ZANU-PF Politburo member and former Bulawayo Mayor Cde Joshua Malinga, who is also the secretary for the Disabled and Disadvantaged in the ruling party’s Politburo last week spoke to Sunday News in a wide ranging interview that touched on political, social and economic issues in the country. Following is the interview with Sunday News Editor Limukani Ncube (LN).
LN: Cde Malinga, it has been a long time since we heard your views on the prevailing political, social and economic issues in the country. Would it be correct to suggest you have been rather too quiet?
Cde JM: I’m not sure if I have been too quiet. I have not been quiet because I participate in party (Zanu-PF) activities. I am a senior member of the party, a Politburo member and I am active in the party structures and I am in touch with what is going on.
LN: What is going on? May you expand on that.
Cde JM: Zimbabwe is going on like any other country. Listen to radio, watch television and read newspapers, you will see a lot is going on. People are working, some are fighting for power, some fighting for status, some are fighting for love and some are fighting over food. We are not different from any other country but the truth is that Zimbabwe continues to develop as a nation in leaps and bounds. The policies and economic plans put in motion by Government led by President Mugabe have made sure that we forge ahead as a nation. What we should make sure is that everybody has food on the table.
LN: As the secretary for the Disabled and Disadvantaged in the Politburo, do you think the country is doing enough to assist the disabled and disadvantaged?
Cde JM: Since 1980 after independence when the disability movement was strong we engaged the leadership of the parties in Government at the time and we managed to be the first country in Africa to promulgate a civil rights legislation for disabled people. The disability movement in Zimbabwe was very vocal and active and made sure that disability was on the political agenda in this country and in the world. I became one of the first world leaders of the disability movement and in 1985 I was president of the world organisation until 2002.
And together with the leadership of the Zimbabwe government led by President Mugabe we put disability issues on the agenda of Sadc, African Union, Commonwealth and the United Nations. We were progressing very well until 1999 when the country was under political and economic siege. In my opinion the economic siege affected the disabled more than other sections of the population. When things are tough its people at the bottom that suffer more. The movement was also rendered invisible or not vocal. Because of that, Zimbabwe has now lagged behind many countries on disability issues when it was our own national leadership that helped other countries develop policies favourable to the disabled and disadvantaged, this is the painful truth.
Some of the clear things we should do as leaders is adopt the UN Convention on the rights of disabled people, formulate policies that will promote development of disabled people and make sure that disabled people participate fully in all sectors of the economy and that their rights are recognised fully. For instance, our constitution states clearly that women, children, ex-combatants, youths and others should be included in the development process but it leaves the disabled out of the development discourse by stating that disabled people will be provided for only when resources are available. I think this suggests there is no commitment on issues of disability; it gives in one hand and takes on the other hand.
But what I am sure about is that President Mugabe appreciates issues to do with disabled people and the disadvantaged. I’m glad that I am involved in issues of some of my passion and I thank the President for allowing me to be part of the team that pushes for the development of the disabled and disadvantaged. I can say it without doubt that if it was not for him who appointed me, I would not be in the Politburo of the party.
I believe the President and through his leadership, our party is alive to the needs and aspirations of the disabled, that is why I have been busy mobilising people living with disabilities to attend the Presidential Youth Interface Rally in Bulawayo and also register to vote in next year’s elections and continue supporting the President and Zanu-PF. The disabled make 15 percent of the total population in the country so that is a huge number that cannot be neglected socially, politically and economically. The challenge at times is that the disabled are not vocal and visible because they suffer discrimination and ill treatment from some quarters.
Furthermore, as the ruling party and at Government level, we need to seriously look at the plight of the disabled and disadvantaged and now that we are talking about the national budget, we should lobby for a substantial amount of money to be budgeted to meet their needs. The disabled and disadvantaged should not be at the bottom of the list and the first to have their budget cut when resources get tight. We should continue to include them and engage them in the economic, social and political systems of the country. God did not create people to be the same; some are tall, some are short, some are clever, some are stupid, some are poor and some are rich and in the same vein, some are abled bodied and some are disabled. So we have to respect our diversity.
As people living with disabilities we are only different from the able bodied in stature but we are also capable just like anyone else. It is this primitive thing called attitude that makes other people discriminate and exclude people living with disabilities and also the disadvantaged. We are discriminated against by even our own parents and relatives which is not right and should be corrected. In fact, disability is the way society treats us. How does society do that; by providing inaccessible schools, hospitals, shops, offices and toilets. So who is disabled? It is the person who is failing to provide conducive amenities for everyone.
LN: What do you think should be done to contain the rising prices of basic commodities which I believe will further complicate lives for the disadvantaged?
Cde JM: Human beings have a tendency to make super profits in business which is just unethical and uncalled for. I am happy that Government has set up a Cabinet Task Force to look into that but also, I believe we need to open avenues for national debates on issues affecting us as a country so that we come up with lasting solutions. Let’s identify the root cause and the culprits and everything will normalise again. But I say this in bold letters, profiteering is against the national interest and should stop. It badly affects every one of us, the able bodied, disabled and disadvantaged alike.
