Zimbabwean opposition leader vows to fight on
The congress comes 15 months after elections in Zimbabwe in which ZANU-PF was returned to power as the sole governing party, bringing to an end a power-sharing government of which the MDC was a part.
DW: How much damage did this period in government with President Mugabe do to the MDC's reputation as a vibrant opposition party?
Morgan Tsvangirai: I think you have to take into consideration that when the MDC went into the coalition with ZANU-PF it was to save the people and not for power sharing with any other body. We went in - it was not a perfect agreement but I think we managed to save the country. So, yes, there may have been some damage because of demobilization that would have taken place in the opposition forces. But it was also a Catch-22 situation in which we had to help the country, help the people.
So you concede that damage was done. How is this congress going to help repair that damage?
Well I don't think it was that [serious] because 85 percent of all Zimbabweans believe the MDC made a very substantial contribution. In fact, the people of Zimbabwe actually appreciate the participation of the MDC to the extent that even now - with the current crisis we are facing - there's a call for another GNU (Government of National Unity) because things improved significantly as a result of our participation. So this congress is coming at a time when we have to re-energize the base, remobilize again as opposition, not as part of government
Will the party be electing a new leadership?
Yes, yes the congress is there to have elections and some of the leaders have been retained unopposed, but there will be contestations in various positions of the party
Will you be standing for re-election as party leader?
So far I have been nominated by all the 12 provinces, so I have been retained unopposed and so have my deputy and the national chairman
So you will be standing for re-election?
You have critics within the MDC-T. In April they even declared that they had suspended you. How are you coming to terms with that?
Well, that is water under the bridge. There was an attempt at a coup - and that coup did not succeed - by a few ambitious people. The people have retained their faith in the party and in the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai. Yes, it was a terrible experience but we will stabilize now with unity. We've done 12 provincial congresses and we've actually had to bring forward our congress in order to deal with the leadership issue.
To what extent is the future of your party being affected by the battle for succession in ZANU-PF, for example, the activities of Grace Mugabe?
I think what is happening in ZANU-PF is what I would call the inevitable exit of the big men and because of that there is a scramble for succession in that party. It will not affect us, but it will have implications for the politics of the country because the MDC - given the crisis in ZANU-PF - becomes the alternative. That's why this congress is very important - to come out with policies and programs that people can have confidence in.
What is your personal vision for Zimbabwe's future? What would you like your country to have achieved within the next ten years?
There are three critical issues in this country. We need to move away from the governing culture that we have had for the last 35 years. A government culture that was dictatorial, that was undemocratic, that personalized national institutions. So the first thing is to transform the governing culture in this country. The second thing is to build the nation as a nation. Nation-building becomes a big challenge in uniting the people, in ensuring that every Zimbabwean has his place in the sun. The third issue is, of course you can't have a nation of poor people, you need a prosperous country. And therefore investment in skills, in the economy becomes very critical - and reviving the economy becomes a very important issue of ensuring that every Zimbabwean enjoys what this country has.
When you speak to ordinary Zimbabweans what are their main concerns?
I think at the moment their main concern is poverty, the economy. There are no jobs, there is a liquidity crisis, no money in the country, companies are closing. So there is a very high level of anxiety about the level of poverty, the deceleration of the economy which has affected every one and I think that is the main concern
There was a time back in 2008 when Morgan Tsvangirai was resolute and determined, rallied the masses, refused to be intimidated. It looked for a time as if you could have been able to wrest power from Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF. Why - how - did that opportunity slip away?
I don't think it slipped away. I think it was part of the struggle. There are opportunities that arise, there are also setbacks that arise. Remember that our struggle has always been a struggle against an entrenched dictatorship and using democratic means to remove a dictatorship is very, very difficult. I think the people are still resolute, I'm still resolute and I'm still determined to help the country, so it may have been a moment of opportunity in 2008 but then winning an election is one thing, winning power is another thing, so we have to learn as we go.
Would you be prepared to step down for the good of the party?
Who says if Morgan stands up [to leave] the party will be better? If the party believes that I am the leader in whom the people have invested their faith and hope then I am prepared to play that role until the people lose confidence. And there is only one platform that will express that confidence or lack of it - it is the congress of the party. Any other method would be not only undemocratic but also usurping and undermining the will of the people.
Morgan Tsvangirai is the leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition party MDC-T. He was prime minister in a power-sharing government with President Robert Mugabe from 2009 to 2013.
Interview: Mark Caldwell