A woman in man’s world: The life, times and prospects of Thokazani Khupe

Albert Chavhunduka.

As the March 26 by-elections loom closer, Review and Mail had the opportunity to sit with Madam Thokozani Khupe to discuss amongst other things, the wrangle over the MDC-T name, ownership, her ‘Beat the pot campaign’ and prospects of the party ahead of next month’s universal suffrage.

Below is a snippet of the conversation that Review and Mail (RM) had with Thokazani Khupe (TK).

RM: Firstly, can you clear the air on a pertinent issue. Douglas Mwonzora claims to be the leader of the MDC Alliance, where do you stand? 

TK: It is a notorious fact that Mwonzora and his friends pulled out of the MDC-T to form a small entity called the MDC-Alliance. We have been very clear that we are the MDC-T, completely separate and distinct from Mwonzora’s MDC Alliance.

As MDC-T, we are an old brand that just needs to be re-invigorated. The MDC-T has a duty to explore a new growth trajectory. If we don’t do it, there will be problems going forward. Like any other organisation, it grows, peaks, matures and when it matures, it stagnates and it finally declines. If the organisation doesn’t have a new growth trajectory to kick start new growth, it actually declines to disappearance. As a party we are aware of that and we are looking into it all the time, we talk about it openly. We are not hanging our hands in the air to say let’s finish our party off. Ours is to create a better MDC-T because a better MDC-T is good for the country because we have fresh ideas and a great vision for our nation Zimbabwe.

RM: The by-elections are around the corner, how vital are they for you and your party finding an identity given what has transpired in the MDC?

TK: The by elections are significant in the sense that they are the only tool available to the electorate to effect change in the country. The upcoming polls will further allow the populace to express its displeasure or satisfaction on how the country is run. As a party we took a principled position not to participate in the upcoming by elections because we don’t want to further fragment the opposition vote.

Our party recently launched the #Beat the pot campaign, No vote for Mwonzora, No vote for ZANU-PF. The beat the pot campaign symbolizes that there is nothing for the people, they have no food and hunger is stalking them.

As we speak, teachers are incapacitated and unable to report for duty because our civil servants as a whole are grossly underpaid to the extent that they cannot afford bare essentials. Our economy is highly informalised and so with the hyperinflationary environment we are in, what it means is that all those in the informal sector can hardly sustain themselves. It is an undisputed fact that the majority of Zimbabweans cannot sustain a decent lifestyle, cannot afford basic education for their children, cannot get proper healthcare, clean water and so on.

This therefore informs our #beat the pot campaign where we are saying with elections around the corner, our people must be reinvigorated and rethink when they are voting. Our clarion call is that Zimbabweans must therefore stand up and reject ZANU-PF so that they realize a better life. We think that the upcoming by elections offer a perfect opportunity for Zimbabweans to reject ZANU-PF and its surrogates, the Mwonzora led MDC-Alliance.

RM: What are the prospects of your party now that Mwonzora has said no one should use the MDC and all its names?

TK: Our party is the MDC-T and I am one of the founder members of the party.  I was lucky enough to be part of the project when the MDC was just an idea. I was part of the group of 8 people that conceptualized the MDC through the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and so no one can stop us from using than name.

We are the founding members of the MDC whereas the people that you are referring to; joined the party midway from Muzorewa’s UANC party. The MDC-T is an old brand and you will recall that in 2018 we used this brand to contest the harmonized elections and therefore we will not suddenly dump our baby.

Forget about the lies that are constantly being repeated by our erstwhile colleagues that they own the MDC and its derivatives. There’s nowhere in the Supreme Court judgment where the MDC brand is given to an individual.

As for the party – we are re-building a movement – that is, a sustainable movement that seeks to rise above the mediocrity and failure of the post-Extra Ordinary Congress MDC-T. It seeks to rise above the mediocrity and destruction of the liberation movement itself. So, we are essentially creating a new narrative, a new discourse. 

During happier times…Thokozani Khupe(left) and Douglas Mwonzora(right) are both claiming to be the legitimate leaders of the MDC name

RM: In some circles, other opposition parties, analysts and political commentators have already concluded that the end to your political career is near and that of the MDC as well. What’s your response to that?

