SW Radio Africa's Violet Gonda's guest on the Hot Seat programme is Njabuliso Mguni, one of three former legislators engaged in a tug of war with President Robert Mugabe over election dates in the Supreme Court. Why do they want to pursue a case that will only give them a month in parliament if by-elections are held? Are the three, who plan to also contest as MPs for the MDC-T in general elections, creating confusion in opposition ranks and giving ZANU PF an advantage and an excuse to call for general elections by June - a timeline opposed by both MDC formations?
VIOLET GONDA: My guest on the Hot Seat programme is Njabuliso Mguni, one of three former legislators from Matabeleland engaged in a tug of war with president Robert Mugabe in the Supreme Court. Mguni, Abednico Bhebhe and Norman Mpofu are trying to force Mugabe to call for by-elections in constituencies they used to represent following their expulsion from the Ncube led MDC after they were accused of supporting the MDC led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. High Court Judge Justice George Chiweshe recently ruled in Mugabe's favour saying the holding of by-elections now would be costly and unnecessary because the life of Parliament would end by June 29th. Mugabe also argues there are about 40 vacant constituencies and he'd have to hold by-elections in all these areas and that there are no resources to hold mini elections on top of general or harmonized polls. I started by asking Mr Mguni for an update on the Supreme Court challenge.
MGUNI: Well I'm sure Zimbabweans have been following this case from 2009 when we were expelled for the reasons that we stated. Normally and constitutionally one would have expected that the president of the country would have declared re-elections or would have called for elections within 90 days but that never happened and as a result, we are forced to approach the courts for redress of this situation on behalf of our constituencies. And let me say out clearly without any ambiguity that whatever action we took to challenge Mugabe to court, we would have taken Mugabe to court so that to force a by-election, we were doing that on behalf of our constituencies that we represent - because constitutionally, each and every constituent has got a right to be represented and we felt as representatives for the people that our people have been robbed, they could not go for all those years without any representation. So as it is now, we are actually fighting the war in the courts and we continue to fight.
GONDA: This case seems to be dragging on and on. Why didn't you appeal over a year ago when the High Court first gave an extension?
MGUNI: Well our understanding was, remember this case had actually started from the High Court then it went to the Supreme Court, it was thrown back to High Court and to High Court for whatever reason - I don't know I'm not a lawyer because we have employed people to do the thinking on our behalf. We understand the High Court had actually made an agreement with Robert Mugabe to call the dates by the 30th of March. So that was our understanding that by that date Mugabe would have announced the dates for the by-election.
GONDA: High Court Judge Justice Chiweshe said holding by-elections right now would be costly and also unnecessary because the life of parliament would end by June 29th. What's your reaction to this?
MGUNI: Well that was never the contention. The contention was that the law has been broken and the law stated clearly and categorically that elections must be held within 90 days and that each and every constituent has got a right to be represented. Being a layman, without any legal background, my simple understanding is that those issues of inability, costly and so on are not enshrined in the constitution; they will just be personal interpretation from a learned judge, not what the law actually says. But the law talks about the three months and all the constituencies have got the right to be represented - so I don't know where he was getting that one from. I think that was just his own opinion but that doesn't exist in law.
GONDA: Now if the Supreme Court rules in your favour President Mugabe will have to start the process of calling for by-elections and correct me if I'm wrong - it will take 40 days for the nomination court and there will be another 40 days from nominations to elections which means if you are elected you are likely to have about a month as an MP before parliament is actually dissolved on June 29th. Why do you then want to be an MP for just 25 days, if the president is ordered to call for by-elections immediately?
MGUNI: It's not that we want to be MPs, that's not the point. The point is we want to correct an anomaly, it's just a question of principle -it's not that we want to be MPs. We are being pushed by our own people that we must push this thing right up to the end. You know whether elections are there or not but the correct message must be sent to the system. Secondly I don't know who says that elections are going to be on the 29th. If for argument purposes let's say elections are going to be on the 29th, if you read our constitution in Zimbabwe it reads; 'proclamation must be done within 90 days, and there's a 90 day process to elections. But if you count from now the proclamation hasn't been done - the 90 days is not even enough and it possibly rules out having any elections in June.
