MDC leadership war gets messy

After years of speculation, Tendai Biti, the MDC Secretary General, came out in the open about his political inclinations in the party’s internal factional fights. On Saturday, he addressed a press conference after the purported suspension of Morgan Tsvangirai and top leaders aligned to him.


He did not mince his words about his contempt for Tsvangirai, thereby positioning himself as the ultimate leader of the pro-change team and firing a loud salvo in a likely bruising war over control of the party.

Of course, Tsvangirai and the others who have fighting from his corner—the likes of Nelson Chamisa, Douglas Mwonzora, Morgen Komichi and Thokozani Khupe, who were also suspended—are not taking this lying down. We will see suspensions and counter suspensions in the following weeks and months, expulsions and counter-expulsions. The fight looks really dirty.

Following the rumpus when Biti and his colleagues met in Harare and announced the coup against Tsvangirai, the most natural reactions were of consternation and excitement. It is clear that the Biti camp did a lot of homework before making their announcement. It could have done the same thing about two months ago when Elton Mangoma was assaulted. However, the team must have decided against it because, then, it would pass as mere emotionality that many were likely to treat with disdain.

When the storm seemed to be dissipating and Biti had actually met with Tsvangirai, the pro-change faction struck, and did so with much focus on caution. It is likely that a lot of people will interpret the purported suspension of Tsvangirai et al as the removal of the leadership. Technically, that is wrong.

The Biti faction has not said Tsvangirai must step down. They have only suspended him in accordance with the party’s constitution, pending a disciplinary hearing. Of course, they ultimately want him and his lieutenants out and would fire him at the earliest instance, just the same way their rivals suspended and then fired Mangoma.

The Biti group knows that there is an elective congress coming, possibly by December, and would not want to be seen to be crossing bridges on dry land. So, in that regard, the camp has been quite smart. It is employing the very tactics the Tsvangirai faction used in expelling Mangoma, meaning that the rebels have a very handy precedent to fall back on. It would always be difficult for Tsvangirai and his comrades to argue that the national council was improperly constituted. The one that suspended Mangoma also had its own blemishes.

Remember, Biti was not properly involved in his capacity as SG, and he complained about it at a subsequent press conference. There were also complaints around members who made up the council that suspended Mangoma. It is highly possible that the council that suspended Tsvangirai and his protégés included some shady figures, but then, it is of no use to start seeing one kettle as blacker than the other.

Tsvangirai will do all he can to dismiss the Biti camp as a fussy circus, as we have already seen, but that will not solve his mounting woes. Besides continued haggling within the party, it is highly likely that the matter will spill into the courts. We saw a similar trend when fissures emerged in the other MDC formation. Welshman Ncube and Arthur Mutambara took their fight to the courts over control of the party, and what a messy affair it was! There is also a heavy financial dimension to the infighting.

The Tsvangirai side is now as broke as a church mouse. The Biti team, on the other hand, looks relatively financially healthy. It will have the money for legal battles and could be able to buy a lot of allegiance. Tsvangirai still enjoys much grassroots support, and vote buying is a method that the Biti camp must be considering seriously. Tsvangirai’s support base might dwindle because the electorate wants more than words and charisma.

Similarly, restless major pro-democracy supporters are fed up with Tsvangirai because he has not delivered for a long time and they now seem to be of the view that he will not have another chance to do so. This could explain why the Biti team is better financed.

If Biti and others manage their propaganda well, they might be able to convince a sizeable base of supporters that Tsvangirai has become useless. The might be able to convince the grassroots against the myth that Tsvangirai was the only brave person in the party. He was not fighting alone and, indeed, many people have died in the fight for democratic change. – To comment on this article, please contact [email protected]

Post published in: Analysis
  1. Tim Murphy

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