Fiery democracy activist Linda Masarira remains unfazed by continued harassment by the state for speaking out against injustice in Zimbabwe.
She has two cases pending in the courts, which are both related to her role in the fight for democracy in Zimbabwe. In a no-holds-barred interview with our senior reporter Richard Chidza (RC), Masarira (LM) talks about women's participation and thinks MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai failed to protect the people's vote in 2008. Below are excerpts of the interview
Who is Linda Masarira and from which political persuasion do you come from?
I am a widow and a democracy activist with a bias towards women's participation. I have gone through a lot of things that have forced me to conclude that there is no gender justice in Zimbabwe.
I am a former employee of the National Railways of Zimbabwe and went for months without pay. I had children that needed to go to school but I could not afford.
I was working for a parastatal that was making money to allow [President Robert] Mugabe to fly in and out of the country as he pleases while I could not afford food for my children.
I had been forced into servitude by my own government and yet no-one seemed to care. I became angry and I still have that anger.
I decided no one should be allowed to go through such horror and no one must live such a life when they are gainfully employed.
However, this is how we have been socialised. They have instilled fear in us and Zimbabweans have begun to look at a job as a status symbol.
The state has instilled fear into our people such that nobody wants to ask. So I decided something needed to change, the system has to change, we need all our freedoms back across the board and the harassment has to end. For this to happen, someone has to do something. The poverty and suffering has to come to an end
Do you consider yourself part of a wider regime change agenda, as government wants to put it?
I am passionate about regime change because the current government does not care and, only interested in amassing wealth. Unfortunately we also have an opposition that does not care.
The opposition is also a replica of Zanu PF and is following in the ruling party's footsteps, power concentration and all. My idea of an opposition is one that shows some difference in the way things are done.
The MDC-T-led local authorities have shown that. They are as corrupt as Zanu PF and what confidence do we have that if the party is allowed to get its hands on the levers of power, they will not be worse?
But they have fired some councillors and condemned corruption?
They have not done enough. Opposition parties must show the courage to change. The MDC-T is the biggest opposition in the country but there is nothing to show now that their government will be any different from their councils.
We need to woo the electorate through fighting corruption. There is need for zero tolerance and firing corrupt officials at any party.
We do not want to see these parties fighting Zanu PF when it fires corrupt councillors in the guise of political differences or politicising such issues. Corruption is the biggest evil we should all fight.
What is the role of civil society, social activists and groups such as your group?
The role of the Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance and others of like mind is to make sure our people and in particular for us as an organisation to make sure women understand politics.
We need our people to understand that power belongs to them and not this parochial view that women are confined to the kitchen.
Our people need to understand that they cannot fold their hands and claim to be apolitical. There is politics in every sphere of life and women in particular need to fight the labels that come with taking part in politics and take it in their stride.
We work with women in communities and make sure they are able to understand their role in the governance of their country and take part.
Women make up the majority of our population, what are you doing to make sure they register and then vote in next year's elections?
We are working hard on that but the biggest impediment has been the issue of identity cards. Lots of people do not have even birth certificates. We have been to places like Jambezi and Matetsi in Matabeleland North where women have never been accorded the opportunity to register. They cannot afford to travel to Hwange or Bulawayo to register.
They just do not have the resources to do that. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has set aside 15 days for registering voters in every province.
We are going to challenge this because if you look at Harare in particular we have no less than 2,5 million people and it is not practical to register these in half a month. We will go to court because the Constitution is clear that registration of voters should be an ongoing process. ZEC must be brought to account.
Citizen participation in election remains a challenge. What is civil society doing to make sure this is corrected?
Social movements and civil society need to campaign hard at the lowest levels to educate the people against voter apathy.
Our leaders also only come to buy votes towards elections. Our people now think they have become tools for individuals who want to go to Parliament and are forgotten thereafter. They are only remembered during election and that has driven our people away from the polling booth.
You do not think violence has also contributed to the decreasing numbers during elections?
It has, but we think our leaders are detached from society and this has led to a clear gap between political leaders and the people.
All parties, including those in the opposition, but of course violence is a major factor. We are agitating for a peaceful election and the removal of violence from electoral processes. This has also contributed to women shying away from elections. Politics has basically become a process preserved for the most violent.
