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Treason charges against Munyaradzi Gwisai & others - Index of articles
Gwisai on Question Time: Part 1
Guma, SW Radio Africa
April 20, 2011
In this two
part series SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to Munyaradzi
Gwisai, the radical leader of the International
Socialist Organization in Zimbabwe. The former MDC MP is one
of 6 activists facing treason
charges for addressing a meeting at which video footage of protests
in Egypt and Tunisia was screened.
questions sent in by listeners including his treason case, factionalism
in civil society, past problems in his own organization and the
perennial question of whether he will rejoin the MDC.
Interview broadcast 20
Guma: Hallo Zimbabwe and thank you for joining us on the
programme Question Time. My guest this week is Munyaradzi Gwisai,
the leader of the International Socialist Organization in Zimbabwe.
The former MDC MP is one of 6 activists facing treason
charges for addressing a meeting at which video footage of protests
in Egypt and Tunisia was screened. We asked listeners to send in
their questions via Facebook, Twitter, Skype, email and also text
messages. Va Gwisai, thank you for joining us on the programme.
Gwisai: Maita (thank you) Comrade Lance it's always
a pleasure, kunga tiri pamwe chete (to be together with you).
Let's go back to February, the meeting in Julius Nyerere Way.
A lot of questions from our listeners centred on trying to find
out what happened, what exactly was the meeting for?
Gwisai: Yah obviously taking into account that this
is a matter still before the courts so there are areas we can comment
on and there are others that we are unable to but in general terms,
in terms of the charges that we are facing - firstly we are
facing charges for organising a treasonous meeting or alternatively
a meeting to subvert a constitutional government.
But our defence
outline is very clear - this was a meeting called by the International
Socialist Organisation and were our members were invited along with
guests from social movements, trade unions, to discuss the implication
of the revolts in Egypt, in Tunisia and North Africa for ordinary
people on our continent including Zimbabwe, in particular the struggle
for democracy of our society as well as in Zimbabwe.
We've had a ten year crisis of lack of democracy,
tyranny and authoritarianism so the question is what lessons can
we learn from other ordinary people on our continent in terms of
fighting for democracy. Especially taking into account the fact
that we are in a constitutional process which is designed to create
a constitutional and democratic government. So it was a lecture,
it was a meeting, a consciousness-raising exercise amongst forces
of ordinary people, the left and working people.
Guma: Now in terms of the way the meeting was disrupted,
we were told everyone in the building was arrested including those
who were just in the building, who were not taking part in the meeting.
You were made to line up at the Harare Central (police station)
car park and somebody was pinpointing the alleged ring leaders and
we understand you took some rough treatment as the alleged ring
leaders of this particular meeting. Just briefly talk us through
what you went through.
Gwisai: Yah after watching a video which was a video
made out of transmits from Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC and so forth -
very public material - people were discussing that, that is
when police moved in. But as the magistrate pointed out, magistrate
Mutevedzi and one of the reasons why 39 of the 45 who were originally
accused, were released and the magistrate refused to place them
on remand was the reason that this was a bamba zonke exercise where
any and everyone who was in the complex at Cross Roads House was
picked up and arrested.
So that was that and then including some vendors
who were selling their things outside but obviously what then also
transpired once we went to court is that the police had placed a
spy in, they'd placed a plant in the meeting who was then
pointing out the people who are alleged to have been speaking at
the meeting and these are the few people who were brutally assaulted
on the Saturday and the Sunday that we were arrested, the 19th and
20th of February.
When there was
people like Hopewell Gumbo the former president of the Zimbabwe
National Students Union, people like Welcome the current deputy
General Secretary of ZINASU as well as others from the ISO including
myself, Tafadzwa Choto and Tatenda Mombeyarara. So these were some
of the people who were picked up for severe and serious assault
once we were in police hands.
