THE INTERVIEW Lovemore Ranga Mataire
LRM: Zimbabweans vote today for the president, legislators and councillors of their choice. What can you say has been the most daunting task in convincing everyone that you have interacted with that Zimbabwe wants a clean departure from the past disputed elections?
SB: The most daunting task has been to convince the population that we are not afraid to see them enjoying their rights to freedom. Their freedom is enshrined in the Constitution and the Constitution protects all Zimbabweans and encourages citizens to express their views without fear or favour.
As a Government, the first step in departing from the old to the new era was in ensuring that the Electoral Act was amended, ensuring consideration and domestication of the recommendations presented by the SADC and the AU after the 2013 election. It was an opportunity to seek consensus in Parliament so that all parties would accede to the dictates of the new law which took on board those recommendations.
LRM: What was the motivation behind inviting such a large number of observers from different countries and organisations including the Commonwealth which the country is not a member of?
SB: The motivation was that we wanted to let anyone know that we are really serious in departing from the old ways of doing things. Efforts were made to ensure that the international community be invited to send observer missions to witness and attest to how we conduct elections in a free, fair, transparent, violence-free environment.
In the previous dispensation, foreign media was not welcome, that is a huge difference further separating the old from the new. With election observers present there can be no grounds to dismiss the will of the people, as it will be clear for everyone inside and outside Zimbabwe that the will of the people of Zimbabwe has been respected. That is why it must be credible when we say Zimbabwe has nothing to hide.
Another most important consideration has been to do everything possible to consider national interest before selfish or political contestation. The Government has endeavoured at all junctures to ensure that hate speech and denigration of any kind, especially towards women, be abhorred as it inevitably incites people into acting in a manner that will not promote national interest. Social cohesion is very important for the country to progress without leaving any group behind.
LRM: You have interacted with a number of international observers who are in the country. Can you briefly outline some of their major concerns about this election?
SB: In my dealings with the international community, one of the main challenges has been to convince interlocutors that there are serious efforts on our part to build trust, for the country had earned a reputation as an untrustworthy borrower.
It had become the norm to borrow and not repay as undertaken. Minister Chinamasa has been a great asset in this regard, he has negotiated favourable terms to ensure that payments are made in order to rebuild international trust and to access new lines of credit.
Observers have stated that they have been mainly concerned with the demands by particular parties which have been affecting the peace and security aspect of the nation. The Elders, for example, stated that practical demands be made, otherwise it becomes very difficult for the country to move forward when frivolous demands cannot be met.
The bombing at the President’s rally on 23 June 2018 has also been of concern to international observers. As you can understand, this shook not just Zimbabwe but the international community as well; which has sent messages of condolence and support as the country went through this traumatic period.
Never in the history of our nation has there ever been a terrorist attack of this nature, but such was the statesmanship of the President that he immediately declared that the elections would not be postponed. I believe that it was this principled position which convinced many in the international community to go ahead and send election observers.
LRM: How critical are these elections in ensuring that Zimbabwe enters a new trajectory which some are calling a Second Republic?
SB: These elections are very critical and Government remains mindful of the concerns raised by all political parties, which concerns are of course being discussed by the Multi-Party Liaison Committees seized with ensuring there is consensus amongst parties, especially with regards to issues that fall outside the law. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has been very accommodating in taking on board as many recommendations from the political parties as are practicable.
Don’t forget that Government is not a political party; it cannot dictate or suggest to ZEC what it should or should not do. So, Government ministers have had to mind carefully their roles as political party activists and at the same time advance the national good without bias. All this has been observed by the international observers. These have been interesting times.