LAST week in the resort town of Victoria Falls, President Mnangagwa received his first Covid-19 jab at an event witnessed by several political leaders, who included main opposition leader Mr Douglas Mwonzora who leads the MDC-T. The Herald Political Editor Fungi Kwaramba (FK) sat down with Mr Douglas Mwonzora (DM) to get his views on the vaccination programme and other issues. Below are excerpts of the interview.
FK: Mr Mwonzora tell us what motivated you to visit Victoria Falls along with other political players last week?
DM: At the beginning of the pandemic in Zimbabwe the MDC-T made its position clear. We hyped this position at the beginning of the January 2021 lockdown. Our position was that the Covid-19 pandemic was a national and international emergency which had to be completely depoliticised. We called on Government to make available all protective wear to the poor free of charge. Through a special video broadcast on behalf of the party, I called for the Government to procure enough vaccines which would be made available to our people free of charge.
We also called for free treatment for the poor in the case of infection. In the unfortunate case of deaths, we called for the State to assist people especially the poor with burial. When the Government procured the first batch of vaccines, our policy position was that people must be vaccinated. To demonstrate our seriousness, our top leadership led by example by being the very first to be vaccinated. We believed that vaccination was the best way of prevention of this deadly disease. When President Mnangagwa invited us to Victoria Falls for the launch of the vaccination programme, we saw it as an opportunity to encourage our people to be vaccinated as well as to demonstrate the complete de-politicisation of the Covid-19 pandemic.
FK: As a nation do you think we are on the right path in the fight against Covid-19?
DM: I think we have started well. We hopefully have depoliticised the fight against the pandemic. Vaccines have been procured and so far we have seen no evidence against discrimination in the administration of the vaccines.
In that regard, we appear to be on the right track. We have called upon the Government to make sure that the vaccines are made available to poorer communities in high density suburbs, rural areas and the farming communities for example. Because the schools have opened, they must also be prioritised. What has been regrettable is the attitude of some political leaders to leave the fight against this pandemic to the Government. This is a fight for all Zimbabweans.
FK: In terms of leadership provision, what is your view on what the Government has done so far in the vaccination programme?
DM: So far, the Government is acting reasonably well. However, I think that they should involve all stakeholders especially in the advocacy work towards acceptance of vaccination as a more permanent measure towards prevention. It must allow willing political parties and organisations to assist in this advocacy work.
FK: Some people are politicising the Covid-19 pandemic, what is your view on this?
DM: Politicising this pandemic is the height of irresponsibility. This is a deadly disease which can wipe out entire communities. Let us all accept that Zimbabwe’s health care system is not well resourced. Therefore, there are not enough facilities for treatment of individuals in the event of infection. Therefore, the best for us is to put more effort in prevention. Vaccination is the most effective method of prevention.
Some of the leaders who were speaking against vaccination and urging people to refuse vaccination have in fact privately been vaccinated. This is evil. The supporters who take them seriously may refuse vaccination and therefore protection against the disease while the leaders are in fact protected.
I believe these leaders are misunderstanding what leadership is all about. Leadership is not about showing who succeeds in the propaganda game. It is about protection of the poor and vulnerable. Fortunately, the MDC-T has shown great leadership and responsibility in this regard. I am proud of the MDC-T leaders who have led by example in the vaccination programme.
FK: What role should political parties play in the vaccination programme?
DM: Political parties can help raise awareness on this disease. They must encourage people first to practice the WHO mandated health guidelines including social distancing, wearing of masks, and washing of hands with soap. They must encourage vaccination. The sad thing about some of the parties who are trying to discourage people from being vaccinated is that they are not offering any alternative solutions. Political parties have, in the main, been responsible for the polarisation of our society. They must therefore lead the de-politicisation of the fight against the Covid-19 menace.
FK: Do you think the vaccination programme should be compulsory so as to ensure everyone is safe?
DM: Sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind. We believe that vaccination should be made compulsory because it is for the protection of the nation. Because it is justifiable, and it is in the interests of public health I believe such a measure is perfectly constitutional.
FK: But there are some organisations, including churches who are inventing conspiracy theories around the pandemic and especially the vaccine?
DM: This is irresponsible. However, this is not new at all. Once upon a time there was an outbreak of smallpox, polio and other diseases. Medical science stepped in to deal with these. We believe this is the same situation here. I believe God created medical knowledge. Relying on medical science is therefore relying on what God created. The church leaders in question and those other individuals must go beyond simply spreading conspiracy theories to providing alternative solutions to the people. This they have failed to do.
FK: Covid-19 has affected the economy and the launch of the vaccination programme in Victoria Falls is supposed to revive the tourism sector, what are your views on the economy?
DM: The Zimbabwean economy is in a bad state and needs revival. The revival of the economy requires a complete change in our politics. We must jettison the politics of hate, rancour, acrimony, hate, intolerance and violence and replace same with the politics of rational disputation and tolerance. That is why the MDC-T has called on genuine, inclusive and unconditional dialogue to resolve the myriad of Zimbabwe’s challenges. Vaccination of Zimbabweans will boost the tourism sector no doubt. That is why the MDC-T supported that.
FK: We are pursuing as a nation Vision 2030, to become an upper middle class economy, what role can the opposition play to achieve this?
DM: The opposition can only play a role if it is allowed to. Through dialogue the opposition can assist in bringing about social, political and economic development in Zimbabwe. We need reforms in order to take Zimbabwe out of the current political, social and economic morass that we find ourselves in. The MDC-T has called for national dialogue. This dialogue must be inclusive, unconditional, and genuine. There is enough historical evidence that dialogue has always led to the betterment of the lives of the ordinary Zimbabweans. We have as a party a ready list of those areas that need to be dealt with in order to revamp the Zimbabwean economy and will share them during the dialogue process.
FK: Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe is still groaning under baneful economic sanctions, what is your view on this?
DM: The MDC-T has called for the reintegration of Zimbabwe into the international community. In this regard we must end Zimbabwe’s international isolation and ostracisation. The sanctions have been with us for ages, but this has not in any way led to the improvement of the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans. Therefore, they have not worked.
FK: Any parting shot Mr Mwonzora?
DM: We have to completely change our politics. Zimbabweans are tired of being made to fight among themselves. It is high time we craft a common national vision. We must start the social, political and economic Renaissance to catapult Zimbabwe to its rightful place as the leading economic and commercial powerhouse on the African continent. In that regard all political leaders have to be responsible, people-oriented and selfless. National dialogue must start now.