Guma: I covered this story and the one thing that
stood out was the great lengths to which the state went towards
delaying; at one time the magistrate didn't show up, we were
told he had a meeting with the Chief Justice and at every turn excuses
were brought up. While you were locked up, were you aware this was
what was happening in terms of the regime throwing spanners in the
Gwisai: Yeh, our lawyer Alec Muchadehama gave us
constant updates as well as his team of assistants including Mandevere
and Edzai Matika from the Zimbabwe Labour Centre but obviously,
and some of it was happening just right in front of our eyes. We
were able to see that clearly, delaying this, in order to prolong
pre-trial pain was one of the objectives of this. But look, we as
people who are confident of our position and so forth, it did not
break our spirits and our resolve.
We have a question from Edina who sent us an email from Mutare,
they want to know from your own assessment how did you rate the
sort of solidarity you received from the broader civil society,
the political parties and everyone else involved in the pro-democracy
Gwisai: Well every time we were in court we had
quite a lot of people who were coming through as well as outside
the court, many organisations, many civic groups gave us support
in Zimbabwe, including but obviously not limited to the Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights which has provided us the legal cover.
also had support from those who were able to look after many of
our comrades who are positive and who needed drugs and things like
that. The CSU,
Coalition was also quite supportive, the ZCTU,
the unions but we are quite inspired I must say by the support that
we received internationally, regionally I think which continues
up to this day, to the various solidarity marches we had in South
Africa, Australia, America, the UK.
What it shows is the struggle against dictatorship,
the struggle against tyranny is now an international affair. Dictators
can no longer hide under their legal perches and say this is my
country, I do what I want. It is this spirit of international solidarity
that is going to break the resolve and stubbornness of every dictator
on this continent.
So we would want to really commend the various working
people, the socialists, trade unionists who have supported this
struggle because it's a struggle for all in the sense of building
a better world and a better society out there and we would want
to continue urging people to make this level of support, to continue
with it as we move towards trial but also generally in terms.
We hear the
sad news of the 82 year old headman who was charged along with (Douglas)
Mwonzora who has died
from wounds received from his assault so we have to continue with
this solidarity and with this fight. And indeed as we know, events
in Tunisia it was Mohammed Bouazizi who started it but this was
able to spread regionally precisely because the ordinary people
of the world today are able to offer each other solidarity and move
So we really wish to thank the various individuals,
organisations, I not mentioned some, all of them here who stood
with us and we hope that they continue standing with us because
this trial is on and the issue of lack of democracy and dictatorship
remains a real issue in our society.
Guma: I just want to pick on one issue that in a
previous interview with Hopewell Gumbo he raised where on one occasion
you were taken on what was called a honeymoon drive through Rhodesville
or some other suburb and ostensibly this was because Finance Minister
Tendai Biti had come over to try and visit you. Can you talk us
Gwisai: Yah I wouldn't know whether it was
thing, but definitely they were going to move us, we were not told
where but rumours were saying they were going to move us to Chikurubi
but fortunately at that very moment Tendai Biti arrived and that
is part of also the solidarity we received, we appreciate the solidarity
that was offered by people like Biti and Nelson Chamisa.
So whether or not they had any nefarious plans up
their sleeves which they were then afraid to put into action because
there was a high ranking official of the government, we don't
know but that's what, yah they took us around and eventually
brought us back.
But still you must know that two, three days later,
they pushed us back into solitary confinement at the prison, at
the Harare prison so their effort was obviously clearly aimed at
trying to break our spirits and to divide us but luckily that did
From Masvingo we have a listener who calls himself Mr Dube -
his question is basically an update on what's the latest regarding
this matter? He's saying are you still facing treason charges?
Gwisai: We've just come from court; we were
in for remand today; we now have been placed for trial on the 18th
of July. That's when the matter will come for trial. According
to the prosecutor the matter is going to be before the regional
magistrate court but our lawyer has already pointed out that that
doesn't make sense because the regional magistrate court does
not have jurisdiction under the Magistrate Court Act specifically
Section 49 thereof to try treason matters or matters that carry
a death sentence or anything beyond ten years because the maximum
jurisdiction of a regional magistrate is ten years, as far as I
understand the law and I don't really think it has been amended.
So this could either be one of those delaying tactics
again or if it is going to be before a regional magistrate then
it would have to mean that it is no longer a treason matter, but
then there's need to formally advise the court. So given what
has been happening, we hope that's not one of the tricks.