Remember there are 90 days for proclamation that is in our constitution, so if the president hasn't proclaimed or even announce now the dates of elections when it is supposed to be announced within 90 days, when is he going to do that? 90 days now falls after 29th of June.
And let me say it again I did not ask to be MP, it's not that we want to be MPs, we are just pushing a principle here that the system must be very clear. There people have been doing things that are wrong and have been left to go off scot free and we are saying we are going to challenge that, we are going to fight that - and we are simply doing that on behalf of our people. And as politicians and as leaders, if you cannot fight for yourself there is no way you can fight for people. So it must be understood in the sense of the principle. It's not about me going to parliament or whatever, it's not about that. A law has been broken and that issue must be addressed. Mugabe must be exposed, Mugabe must be made to feel very uncomfortable about what he has done and that there is going to be a lesson that is going to be learned in future about that.
GONDA: So your appeal is simply for a precedent to be shown that what was has happened is not right and to force the president to comply with a court order?
MGUNI: Precisely, that is what we are doing. As I said, we are political leaders and that's one of our roles as political leaders that we must fight out systems that are wrong and try and correct things so that people out there can learn how to do things. If we are politicians and see things that are messed up and we just look at it and fold our hands and say ah okay the president has said this, the president has done that - Zimbabwe is where it is today because of such kind of thinking. People see things going wrong but don't challenge, as a result that is why we find ourselves in this current situation.
Let me just give a simple reference about yourself - you are where you are simply because of failure of Zimbabwe to follow our own constitution. People are all over the world simply because the system has failed to follow its own laws or its own constitution - so the result is there is no order, things are just up side down, our economy is very poor, refugees all over, I think everybody is fed up of Zimbabweans. There are so many effects that come about as a result of non-constitutionalism. So we want to address that.
GONDA: On the other hand isn't it possible that the harmonized elections will be held while your appeal is pending?
MGUNI: Well there is that possibility but I think Madam the most important thing is that the message has been sent home, the message has been driven home, Mugabe has been embarrassed enough. We will continue to embarrass Mugabe - history is going to judge him. I think we have put up a good fight. The message has been sent for those that have got ears, they have heard what is happening; for those with eyes they have seen what is happening, for those with enough brains they've really looked at it and interrogated and realized that Mugabe really messed up. We have really exposed him. I think we have done our part.
GONDA: I understand you are all also planning to contest as parliamentarians on an MDC ticket in general elections.
MGUNI: This is very correct. Remember I was fired simply because I supported Morgan Tsvangirai in the MDC-T when we were in parliament. And remember the background to that was Mugabe, Arthur Mutambara and Welshman Ncube had cut a deal including, this was directed by Thabo Mbeki to close out MDC-T. So they wanted people to vote for a Speaker of Parliament that was going to be supported by Zanu PF so that the MDC-T was going to be closed out of the system. But we worked against that hence we were told we were rebels, we don't follow the party and so on and so forth. So with that in mind there is no way we would not support the MDC-T or be candidates of MDC-T because we have got the support of our people in our constituencies. And the person who's got the capacity to remove Mugabe is Morgan Tsvangirai the prime minister of this country.
GONDA: So how do you respond to people who say you are now creating confusion and giving Zanu PF an excuse to say 'they have been ordered to call for by-elections so they will just call for general elections for everything,' something that your party does not want?
MGUNI: Well I think you must make a d between facts and opinions and to me that's an opinion and people are entitled to make their own opinion. You know it's that kind of thinking that has brought Zimbabwe to its knees. We have been fighting for three, four years and why didn't those people assist us to fight Mugabe so that Mugabe will actually follow the dictates of the constitution. So I don't think that is the case. As I have said we are not really interested in the by-election but we want to send the correct message in terms of the principle. People can say whatever they want to say, I don't know where they are getting that from but I would like to say that is an opinion, it is not a fact.