LN: What do you think are some of the issues working against our economy?
Cde JM: The common denominator is corruption. We hear of corruption at various organisations and businesses. And once corruption becomes big it becomes a cancer that needs surgical attention. In China and other countries corrupt people were put before a firing squad and now there is little or no corruption is such countries. Other countries created an investigation body in the same model as our Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and that helped. The challenge we have here is that our Commission has been caught up in controversy and I’m not sure if everyone still believes in it, but the idea is a noble one. Those who become rich overnight should be investigated and asked to account for their miracle riches.
LN: How can we further tap into the wealth of the country?
Cde JM: The President has always said it. His teachings have reached Sadc, Comesa, AU and the world at large. There should be industrialisation, value addition and beneficiation of our natural resources so that we export finished products and maximise on profits and also create employment for local people. We have to create an inclusive society. Our graduates from colleges and universities should be creators of employment and not employment seekers. The thrust towards mathematics, sciences and skills development is a noble one. No one should be poor. Poverty is man-made. It does not come from God. We should strive for a classless society and take capitalism tendencies head on. Capitalism is a greedy system that makes others rich at the expense of the majority. You find 95 percent of people poor and only five percent rich — that is a result of capitalism and that should not happen in this country.
The direction we are taking as Zimbabwe is positive because landlessness breeds poverty. But now people have land through the Land Reform Exercise which empowers them economically as well. As the President has said, the programme has to continue so that everyone benefits. I have always been of the view that people have to be given title deeds for their land. Resettled farmers now have 99-year leases and that should not stop there, even communal farmers should have title deeds so that they can apply for funding from banks to do other projects. Title deeds are a form of economic empowerment. I know the fear is that once communal farmers have title deeds, they will then sell the land, but that is not possible because people have been in the same communal land for generations and why should they sell now? The Government can also put measures to make sure it is not easy to sell communal land.
LN: As a Bulawayo resident, what do you think should be done to expedite industrialisation in the city?
Cde JM: Firstly the de-industrialisation of Bulawayo is something that should never have been allowed to happen. I saw it coming as the mayor of the city and made my views known but got no support. Some people felt I was being quarrelsome but we should have come up with mechanisms to stop relocation of industries and movement of headquarters of some companies from the city.
Apart from that, illegal sanctions imposed on the country also contributed to the death of our industries but I must say I am happy there has been a positive move in recent years to revive the industry from Government efforts and from the private sector. But we have to put our heads together as political and business leaders so that we speak with one voice and market the city so that we attract foreign and local investors to set up new industries and revive those struggling. A leaders, we should always engage and speak with one voice, be it on economic, social and political issues affecting the region and country at large. Why can’t we sit down in one room more often and talk about all these issues?
LN: What else do you think should be done to uplift lives of local people?
Cde JM: I like the system of devolution because it gives locals control over their own resources. The government has decentralised a number of services in both social and economic terms, but we can do more by borrowing from the system of devolution. Apart from that, we should have a national fund that speaks to affirmative action to provinces or areas that lag behind in terms of development.
My idea of national fund for affirmative action should be permanent and interest paid by those who benefited should be used to further benefit others so that the fund continues. That idea can assist especially a number of places in the Matabeleland region though I know there are other places in other parts of the country that can benefit from such a model of a national fund and affirmative action, where there is a deliberate policy to pour in resources to particular areas to uplift the lives of the people. For example, people in Lupane in Matabeleland North should know and have control over proceeds from plantations there. Why should schools there have no chairs and desks? People in Filabusi should benefit and have a say on what happens to the gold mined in their backyard, those in Zvishavane should benefit from Platinum mining, and so forth, that should happen across the country. Even social services should be brought nearer to the people so that people don’t travel the breath and length of the country for social services. I move around Bulawayo and because the public service is centralised, you find that most people in offices are there on acting capacity. Why not appoint them permanently so that they work without disruptions? Who or what are we waiting for?
LN: Lastly, there has been some noise from opposition political parties that chiefs must not be active in the country’s political affairs. What is your view on that?
Cde JM: First and foremost let us not forget that chiefs played a big role during the liberation struggle. They have always participated in national politics because they are custodians of our culture, heritage and traditions. You cannot separate chiefs from the national interest dialogue because we all belong to chiefs whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated. We all bow down before chiefs and chiefs actually live with people so they know what affects people on daily basis. I really like what the President is doing, engaging chiefs and taking care of them.
Chiefs are our pride as black people and that is one system that colonialists failed to break so we should respect and be proud of them, just like President Mugabe is doing. I believe they should be given more power to lead on developmental issues in their areas and we should never agree to go back to the pre-independence era where colonialists wanted to make the role of chiefs some form of token. Their power is real and should remain like that, and that is why President Mugabe engages them more often.
LN: Thank you for your time Cde Malinga.
Cde JM: Thank you Ncube.