That’s an unfounded pedestrian talk. I mean just look at the 2018 elections, on paper and on past performance in terms of governance no one comes close to my record, yet we all know what the media and the so-called analysts are doing in terms of malicious articles. In 2018, against all odds with no resources and one month of campaigning, I managed to come out third and send legislators to parliament. Of late you have seen the public meetings that I address, it’s clear even to the blind that my social base is not diminishing, if there’s anything it is increasing exponentially.

I am alive to the sad reality that Zimbabwean politics remains the exclusive preserve of a few privileged men, never mind the rhetoric and pseudo progressive chants from the political elite and therefore they will try by all means to dismiss a female political leader. Look at how I have been unfairly and unjustifiably removed from parliament by the Speaker of the National Assembly who received two letters from two feuding political leaders and chose to side with a man and completely ignore my letter. That’s the same attitude by the Minister of Justice who also chose to side with another man in MDC-T squabbles over the political party’s finance grant. So when I stand up in front of women and say I am under siege as a female political leader, people must listen and connect the dots but like I said previously, I’m going to fight to the finish and I will not waste my time focusing on those who are attacking me.  

RM: Are elections the way out ? If not, Zimbabwe need right now for the to be change that benefits the people?

TK: There are inspiring examples in the region for people to believe that change through an election is possible. We have examples in Zambia, we have examples in Malawi; they might not have the full change that they expected, but change is possible when people come together, when people unite. 

In particular, when the young people; many of whom are in the Diaspora, many of whom cannot even afford a car, have no homes, they have no prospects under these conditions. If people come together, if people unite, young people in particular like they did in Zambia, they take their own future into their own hands, it is possible. You cannot be cheated forever. If you are united, if you vote in your numbers and you make sure that you protect your vote, you make sure that the powers that be will listen to you when you vote in your millions in a particular way. That is what we are saying can bring about change in this country.

RM: It has been said that under the auspice of POLAD, you have been working in cahoots with ZANUPF and Douglas Mwonzora to segment Nelson Chamisa’s CCC , how true is that?

TK: This is untrue and unfounded, instead it is the same malicious campaign I have been speaking to. A lot of lies have been repeated to drive a particular agenda. I did not meet Mnangagwa until after the elections and the Constitutional Court had confirmed his electoral win. At a Press conference, I held immediately after the election, I said “the elections were free of violence, but they were not fair”.

I went on to make the case (as to) why they didn’t pass the standard of fairness, but as a democrat I needed to be magnanimous even in loss and congratulate the winner as I would have expected the same had I prevailed, hence you saw me at that (Mnangagwa) inauguration ceremony.

Now juxtapose this position to that of my detractors; some of whom were openly associating with Mnangagwa during and after the 2017 military assisted transition.

Of course, in 2019 we joined POLAD because at our 2014 congress under the leadership of Tsvangirai, congress resolved that we must do everything possible to bring the government to the negotiating table and for us to join Polad, we thought that it was a response to that resolution. It was our vision that we transform the economy of this country because elections had come and gone. It was therefore our humble belief that when the election season has passed, people must rethink their politics and focus on people centred politics. Look, we can’t be in an electioneering mood forever and we thought that perhaps it was time to focus our energies on bread-and-butter issues. 

We never worked with ZANU-PF, we thought that we were working with progressive forces in addressing bread and butter issues for the people of Zimbabwe. I will therefore not dignify any suggestions that we worked with ZANU-PF to destroy Chamisa.  

Sleeping with the Enemy? Khupe’s move to join POLAD was described as a betrayal by the then
Chamisa-led MDC Alliance

RM: Is there a possibility that we will see another reunification or a reconciliation happening like what has happened in the MDC over the past years?

TK: In politics we work with like-minded organisations, those who share the same objective with us; that of removing ZANU-PF and forming a new government, we will surely collaborate with them because what is critical now is to save lives. One of the things we will try to do, is to build a grand coalition, a smart coalition, so we will engage in serious discussions with other like-minded democratic forces.

We don’t believe that a party fighting in its own corner can deal with this entrenched dictatorship. So, part of rethinking Zimbabwean politics is that there must be a united front to deal with the current authoritarian regime. The people of Zimbabwe have had enough of suffering under ZANU-PF rule. I am therefore calling on all progressive forces to join hands with us in our fight for a better life for all.

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