As I write, the party leadership has asked its provincial and district structures to study the constitution closely to see how best to “tighten” it at the congress some time later this year. The membership, through the provincial chairpersons, has been given the task of debating the constitution and suggesting ways of changing it to avoid internal splits in future.
At the surface, there is a genuine concern around the splits. The MDC suffered debilitating breakaways in 2005 and 2014. Both rebellions were led by secretary generals. In 2005, Welshman Ncube, led a number of influential party members to break away after Tsvangirai ruled against a popular position to participate in the Senate. Earlier this year, Tendai Biti, who took over from Ncube as secretary general, did the same and is set to form his own party.
Somehow, Tsvangirai and those who remain loyal to him have concluded that the two splits were due to loopholes in the constitution. I have been talking to some senior MDC members and they seem convinced that the rebellions were made easy by the fact that the constitution allows secretary generals too much power.
There is a prevalent thinking within the MDC that the party president, Tsvangirai, was reduced to a lame duck as the rebellions unfolded. In the latest split, Biti and his team even went as far as “suspending” and subsequently “firing” from the party Tsvangirai, the party chairperson, Lovemore Moyo, and other senior officials sympathetic to him.
Needless to say, the technical fight for the leadership of the MDC is not yet over, even though I am convinced that the Biti group is just perpetuating it to make life difficult for Tsvangirai and his loyalists. The Renewal Group will eventually break away.
Extremely unsettling is the evident tendency within the leadership to show adulation for Zanu (PF) politics. Those I have talked to in senior positions in the MDC have invariably cited the ruling party’s constitutional changes over the decades to entrench power in the presidency. Incredibly, they argue that Zanu (PF) has successfully managed to avoid damaging breakaways by concentrating power in the presidency.
It will be recalled that the then Zanu used to have a secretary general and a president. Robert Mugabe was the secretary general who was aided in a rebellion—through the Mgagao Declaration of October 1975—to take power from Ndabaningi Sithole. The rest is history. We have for a long time known Mugabe as the President and First Secretary of Zanu (PF). He learnt what secretary generals are capable of doing in the deposition of a president and didn’t want that to happen to him, hence the abolition of the post.
By pushing for constitutional changes on the basis of historical trends in Zanu (PF), the MDC is betraying where it wants to go. That is, clearly, the Zanu (PF) way, a direction for which I have no respect because it leads to dictatorship and authoritarianism. I have no doubt that the existing MDC leadership wants to change the constitution to create a fortress around Tsvangirai, who has been beaten twice through past splits.
The fact that debate on constitutional changes has been devolved to the party structures does not necessarily give the process democratic grounding. There is a real danger that this is a mere pretence of democracy when there are already strategies to push through with amendments that would centralise power in Tsvangirai.
Following the power struggles that intensified at the beginning of the year, Tsvangirai, with the blessings of his loyalists, decided to claim more powers in the handling of financial matters. He resolved to be the ultimate signatory to party finances, after the Renewal Team left with virtually all the remaining funds. This could imply that the constitutional changes are a ploy to give more power to him.
That would be tragic. The MDC rose as a champion of democracy. I am afraid what is happening now is the antithesis of the struggle for democracy. Individual whims and interests are inimical to popular rule. That party must not be about Morgan Tsvangirai, but a downtrodden Zimbabwean population that is seeking respite from decades of dictatorial rule. The MDC is not helping any matters by becoming a poor copycat of Zanu (PF), and Tsvangirai must not become an imitation of Mugabe.
There is need for Tsvangirai and his party to engage in serious self-introspection in respect of the splits. From where I stand, they are barely a function of constitutional inadequacies. The first split was a direct response to Tsvangirai’s disrespect for a popular position. The majority of his lieutenants wanted to participate in the re-introduced senate, so he should have respected their position. Democracy entails respecting majority wishes. The second split is debatable. I am not saying the Biti faction is right, but what cannot be dismissed is that it has its own grievances against Tsvangirai’s leadership.
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