelson Chamisa is calling for it, diplomats as well, SADC. Tell me, who is crazy?
ZI: You recently turned down an appointment to the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC). What are your reasons for refusing to be part of that panel?
RM: I feel very flattered to be invited to serve the nation and President in such a role in a moment as this. My current position will however limit effective functioning in such a huge role. I have therefore humbly withdrawn my name. The President will be fully briefed on my commitment to the nation-building agenda and I will support his efforts in other ways within my capabilities.