MDC-T rebels’ rock and hard place

Under other circumstances, Tendai Biti, Elton Mangoma, Roy Bennett and numerous MDC-T stalwarts who are gunning for leadership change would have moved out to form a separate political party. There have been suggestions in the Harare rumour mill that they should do just that.


However, they have denied this and latest developments indicate that they might not be in a rush to move away. Party president Morgan Tsvangirai has also dared them to get out of the kitchen.

The question is: Are those in MDC-T who want Tsvangirai out capable of forming a new party – and what would it take to bring them to that point? Despite the rumours, splitting looks tricky, and there are several reasons why the anti-Tsvangirai camp would not be comfortable storming out just yet.

There is a good historical reason to be pessimistic about the sustainability and viability of branching out. Welshman Ncube provides a rich anecdote on what can possibly happen. In 2005, a band of top party officials led by the then Secretary General Ncube were peeved by Tsvangirai’s intolerance and apparent dictatorial tendency when he threw out a majority vote to participate in a poll after the re-introduction of the Senate. Tsvangirai was confident of a win against the Senate reintroduction, so he put the matter to a vote, but most of his lieutenants wanted a bite at the chamber, and they voted “yes”.

When the MDC boss dug his heels in, most of those who wanted the Senate back, with Welsh at the helm, hurried out and formed a splinter movement. In the early days, the decision kicked up a lot of dust and many thought that the new party would make dramatic inroads on the Zimbabwean political landscape. That was not to be, of course, and everyone now knows what became of the party – in the 2013 elections, it failed to score a single contested seat.

The point here is that MDC has been woven around the personality of Tsvangirai. He might not be the best of leaders. But the grassroots is still with him, something that Ncube failed to appreciate.

Now, it is difficult to move away from a party whose leader still claims the grassroots. It would always be hard for Biti et al to woo those that form the basis of the party over to their side, because, in their eyes, Tsvangirai is still the magic that they need. This hard-to- accept reality connives well with the fact that among those who passionately want to move away, there is none with the charisma that Tsvangirai still enjoys – despite the many fault lines in his personality.

Biti might be a brilliant lawyer, or so it is claimed, but so was/is Welsh. A technocrat is hardly what politics appreciates most of the time. The grassroots electorate always looks–blindly–for something less elite than professional efficacy. Mudzuri might be level headed and respectable, but he does not have the crude down-to-earth grit that Tsvangirai, like Jacob Zuma of South Africa, has used to get people on his side. The same applies to Mangoma, etc.

The most sensible option, therefore, is to fight to ensure that the Tsvangirai edifice, ragged as it has become due to the series of miscalculations he has made over the years, falls. The best way to do that is to throw missiles from within, but the battle is going to be a complex and winding one, with the possibility of a loss. Tsvangirai still enjoys incumbency as the leader of the party. That was demonstrated recently when an effigy of the National Executive Council suspended Mangoma even when it was clear that rules were not followed.

Biti, Mangoma, Bennett, Iain Kay and others might follow suit, especially given the fact that the Secretary General decided to throw an independent press briefing blasting Tsvangirai and those fighting from his corner for suspending Mangoma unprocedurally and has lauded Zanu (PF) for winning the 2013 general elections.

They would easily claim that Biti brought the party into disrepute. The matter is not helped by the fact that many in the structures still throw their weight behind Tsvangirai, while an early elective congress is likely to retain him and bring his marks up again. – To comment on this article, please contact [email protected]

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