THE opposition MDC party has vowed to drag President Emmerson Mnangagwa to the negotiating table kicking and screaming through civil disobedience, international pressure and other constitutional means of protest. In the frontline, the party’s youth assembly will play a crucial role in mobilising people. Senior reporter Blessed Mhlanga (ND) spoke to recently elected Youth Assembly deputy chairperson Cecillia Chimbiri (CC) on how the MDC will execute its plans.
ND: Firstly, congratulations on your recent election, but what does your election to the position of vice-chairperson of the youth assembly in the MDC mean to you?
CC: Thank you very much, my election as the first ever woman deputy chairperson of the youth assembly in MDC’s 20 years means carrying the responsibility of all the young people in Zimbabwe and carrying all their burdens. We are all suffering, our country is on an economic meltdown. We are all unemployed and we are suffering at the hands of Zanu PF and the Mnangagwa government. So, being the national youth vice-chairperson means I have to be on the frontline to make sure that we deliver the young people of Zimbabwe into a new Zimbabwe led by Nelson Chamisa, who will led a government by the people and for the people.
ND: But the people went to vote in 2018 and they elected Emmerson Mnangagwa as President. So, what do you mean when you say a government by the people?
CC: Mnangagwa was not elected by the people. I still believe Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) rigged the election. The people chose Chamisa and for me what it means is Mnangagwa is an illegitimate President, he had no clue as to what he was going to do with Zimbabwe because he was only concentrating on how to rig an election. So for us, the young people now rely on us to make sure that we correct what was done. We have not forgotten that they stole our election. We are still going to defend our vote by making sure that we do the right thing and we get the people of Zimbabwe respected by making sure that the person that they voted for and the government that they want to see in power to represent them is what will come out
ND: This will be in the next election in 2023?
CC: We are not waiting for an election in 2023. We are going to confront Mnangagwa. In fact, we want Mnangagwa to resign. We can’t continue like this, we wake up we go to the stores to buy mealie meal at ridiculous prices, cooking oil for ZWL$30. We cannot wait any longer, we want ED gone, we want Zanu PF gone and we want to usher in a new life for the Zimbabweans.
ND: What do you mean confronting, how do you want to go about that?
CC: It’s not criminal to demonstrate and voice your concerns; voice what we are saying are the main problems. It’s a national crisis and as you can see, besides me as a politician speaking, there is a wave out there. Any young person you meet or just randomly pick will tell you that the Zimbabwe we have versus the Zimbabwe the people want are totally parallel. We have a national crisis. So, for me confronting the system means the streets will be my second home we will make sure that we demonstrate peacefully and make sure we mount the necessary pressure. You can see that the people do not want ED anymore, so we will put pressure so that he steps down and gives a chance to those people who want to fix the country, the people who want to represent the people.
ND: The system or the President of this country said that the MDC is the one that is fanning violence and that your demonstrations, that you call peaceful demonstrations, always turn out violent and destroy people’s property. What do you say to that allegation?
CC: Even if you catch a thief stealing in your house they will refuse, they will always have a way to defend themselves. I am sure we have all seen how Zanu PF have destroyed this country with their own hands. I don’t think this is a new dispensation that they have been grandstanding about and they accuse the opposition for causing violence, to want to subvert the government etc, and so many things that they talk about. But what is of importance right now is to clearly look at the lives of Zimbabweans. Who in your view can afford a day in Zimbabwe, who can afford life in Zimbabwe right now? Nobody can, a mere civil servant can’t even afford to pay for the house that they rent. So, for me it’s not about what Mnangagwa says, but about what the people are saying because he also purports to represent the people. So, when the people are saying they don’t want him and they are suffering and they need change, then that’s the route that we are going to take when the people send us to represent them we will simply direct them in a direction that will make us deliver.
ND: On August 1, 2018 six people died of gunshot wounds. In January, 17 more people were shot dead. Aren’t you afraid that this will replicate itself in what you say is going to be your second home in the streets?
CC: I do not think we have to fear, for the most part, what we have to fear is fear itself. Mnangagwa was a young person at some point and they took a decision that they were going to stand against colonial rule. So, it’s the same decision and that we are simply taking — there will be causalities. They will try to kill us, but they can’t kill the whole country. They can arrest and kill individuals, but you can’t arrest an idea whose time has come. The people are tired; the people want a new government ushered in. So, we are simply going to try and make sure we copy what our liberation war icons left for us. They fought their part of liberating us from the then colonial masters. We have to fight our own part of delivering political freedoms and economic freedom in our lifetime
ND: Some believe that the MDC is a party of violence and thuggery. Do you subscribe to this thought?
CC: I do not subscribe to the thought of violence and thuggery, but I also don’t subscribe to being passive when I am being attacked because then what it means is it’s war when one Mnangagwa sends State agents to go to people’s houses, abduct people who are voicing their concerns in a constitutional manner, those people are beaten, dumped and left for dead. Then one asks me to remain silent – that will not happen.
ND: We have reported on your former youth leader Happymore Chidziva and a number of his colleagues being arrested running away from their homes. Are you prepared to face this kind of threat to your personal life?
