THE Matabeleland region has over the years witnessed the sprouting of what has been termed “Gukurahundipreneurs” and secessionists whose objective was not to pursue the interests of the people but to line their pockets through donor funds.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s meeting with the Matabeleland Collective at the State House in Bulawayo on Thursday ended this “preneurship” when he heeded requests for a meeting with Civic Society Organisations to discuss among other things the post-independence disturbances.
In the meeting was Ms Jenniffer Williams, the leader of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA as part of the Matabeleland Collective representatives whose relations with the Government prior to Thursday’s meeting were never rosy.
The Gwanda-raised Ms Williams did not only attend the meeting but found herself perched at the high table rubbing shoulders with the Head of State and Government in a clear indication of the Second Republic’s thrust on collective prosperity. Ms Williams was also at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport to welcome the President on his arrival in Bulawayo. That for her was the crowning moment which she said she never imagined before.
“The Matabeleland Collective was formed in 2017 and that is when we realised there was an urgent need to meet the Presidium on the issues that we had identified. We had made a decision that we needed to have a new approach so we made initiatives and were able to meet Vice-President Kembo Mohadi and presented our compendium and he indicated that he would approach the President,” she said.
She said initially there were disturbances at White City Stadium where there was a bombing incident and then came the build-up to the harmonised elections of 2018 so they could not push their quest to meet the President.
During the meeting, Ms Williams said one of the key issues that they delivered was that of Gukurahundi.
“For us as the people of the Matabeleland region, the issue of Gukurahundi is a very key issue, we felt that the people were still traumatised and are not moving on with their lives, they cannot access birth certificates or get reburials, there are so many factors. And we feel that the attitude of disenfranchising Matabeleland still exists in some areas.”
The second topical issue discussed was that of development.
“We want a compensatory model to come so that Government can put up an extra effort to help us catch up with the rest of Zimbabwe. We need an extra helping hand so that we are at par with the rest of the country.
We lost 10 to 15 years of development and we have lost most of our industries so those are the issues we wanted him as Head of State to help us to deal with,” she said.
Asked on how the President responded to their plea, she said the response was incredible.
“His response was incredible. 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.”
She 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.
Civic Society Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations have always been accused of being agents of regime change who are funded by the West, but Ms Williams said that was not true.
“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 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’m afraid you may begin to run away from us when we look for you,” he said.