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http://www.pambazuka.org/images/articles/362/47411mbeki.jpgAzad Essa speaks to Grace Kwinjeh, Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Diaspora Forum on South Africa, foreign aid, the MDC and the role of the Zimbabwean diaspora in bringing about change, amongst other things

GRACE KWINJEH: The Zimbabwe Diaspora Forum (ZDF) was launched in 2005 to bring together a plethora of Zimbabweans civil society organizations and individuals. It is platform to initiate dialogue, network and build a community of Zimbabweans abroad committed to lobbying for a new democratic Zimbabwe. While the world waits with bated breath too witness how Robert Mugabe deals with a new expected MDC victory, Zimbabweans in exile just cannot wait to get back home.

AZAD ESSA: Tell us more about the ZDF?

GRACE KWINJEH: We are 3 million Zimbabweans in exile. This forum was launched in December 2007, with the view to unite the diaspora, to create dialogue and networking. We also deal with specific issues to do with health, issues of access and education of children in the diaspora. We are essentially a platform that brings together a diverse group of Zimbabweans in exile, and these include professionals working abroad to organizations on the grassroots level.

AZAD ESSA: So much is said to rest on the outcome of these elections. Why so?

GRACE KWINJEH: For many of us, we want to go home. We want to reconnect with our family. As long as there is political conflict, we cannot return. The elections are crucial, and with indications there might be a regime change, if so, and if this is handled well, we will be home sooner than later.

AZAD ESSA: If Mugabe has indeed lost the elections - does he have the muscle and support to continue ruling Zimbabwe?

GRACE KWINJEH: It depends, if he concedes that he has lost the elections, then he cannot do much. However, if he does not concede, then we have a problem. The balance of power lies with the security forces and the side they end up supporting will largely determine the outcome. There is a lot of anxiety and speculation in this regard.

AZAD ESSA: It is reported that even his closest allies are advising Mugabe to quit - what is he hoping to achieve with delaying the results?

GRACE KWINJEH: We are all wondering! He is even printing too much money. In fact, economically, I don't see him holding the country for even a month more. There is no capacity for a run-off. This was the opportunity to lay the platform for a proper framework, involving democratic reform and reconstruction of the economy.

AZAD ESSA: But if Mugabe stepped down in respect of the outcome: Wouldn't this be ironic?

GRACE KWINJEH: Yes it would be. The chances that he steps down without charges against him for his acts of brutality during certain parts of this tenure as President is quite slim. But the opposition party has been careful not to suggest that he will be charged, but this does not stop an individual to charge him, especially through using international legal instruments.

AZAD ESSA: What does this reaction tell you about Mugabe's pre-election expectations?

GRACE KWINJEH: He insisted he wanted it now. You will recall that the MDC wanted it in June, but it is clear he underestimated how unpopular he had become in his own party. He was unprepared and misread the political climate. If he unleashes violence, he will be condemned by SADC and the international community. He has no option but to exit gracefully.

AZAD ESSA: What would an MDC victory mean for Zimbabwe?

GRACE KWINJEH: Firstly, a breath of fresh air. Secondly, Zimbabwe will become part of the community of nations once more. Thirdly, much needed AID and assistance would return. And lastly, it would mean that Zimbabwe would be run by a new government with a lot of repair work. The people of Zimbabwe will have expectations, for we will be looking at a government emerging out of the social liberation movement - with an understanding of the multifaceted crisis at hand - the people will want results immediately. This is going to be very difficult.

AZAD ESSA: So much talk about aid - and the role of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - plans that Robert Mugabe rejected a number of times, for a number of reasons including the conditions of such economic assistance. Working under the tutelage of the IMF and World Bank - is this the way forward?

GRACE KWINJEH: This is one the challenges that Tsvangerai and the MDC faces. The MDC emerged from the union movement, and so how it balances its ideological stance with the literally the desperate need for economic aid - and we cannot deny aid - is what is going to be very tricky. We need aid; there is not question about this. But to secure aid immediately while considering the sustainable economic advancement of all of Zimbabwe will be a very difficult path to follow. We are surrounded by nations that have assumed political change but with economies that have not reduced economic inequality. Kenya and Zambia are prime examples, and of course so is South Africa. How they find a balance, a very tricky balance to negotiate.

AZAD ESSA: President Thabo Mbeki's stance of not interfering just yet - is this the right approach?

GRACE KWINJEH: It is not. Things are deteriorating fast and he must reconsider. He must reconsider a more robust approach. The war veterans are said to be intimidating in certain areas. To what extent this will continue, is unknown.

AZAD ESSA: But the South African government has been ambiguous in its approach to the Mugabe regime, and that is putting it quite mildly. How do you see their role now?

GRACE KWINJEH: South Africa must play a role in resolving the election crisis. They don't benefit from an influx of Zimbabweans and we want to go home. The South African government issued a statement that the will of the people must be respected. How big and how robust a commitment this implies is yet to be tested. Looking forward with regards to the MDC assuming power and political shifts in South Africa - especially post-Polokwane - a more trade union backed ANC has come to the fore. Given the COSATU-MDC link, and the political focus (in South Africa) somewhat shifting, we are looking forward to a good partnership between a potential new government and the ANC

AZAD ESSA: So we wait for the courts to decide?

GRACE KWINJEH: Well for the MDC - yes. But on the Zanu PF side, there is all this talk of recounting votes and all that. To sum up, it is a total mess. Yet, we are optimistic that Zimbabwe, as indicated by the people, are geared for change, but we know it is going to be a very hard transition.

AZAD ESSA: Finally, you mentioned a few times that the diaspora wants to return home. What do you see as the role of the diaspora in this process?

GRACE KWINJEH: The diaspora is crucial. But before we return home, we will have to know that we have some sort of security there. Will we have jobs to support our families? Poverty drove many out?we have had qualified teachers who have swept in South Africa, and who would rather do that than suffer in Zimbabwe. We do not want to pre-empt these things, but we have started discussions - to start programs to get the diaspora back home - not unlike those that took place when Zimbabwe found independence in 1980 and what happened after the fall of Apartheid in South Africa. The challenge is indeed to get people back and into the reconstruction process.

*Azad Essa is a researcher & journalist at the IOLS-Research Unit, UKZN.

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