interviewBy Tichaona Zindoga
The opposition in Zimbabwe is in disarray and there has been talk of a grand coalition to take on ZANU-PF. Political scientist Dr Ibbo Mandaza believes the opposition made a mistake in defining their raison d'etre as one to defeat President Mugabe and Zanu-PF, a failure which has led to their current paralysis. Dr Mandaza, who says he recently turned down an offer to organise a convention for the grand coalition, tells our Senior Political Writer Tichaona Zindoga what he thinks of the state of the opposition and Zimbabwe's politics.
The opposition is imploding, which you have pointed out is natural because they failed to take power. What do you think is the way forward and what has been your assessment for the past nine months or so?
The MDC traditionally has been glued together by one important factor: just opposition to Mugabe, more that than any definition of an alternative. And indeed MDC going into the GNU also exposed them as a party no more or no less like ZANU-PF.
There is no difference, once they got into power, they were quite cosy. Their claim to be an alternative didn't show up in reality and they didn't raise the kind of issues they should have raised, which they raised in their opposition politics for a long time.
They were almost comfortable to live with it and for me I wasn't surprised because MDC, like most political parties in our era, simply want to get into power. There is no reason to believe that they will behave any differently from Zanu-PF. Those ills that they talk about in ZANU-PF, there is no reason to believe that they will be any different.
So this singular focus on Mugabe became their weakness. Mugabe didn't go. They didn't know what to do. There is nothing to hold them together.
The alternative message other than just being opposed to ZANU-PF was maybe creating a new momentum, which answers your question on what can be done.
Nothing can be done until opposition politics define an alternative in the form of real bread and butter issues: the economy, unemployment; you want to talk of the Diaspora, how to mobilise the Diaspora to be part of the socio-economic fabric; how to recover manufacturing industries so that people have jobs and so forth.
Other than that, simply relying on an anti-Mugabe sentiment is not enough in politics in my view, because inevitably Mugabe is going, then what? What will they do? Is there any reason for us to believe that there will be something fantastic coming from the opposition as it is? No, I don't think so.
Sadly, the beautiful ones are not yet born - in my view, a sad situation. My hope has been that the under-50s, you younger people, would emerge on the back of the impatience with our failures as the older generation.
We did our part, but I think, clearly we have failed. I think it requires people of the 21st century to redeem us.
There has been talk of a coalition, the grand coalition. What are your thoughts on that? We are told that it will incorporate civil society, churches and politicians.
Well, the grand coalition is no more than a view that unless you are united then you can't get Mugabe out. There is nothing else underpinning it in terms of ideological or policy framework, there is no definition of an alternative. And this is why the coalition is not welding together at all.
It might happen before an election as it has happened in other countries, in Kenya for example. And you can see what I meant by political parties being election platforms. Remember, in 2007 William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta were opposition parties, killing each other.
What do they do? Conveniently for an election they are together, president, vice president. That's how expedient opposition politics is. So a coalition could end up just being a policy of experience.
But you have surely heard about a convention planned by some of these interests?
I don't see evidence of it. There was mention of it at a SAPES conference two weeks ago. There was a suggestion during our public forum that there should be a national convention and there was even a suggestion that maybe SAPES can convene it.
So I replied publicly that it's not SAPES' business to convene a convention. The political parties are there to do that. We are an academic institution, non-partisan, and that's our position. I think it's people just trying to talk. I don't think we are in that game at all.
That was my next question, that have you been asked to be part of any such arrangement or something like that?
No, I haven't. I haven't. There was a suggestion and I refused that. I said "No, I don't think as an organisation SAPES can risk its reputation by being partisan."
Dr Mandaza, you have obviously been in touch with various embassies in Zimbabwe: what have you gleaned as their sentiments regarding the politics of the country?
I think many of them have invested in the MDC. Most of them have an alternative of coming to ZANU-PF now because the MDC is failing for whatever reason. I think they are tired.
And do you think they will jump into a new coalition or any new force? We have heard that a certain "renewal team" is becoming a favourite of some kind or the other?
I doubt, because it will be a waste of time, really, I hope the experiences of the last 10 years in Zimbabwe will have taught all these embassies of Western countries that Africans cannot be patronised and Zimbabweans too have learnt that they must stand on their own.
In the year 2000 it was clear. If Zimbabwean organisations like SAPES were not in the opposition or seem to be with the MDC, they were regarded as anathema.
I have given you examples when we were asked that why, for example, our organisation was not supporting MDC. I said l had much respect for the MDC-T and Morgan Tsvangirai but we are not going to the MDC for strong reasons, and of course funding was stopped so there is no doubt that some embassies and the donor funding were biased in the manner which they supported organisations.
They seem to be with the MDC and many were telling me that unless you are with the MDC we not going to fund you.
In light of the developments, and your personal observations, what do you think might be the way forward for Zimbabwe?
From my observations, I think it's now clear that it is difficult to get donors and embassies to discuss economic issues. They are happier in discussing human rights, advocacy and governance issues that's where the money has been poured.
When we come to discuss policy issues about driving Zimbabwe economically, there are difficulties, but I think the ball is in Zimbabwe's court now.
If we clarify our policies in Zimbabwe we can turn around the economy easily. What I mean about clarifying our policies in terms of the indigenisation issue, is to bring the legislation in line with statements made by the President and the Minister of Finance, namely, that indigenisation is not one-size-fits-all: that it must be made into legislation and a clear policy statement.
The Zimbabwe Investment Authority should be given more power. They will deal with the Zimbabwe Investment Authority and get a booklet on Zimbabwe's policy which will be easy to understand and we are home and dry.
And we have to do a lot more in this regard to mobilise our Diasporans. In 1980 my job was to bring back Zimbabweans - and most of them were my students - now these are people who are viably employed. They can also become potential investors and can assist in the privatisation of parastatals and so on.
Already, they are remitting something like US$1,8 billion per year so we need to look at those clearly.