We, are far
as we're concerned and what the prosecutor said is that the
treason charges still stand as well as the subversion of a constitutional
government charge so it that's an issue that still remains:
18th July in Harare and we hope that all democrats and those who
support real change will come to support us at court on that day
because it is only by showing that the people of Zimbabwe are not
intimidated and that they are not going to cower under and go under
the carpet, that is what is going to ensure that we bring democracy
to our society.
It is the constitutional,
the legal and fundamental right of citizens to be governed by a
democratic political authority and that is why thousands of people
lost their lives in the liberation war, that is why we took on the
colonial regime to ensure that our governance is based on the true
will of the people and that people are not faced with treason for
merely watching a video. So we are looking forward to the 18th of
July because we believe we have no case to answer but obviously
that's for the courts to decide.
Guma: From Gokwe comes a text message from Noel.
Noel wants to find out, given what you went through, what's
your attitude to the current coalition or unity government?
Gwisai: Well look, what we've gone through
is nothing in isolation. I've already given the example of
what Mwonzora is facing, the co-chairperson of COPAC and they treat
him the way they have, and an 82 year old headman, this is what
our society has come to - no respect for the elderly, no respect
I think we currently
have a minister in charge of Reconciliation, National Healing again
being arrested for very similar things for holding a meeting,
so I think what it shows is that this is not an inclusive government
This is just a dress-up for continuation of the
old dictatorship and authoritarian regime and that the struggle
for democracy in this country has to continue and that hopefully
colleagues in that, indeed I think in many ways if we'd not
had this kind of thing, the struggle for democracy would have travelled
much further than what we have now.
What has allowed, what has happened in the last
two years is that this pretence that things are changing has in
many ways delayed change but be that as it may, the reality is that
the people are suffering; thousands of workers have lost their jobs,
prices of basic goods have gone down, millions of young people do
not have jobs.
This government is only really serving the interests
of the wealthy, the rich and the business people. This is why therefore
when you talk of government civil servants, they take their instructions
from the IMF and the World Bank which has instructed that there
should be no pay increment for teachers, for our nurses but what
we know is that the rich are able to charge prices that they want,
you go into the streets of Harare, you see the kind of vehicles
that they drive, you look at the kind of salaries that top managers
are earning and so forth.
So it's not yet uhuru for ordinary people,
economically or politically and what must therefore be clear is
that I think it is important for people to accelerate, we must be
inspired by events that are happening across north Africa, across
Africa, to move forward and now finally push for a true democratic
transformation of our society politically as well as economically.
So I hope that
the colleagues in the GNU
must not fool themselves to think that they've got real change.
They must be ready to be at the forefront of the struggle, they
must be ready to go into the trenches. If it means that people are
being arrested and being taken, filling the jails - so be
it - because democracy and true independence for working people
is a costly thing, it's not going to come on a silver platter.
So as we move to the new constitution, if it does
not bring about provisions that allow real change, that bring an
end to a dictatorial executive president, that does not bring about
socio-economic rights, labour rights, living wage for workers, the
right to strike, inputs and land for farmers and so forth, we must
have the guts and courage to be able to fight for that.
And as we move to elections we must be ready to
defend the people's right in elections, the people's
will and not just accept the imposition of a leader. So it is a
very important time for our people, the major political party in
this country, the MDC-T will be holding a Congress very soon and
we hope that they use that as an occasion to build their forces
and that the ordinary people use it as a basis for ensuring that
we fight for real change in our society.
So it's a very crucial critical time for our
society. Dictators across Africa and the world are on notice now
that they will not be able to get away with butchering their people,
with imposing their will. So we hope that the struggle for change
can only move forward. Its aluta continua as far we're concerned
in the ISO.
Guma: Well Zimbabwe that concludes part one of our
interview with Munyaradzi Gwisai, the leader of the International
Socialist Organization in Zimbabwe. The former MDC MP is one of
six activists facing treason charges for addressing a meeting at
which video footage of protests in Egypt and Tunisia was screened.
Don't forget to join me next week for part
two of this interview.
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