Implosion: Zim’s opposition in disarray
It would seem that losing the July 2013 general elections did more harm to the once formidable opposition MDC-T in Zimbabwe. The Morgan Tsvangirai-led party has not only been left with a minority in Parliament but left fractured as well amid calls for former trade unionist Tsvangirai to step down. Tsvangirai has lost three successive elections to incumbent President Robert Mugabe.
Calls for leadership renewal, which have divided the party into two – risking a second split after the October 2005 one – have dominated the discourse within the opposition party.
It has been widely speculated that secretary-general Tendai Biti is eyeing Tsvangirai’s post in a plan that has been on even before last year’s polls.
And for the past five months, violence, accusations upon counter-accusations and skulduggery have characterised the 15-year-old party.
It started in September last year when treasurer general Roy Bennett, a vital cog to the white donor community in and out of Zimbabwe, questioned Tsvangirai’s continued stay at the helm of the party after successive losses.
Bennett wrote on his social media site: “Mr Tsvangirai has served two terms and is nearly completing a third. Deep introspection needs to be undertaken by our national collective leadership, not for purposes of looking for scapegoats, but for our party to reinvigorate its leadership with a leadership which reflects the will of our people.”
The statement sent tongues wagging within the party but it was followed by another damning assessment by Ian Kay, another white cog in the party.
“This is like a soccer team. If the coach continues losing, there is need for the technical board to sit down and deal with the issue,” Kay was quoted as saying in an interview with a daily paper.
He added: “There is need to plan ahead before the ship sinks, and if there is need to change the coach, then let it be. Or should I say it is like a rusty bolt? There is need for it to be removed and replaced with a new one rather than leave it like that.”
That was becoming too much and the handiest scapegoat was to point at the said men’s colour of skin.
Yet black faces would step up, too.
Respected member and former Harare Mayor, Elias Mudzuri, in November wrote in a newspaper outlining what needed to be done to the ailing party.
He presented five scenarios. Scenario four was the most poignant.
He wrote: “Morgan Tsvangirai is the godfather of the party. He steps down ceremoniously and a new leader is elected. He becomes a ‘Mandela’ of the party. Structures are re-engineered including the party constitution which will limit the future party president to two terms only.”
The plot began to thicken. Already, there had been talk that there was a faction angling for Tsvangirai’s ouster and having the support of the white lobby and western diplomats.
Deputy treasurer general Elton Mangoma’s letter to Tsvangirai calling for leadership renewal appeared to be the last straw.
The gloves were off, figuratively and literally as this incident sent a wave of violence directed against Mangoma himself and all those who are perceived to be aligning with him and Biti.
Mangoma wrote: “Leadership renewal is an inexorable truth that the party will have to confront lest it is plagued by the same succession conundrum affecting Zanu-PF. Since the outcome of the election, calls for leadership renewal have been made in different quotas and at different platforms.
“It is my unbending resolve that leadership renewal, at this juncture, could be the only avenue to restoring the credibility of the party lest it risks being confined to history. At a time when confidence is plummeting, there is need for the MDC to freshen up, create fresh impetus and rally its troops to remain united and focused.”
On February 14, Mangoma, Biti youth assembly secretary-general, Promise Mkwananzi and others were assaulted when they stepped out of Harvest House, the party’s headquarters in Harare, after a meeting.
Mangoma claimed that soon after the tense meeting of 210 MDC-T district chairpersons addressed by Tsvangirai, the latter incited rowdy youths to assault him.
He made a police report leading to some arrests.
Sporadic incidents of violence have since been recorded while meetings called by Tsvangirai across the country have been no go areas for perceived anti-Tsvangirai elements. A purge has been on to clear all structures of those said to be vying for the stepping down of Tsvangirai.
Western embassies, Tsvangirai’s main diplomatic supporters were disgusted. They issued different statements condemning the wave of violence in the opposition.
“The Australian Embassy joins other embassies, civil society organisations and concerned Zimbabwean citizens in expressing deep dismay at recent incidents of violence directed against members of political parties in Zimbabwe,” Ambassador Matthew Nehaus said.
He added: “The use of violence and intimidation to pursue political means is unacceptable, and must not be tolerated. It remains essential that all of Zimbabwe’s political parties make every effort to ensure the prevention of violent acts. We urge all of Zimbabwe’s political parties to fully respect ‑ within their parties and the nation ‑ the rule of law, right to free speech, freedom of assembly and other democratic freedoms which need to be at the heart of the Zimbabwean political discourse.”
The United States Embassy said: “We condemn such acts of violence, which have no place in modern political discourse.”
Aldo Dell’ Ariccia, the European Union Ambassador said: “The point is there should be healthy democratic processes in each party and we are convinced that it is wise that all parties have internal democratic dynamics but what is unacceptable is when internal debate degenerates into violence.”
Canada also condemned the violence and its embassy called leaders “to speak out against violence and intimidation…and demonstrat(e) respect for diversity of views.”
Regional ally, Botswana President Ian Khama reportedly phoned Tsvangirai soon after the Harvest House violence and advised him to step down.
The turn of events has driven a wedge between Tsvangirai and his western supporters: in fact, Tsvangirai has not taken the censures lightly.
At a rally in Harare he said: “We have our friends out there. We are surprised by people who say we want that one to lead the party. Is that the work of diplomats…We want to tell the diplomats that we are united as a party.
What you can do is to help the people of Zimbabwe to have democratic change.” Donors have also frozen money to Tsvangirai.
And he complained: “Money is dangerous. It’s time for Zimbabweans to underwrite their own struggle and not rely on donors. If you are proud people, underwrite your own struggle. Contribute 50 cents or a dollar like you do in church.”
He also urged his supporters to sell their belongings like goats and chickens to bankroll the party.
Could the internal strife nearing an end? This may yet demand more time to unravel, but on Tuesday last week Tsvangirai all but declared cessation of hostilities in his camp.
“I am proud to announce today that we have discussed our issues and there is now unprecedented harmony and unity of purpose in the MDC cockpit.
“We all agreed that we owed it to the members of the party and to the nation at large to discuss and resolve our matters so that we would be more effective in providing hope and a credible alternative to Zanu-PF.” Some analysts, though, dismissed this as papering over cracks in the opposition.