But asking Zanu PF to remove itself from the electoral playing field is akin to asking the ruling party to reform itself out of power. Don't you think?
They are on record as saying they will not reform themselves out of power but the least that we can do is to go out and encourage our people to register and then vote. Inspire our people to take part. There is no motivation for people to take part or even vote because they are discouraged by the behaviour of political parties. Our people have lost confidence in their leaders.
Is there any political party with a message for the youths who could be critical to the outcome of the next election?
I have not seen a well-packaged message specifically targeting the youths; there is nothing to encourage them to vote or participate. People are suffering and the youths are asking for reasons why they should vote. To be honest, Zanu PF will win the next election because it has programmes and projects that speak to the ordinary people unfortunately most of which are illegal and unconstitutional. You go to Mashonaland Central's notorious Kitsiyatota gold panning area, this is a Zanu PF area and the government has colluded with the ruling party to allow their activists access to gold. These people want to maintain these illegal activities and the whole of Mashonaland Central is littered with such places. In Harare, Zanu PF literally owns Mupedzanhamo Market. The people surviving from these activities want to sustain them and will do anything, including agreeing to be part of election related violence. The different Zanu PF factions are represented and are killing each other for the gold claims. These are the people who are willing to do anything and towards elections they are bussed into different areas to crush opposition supporters. They are willing to do anything to defend their sources of livelihoods. We then ask where the violence is coming from and where Zanu PF gets this support. Zanu PF has a way of getting through to people and even if it means turning to illegalities. It's effective for them.
What should the opposition do in response?
Package their messages well, a change of mindset and move away from rallies. The opposition has failed to get votes in the rural areas because they go there and preach democracy. The person in the rural areas does not understand such words, they are good and liberal but do not sell with the electorate. People need to be told what it is the opposition will do when they get power. People want support with agricultural production and such other projects. The opposition needs to preach a message that resonates with the masses
LM: Yes, it works. It is the kind of politics that our people understand and know. This is the reality of our situation. If ever we are going to move into the neo-liberal arena where we will talk about ideals such as democracy it is not now. It is a process and will not happen overnight.
Should those in the opposition engage in vote buying and make pie-in-the-sky promises to win votes?
We need to explain our policies that are tangible. Be clear about that which we are going to do. The way the opposition message is packaged is not attractive to the people. Learned as our people are, they are ignorant, I mean politically ignorant. We have a problem of political illiteracy.
What is your view of coalition politics?
I do not think it will work. If you look at the 2013 elections, the coalition set-up led to imposition of candidates by parties. If the parties are going to form a coalition they must understand the feelings of the people to prevent chaos and another avenue for apathy. The grand coalition must understand local dynamics and the constituency level.
Should social movements join full-time politics?
I will speak for myself. I have decided to stand in Harare Central constituency in order to be the voice of people like my former colleagues over 1 000 of them living in squalor behind the National Railways of Zimbabwe. There are eight-year-olds who have turned to prostitution because a government agency has failed them. There are more people like that in the heart of the city. The issue of whether a group or individuals should join politics must be juxtaposed with capacity.
What is the possibility of change in 2018?
If opposition and social movements do not work together and hard the possibility is zero. We have a problem of shortcuts and believing that money can buy everything.
Do you think our electorate has been socialised to expect some form of reward for promising a vote?
I think that is where we are now as Zimbabwe. But I think the pool of voters is greater than we have been made to understand by political leaders. The 2012 census shows that we had 10 million people eligible to vote and only 2,5 million voted. We therefore need to convince those who are staying away to come on board.
How secure is the vote?
We cannot talk of the security of the vote only. We must also talk about the issue of firm leaders. There was no point in going into a coalition government after 2008, everyone knows (MDC-T leader) Morgan Tsvangirai won. Tsvangirai was supposed to stand his ground and claim victory, protect it and Tsvangirai had an obligation to do that. We need leaders who are strong and able to secure the people's vote. People were already dying, there was no reason in saying we are backing down to stop the bloodshed. I am convinced that Tsvangirai would have won the re-run.
So you think Tsvangirai failed the people?
Yes. He failed me and a lot other people. Tsvangirai failed to protect the people's vote.
Do you think 2013 was punishment for the failure to claim the people's victory?