CC: Well, I thought about it when I decided that I want to be on the frontline and I also knew what the consequences would be, seeing that we have a government that is paranoid, desperate, that is fearful of its people that they might revolt. People don’t revolt. People raise their concerns, but if you are a leader who listens all you need to do is have it corrected. The illegitimate President is shouting the mantra “new dispensation” there is nothing new about this dispensation. They have failed in the politics of the day. There is nothing new about the political dispensation and the economic dispensation. So, you know sometimes you make sacrifices on behalf of others, like I always say and like I said just now. I will always take to the example of when they decided they were going to war against white colonial rule; we are going to war against stolen elections, corruption, poverty and looters of national resources posing as our liberators. I am saying they took a bold decision and they knew not all of them would come back, but some of them were going to remain in the bush. So, we are not afraid, we are simply doing what is right and I would love probably on my tombstone to have an epithet written that at least I died trying to do something that is right for the young people of Zimbabwe. For how long shall we suffer at the hands of a government that does not listen to us? No one is going to come and give us freedom, we are going to get it ourselves, no one is going to come and say, the economy has been fixed, we have to take the necessary steps to make sure that we liberate ourselves as the young people for posterity.
ND: Why did you choose to belong to the MDC?
CC: Because the MDC is a safe space. First of all, I subscribe to the social democracy ideology, but the MDC also provides a safe space for me as a young woman to participate freely. It’s not a space that is marred by violence. It’s a space where you are groomed and you are taught the ideology of solidarity, equality and freedom. I actually decided to join politics because when I joined the MDC on attachment I found out that they were few young women participating in politics. I wanted to find out why they were not participating and the only way I was going to find out was also being part of the leadership. So, I joined the structures and I rose through the ranks and I found out why politics is a game of tags for women. We are still in a patriarchal society, we have people who still believe that women who are in politics are of loose morals. We are coming from that background and we are still in the same situation where politics is a game of violence, especially to the opposition. I think our leaders in this country want us to be a one party State. So, it inspired me a lot to inspire others. So, I had to join politics to raise a voice to make sure that the voice of the young woman is also heard.
ND: So, where do you see your future in politics?
CC: I see myself somewhere big. I see myself leading the women one day. I see myself being part of a great leadership. Everyone has an ambition, but for now I really want to concentrate on where we are taking the young people of this country, especially young women. I am very passionate about gender activism. I am very passionate about the fight for democracy. So right now from where I am sitting I really want to see the people of Zimbabwe liberated.
ND: There are some who believe that the MDC is not sensitive to the women; it has been mostly men who are running the show. From an insiders’ perspective and as a young lady, has it been difficult for you to rise to this level?
CC: I have always known that the gender fight, gender activism, the gender fight would be a process we were not going to achieve it in one decade or one night, but at least, the MDC is moving towards achieving gender equality and making sure that women are participating in decision-making. As we came out of congress, this is the first youth management which is balanced, we have five males and five females in the management of the MDC. We have three vice-presidents two males and a female. We look forward to appointments where women also get appointed to powerful positions. We are also going to do the same in the youth assembly. We have already asked the provinces to make sure that when they submit the names of their national representatives they make sure that one of those people is a woman. So, I think it’s a process and I am glad that we are moving towards balanced leadership in terms of gender.
ND: Have you had the problem in terms of your chosen career path as a politician?
CC: I wouldn’t have had such problems because I am coming from a family of politicians, my great grandfather was a politician though he was coming from a party of that time and my father was also a politician.
ND: Which party of that time?
CC: Zanu PF, and my father in 1999 when the MDC was formed was the chairman of Mashonaland Central province. As a young girl I used to see how my father was brave and how my father would still continue being resilient and even at the hands of [Robert] Mugabe dictatorship, torture and abductions. I was a very young girl and you know how girls relate with their fathers. He was my role model. I really wanted to understand what made him resilient, but I knew he had a passion for representing people and seeing the people of Zimbabwe free. So, I took the same footsteps that my forefathers and my father took. So, for me I never had problems with my family. I think the problem comes when our mothers are fearful because sometimes the mentality that because maybe you are a woman, you are more prone to the abuse, you are prone to the violence, comes to her mind. So, she is always fearful you get messages like be careful, don’t do this in public, don’t just be, don’t speak out too much, but you know that’s how our mothers are, but I have never had problems with my family as to why I am active in politics.
ND: Zanu PF has described MDC leader nelson Chamisa as childish and a person who is not supposed to be anywhere near State power. What is your view about the leadership qualities of your president?
CC: I respect my president, I see him as the president of Zimbabwe. I see him as the Joshua, when I read the Bible I relate to the exodus of the people from the land where they were captured and the land that was flowing with milk and honey and when I see president Nelson Chamisa, I see that kind of a leader. It’s only that Zanu PF is fearful of such a young president of ours and the president of Zimbabwe Chamisa. But when you look at even how he even advances the issues that you are asking me about — the issue of gender. How he is moving with the modern trends of how to do politics and his democracy works. You will find that with Chamisa, we have a leader who represents the people. Chamisa respects from your elderly to the newborn child and he cares about everyone. He is a democratic father who subscribes to the same ideology that I was talking about, social democracy. So, for me I wouldn’t want to really dwell much on what Zanu PF says about him because they are threatened by him.
ND: And lastly, what is your message to the young people of Zimbabwe?
CC: My message to the young people of Zimbabwe is that we need to soldier on. Nothing is going to be given to us on a silver plate. We don’t complain from the terraces, we need to take action now, we need to go out in our numbers occupy the streets and do it peacefully and we will get there. There is no suffering that will last for the rest of our lives. We are going to be liberated, but we also need to take a stand and take a stance. We are tired and enough is enough and we want to usher in a new government. My message to the generality of the young people, young women and young men in Zimbabwe is that let us soldier on.