Nduduzo Tshuma Bulawayo Bureau
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa yesterday held frank and robust discussions with Matabeleland-based civic groups at State House in Bulawayo, stressing the need for national cohesion and collective efforts in taking the country forward.
In line with the new dispensation’s thrust of collective engagement towards development, the meeting saw the President interfacing with some organisations that had previously been hostile towards the Government, expressing commitment to contribute towards the development of the country.
He heeded calls for engagement by the Matabeleland Collective, a grouping of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), faith-based organisations, community-based organisations, trusts, savings clubs and social movements from Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South.
The closed meeting discussed among other things, compensatory development, national healing, devolution and inclusivity.
After the meeting, President Mnangagwa hailed the interaction which he described as the first of its kind in terms of social dialogue.
He also revealed that he had not brought a prepared speech but came with an open mind to listen to the people’s concerns.
“I came here with an open mind to listen and I am satisfied that I made the correct decision because non-interaction creates fear, suspicion where there ought to be no fear, where there ought to be no suspicion at all.
“I go back today knowing that the social groups, non-governmental organisations, civic organisations have their country at heart. We have different perspectives on the issues that affect our different communities where we stay or where we operate, not to make things worse but to make things better,” said President Mnangagwa.
“What the Government would not want to hear are persons who would not want to make things better. I think we had heads in the sand, our heads are out now, I’m afraid you may begin to run away from us when we look for you,” he chuckled.
President Mnangagwa said after yesterday’s meeting, the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Dr Sekai Nzenza is going to create a platform so that dialogue and interaction can continue and where necessary he would attend when invited.
“Most importantly, let me congratulate the Matabeleland Collective for initiating and beginning this process which of course other sectors and sections of our community are going to follow but you are the leaders. I congratulate you and I say thank you,” said President Mnangagwa.
Dr Nzenza said the Matabeleland Collective has set the pace for social dialogue.
“I want to thank Jenni Williams for her openness in what she has done for us today and also to say what she represents and the President’s response clearly shows the way forward for the Zimbabwe that we want it to be,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of Matabeleland Collective, Ms Williams who is also director of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) before and after the meeting hailed the President for lending them an ear saying the country’s economy was a top priority for any sober thinking Zimbabwean.
She expressed hope that relevant ministries would open their doors as swiftly as the President did his when they called for dialogue.
“I think this is God’s blessing on Zimbabwe. I think we should realise as Christians that this is a time for us to talk, a time for us to come together, a time for us to realise that if this horrible economy where there is such suffering is to be fixed, it will be fixed by all of us together,” said Ms Williams.
“It is now time to realise that what divides us must be put aside and let’s concentrate on what unites us.”
Giving introductory remarks before the closed meeting, Ms Williams said:
“Realising that we could not continue to cry tears of destitution and despondency, we decided instead to raise our heads and out them together to develop a new approach to development work for the betterment of our region.”
Ms Williams said the country is stronger together and Matabeleland Collective is working to help citizens look ahead for hope and energy than looking backward with sadness.
“The people you see in front of you have cracked their heads and debated together on how we can lead our communities towards a lived sense of peace and healed hearts. We talked about economic renewal and pointed fingers at Government but when you point a finger there are three fingers pointing back at you, reminding you that you have a role to play,” she said.
MDC-T legislator Mrs Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga paid tribute the President Mnangagwa for his patience and openness.
“I’m happy for two things,” she said, “firstly that we started a new phenomenon that the President is not only seen in Harare but comes down to the people, even this State House. I last came here when my uncle (the late Canaan) Banana was still President. People have never come here. The mere fact that people came here and held a meeting is important.”
She said she was also happy with the frank discussion around the need for healing in the country.
“The President did not rush anyone to speak or said he was in a rush to go somewhere, he came here, sat and listened patiently to all the contributions,” said Mrs Misihairabwi Mushonga.
Habakkuk Trust director Dr Dumisani Nkomo said: “It was a good meeting and we are thankful that the President has said for example issues such as Gukurahundi should be openly discussed in the media. He was very open to issues of compensatory development and devolution, issues to do with infrastructural development, healing and the importance of ensuring that people tell their story.”