GONDA: The Prime Minister was a fourth respondent in this case and he had tried to block President Mugabe from calling for harmonized elections saying it is too soon to have polls by June. So what is the greater interest in your party - is it not to have reforms and prepare for elections since your critics say if you win this case, this will give the president an excuse to either call for mini by-elections, as there are at least 40 vacant constituencies or just have harmonized elections which your party does not want right now?
MGUNI: Well I take those as just merely scapegoats. To me as I said they are opinions and I will continue saying there are opinions. Look here madam those are two different items that we are talking about. Somebody's hunting for a hare, the other one is hunting for a kudu, and then you say to this one who is hunting for a hare no I don't want to hunt for a hare. If you hunt for a hare you will shoot a kudu so those are two different scenarios.
What I know is: when it comes to harmonized elections, there is a laid out road map and that road map must be fulfilled before a general election is called. So for somebody to say because there's a by-election when the road map hasn't been fulfilled then I don't know what kind of thinking that is - so it means Mugabe is still in control. This is a different set-up. They should be doing their part and we're doing our part as well. So I don't see any conflict there. In any case if our party has a problem, it will actually tell us that is has a problem. We would not do anything that goes against our own party. I think these are just philosophies and fantasies that are coming from other quarters. My party wouldn't have a problem in approaching us and telling us to wait and hold fire. I'm saying I haven't been approached; nobody's ever approached me to say okay, hold the fire. In any case we are doing it on behalf of the part of the party we are not doing it on our own. If I win the MDC has won. For the past two years we have been saying let us go for by-elections so that we test the waters and see how Mugabe is sincere in terms of reform, in terms of peace and see how the by-elections will to be conducted.
GONDA: So does this application cover all the other 40 or so vacant constituencies in the country?
MGUNI: No we are only fighting for our own constituencies, the three constituencies, - that position is very clear. But just for the purposes of trying to clear up everything people are now just bunching everything together but if they were all that interested in holding elections for the 40 constituencies, 28 constituencies, that was supposed to have been done two, three years ago. But now that we have started to talk about things, started to sort out things, trying to make Mugabe comply, people are starting to complain when they have been doing nothing about it. I've got a problem with that kind of thinking - that when other people are trying to sort out things others are trying to defend Mugabe.
GONDA: You said earlier on that people did not assist you to fight Mugabe to follow the constitution but do you think your party, which is also in government, has done enough about this, especially as these seats have been vacant since 2009 and there are many other vacant constituencies that have not had representatives for several years? Is it only Mugabe to blame here?
MGUNI: I'll not comment much about that but from what I know in the constitution and what I heard from our lawyers is that it is the president who is supposed to proclaim, it is the president not the prime minister. It says the president is supposed to do that after having received the letter from the speaker. It's the president of the country. In this case the president of the country is Robert Gabriel Mugabe this is why we are fighting against him.
GONDA: I understand that, that the president is the one who is supposed to proclaim and call for these by-elections but I'm saying what have the other partners in the unity government done to put pressure on the president, besides your action as individuals? What has your party also done because it means there are 40 constituencies in Zimbabwe that went without representation? Surely the people are the ones who have been shortchanged during this period?
MGUNI: Well I agree with you that the people have been shortchanged but I have a problem about commenting about what my party has done or said because I don't know much about what is happening there. I think I'm not qualified to comment on that.
GONDA: But as a legislator surely you will be able to comment on the political situation in the country and these are issues that affect the people who vote for you?
MGUNI: Well this is why I'm talking about Lupane, this is why I'm talking about Nkayi and this is why I'm talking about Bulilima, because we are the people that were mandated by the people. We were given the right to represent the people, and this is why we are still fighting even today because we were elected, we were given the mandate.
GONDA: So when are you likely to receive a decision in the Supreme Court?
MGUNI: Well I'm not so sure; I haven't heard when the Supreme Court would be sitting. I wait to be advised by our lawyers.
GONDA: Alright, thank you very much Mr Njabuliso Mguni for talking to us on the programme Hot Seat.
MGUNI: Thank you Violet, thank you so much, good day.