26 March 2019

Zimbabwe: Jenni Williams Finally Smells the Coffee

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) leader Ms Jenni Williams, who has been at loggerheads with the Government over the past several years, has described President Mnangagwa as a listening President.

She revealed this after a meeting that was held between the President and members of the civic society in Bulawayo last week.

Ms Williams attended the meeting, under the aegis of the Matabeleland Collective, which observers saw as part of shifting political dynamicsin the country.

For his own part, President Mnangagwa has been meeting with a wide spectrum of Zimbabweans in the spirit of national dialogue and has so far met leaders of political parties, civil society, business, media and religion among other important groups of the Zimbabwean society.

Further, President Mnangagwa is being backed by a 26-member Presidential Advisory Council comprising of an impressive array of thought leaders, legal minds and technocrats.

And this streak has impressed Ms Williams once a rabid critic of Government under former President, Mr Robert Mugabe, under whose watch she was arrested several times for her activism.

"His response was incredible," Ms Williams said after getting the audince with the President last week, our Bulawayo Bureau reported over the weekend.

"At first I thought that was just public relations and politicking but when I saw him taking notes as we deliberated; that was incredible. When he said he was a listening President I felt he meant it."

Ms Williams noted that the engagement with the Head of State was unlikely to happen in the previous Government.

"Most of my colleagues agreed that if the Head of State was still former President Robert Mugabe he would have never got onto the plane and flown to Bulawayo to meet us. That would have never happened. The contrast now is that for 37 years we have waited as people of this region to actually talk to Government. But on Thursday the President showed us that he wants a Zimbabwe where everyone feels included, so that is a contrast of the two leaders," she said.

Ms Williams describes herself as fighting for people's justice, batting away accusations that she is aregime change agent.

"I don't know what regime change means, but what I know is that I am a social justice activist. I live here and grew up here and in Gwanda. I think our engagement was absolutely important not only for us but for the country at large. I want to ask CSOs (civil society organisatons) to engage this time, the President is not going to fix this country by himself."

After the closed-door meeting, President Mnangagwa hailed the interaction which he described as the first of its kind in terms of social dialogue.

He also revealed that he had not brought a prepared speech but came with an open mind to listen to the people's concerns.

"I came here with an open mind to listen and I am satisfied that I made the correct decision because non-interaction creates fear, suspicion where there ought to be no fear, where there ought to be no suspicion at all. I go back today knowing that the social groups, non-governmental organisations, civic organisations have their country at heart. We have different perspectives on the issues that affect our different communities where we stay or where we operate, not to make things worse but to make things better. What the Government would not want to hear are persons who would not want to make things better. I think we had heads in the sand, our heads are out now, I am afraid you may begin to run away from us when we look for you," he said.

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