SOMEONE’S HOUSE IS BURNING | As each day passes, the nation is drawing closer and closer to the 2018 harmonised elections. This has seen serious political parties such as ZANU PF putting in place a number of programmes such as the ongoing Presidential Youth Interface rallies and acquiring motor vehicles in preparation for the watershed polls. Not so for the opposition camp, if the goings-on in various parties is anything to go by.
The MDC-T, which touts itself as the biggest opposition party in Zimbabwe, is riven by serious conflict over a number of issues. As things stand today, the party’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai and one of his deputies, Thokozani Khupe are not seeing eye to eye over the former’s decision to form and spearhead the MDC Alliance, a loose coalition of opposition political parties without consulting and securing the buy-in of his party’s senior leadership.
The MDC-T national chairman, Lovemore Moyo, and the Party’s organising secretary, Abednigo Bhebhe are fighting in Khupe’s corner as they do not agree with Tsvangirai. The conflict has not been without drama as the three senior party officials were assaulted on 6 August 2017, in Bulawayo while holding a meeting, following their boycotting of the MDC Alliance launch in Harare the previous day. The alliance standoff is threatening to split the party for the third time in 12 years.
Although Tsvangirai is regarded as the face of the MDC-T, his health has been both a cause for concern and an opportunity for some senior party members. He spent a month in South Africa where he was flown in mid-September for the ongoing treatment of the cancer of the colon, which he was diagnosed with last year.
Questions are already being raised over his ability to tackle the 2018 election campaign, given his frail health. Last week, the MDC-T Bulawayo South legislator, Eddie Cross torched a storm when he posted on his blog that Tsvangirai was seriously ill and “might not be able to handle the election and subsequently the responsibility of being president of a country”. He now faces disciplinary action for telling the world what most people believe but are afraid to speak for fear of backlash.
Tsvangirai’s declining health has also seen some party members priming and positioning themselves to take over the reins of the party in the post Tsvangirai period. MDC-T co vice president, Nelson Chamisa has been known to be planning to take over the leadership of the party after 2023, when Tsvangirai was expected to have handed over the leadership to another senior party member. The current circumstances in the party seem to have conscientised him to the possibility of bringing his plans forward.
On 26 September 2017, Chamisa and Khupe fought over a seat reserved for the opposition leader in Parliament. Khupe found Chamisa sitting on the seat reserved for her and an altercation ensued between the two. The matter was only resolved when Chamisa moved out of the august house and Khupe assume her seat, with the cajoling of co-vice president, Elias Mudzuri after initially refusing to occupy it.
Although the incident could easily be dismissed as a freak and once off incident, it is symbolic of the feuding for the leadership position of the opposition party in the wake of Tsvangirai’s worsening health. While senior party members such as spokesman, Obert Gutu and secretary general, Douglas Mwonzora strongly dispute that all is in order in the party and that Tsvangirai stands ready to lead the MDC-T 2018 harmonised election campaign effort, it is evident that political vultures in the opposition outfit are already circling above the visibly frail Tsvangirai.
Other opposition parties are not faring any better either. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is also battling for its own life, months before the elections. Like the MDC-T, the party is also divided by the MDC Alliance. In September the party’s secretary general, Gorden Moyo announced the expulsion of Biti from the party for dragging the party into the MDC Alliance against the will of the majority of the party’s leaders and members. The development saw Biti being replaced by national chairperson, Lucia Matibenga as the leader of the party, while his (Biti’s) deputy, Kucaca Phulu was replaced by Sikhumbuzo Ndiweni.
Moyo and National People’s Party (NPP) deputy president, Samuel Sipepa Nkomo announced that a different coalition, which included the Dumiso Dabengwa-led ZAPU, had been formed. PDP spokesperson, Jacob Mafume dismissed the expulsion of Biti as “a tribal circus” while the party’s youth assembly argued that no individual had the authority to fire, bar or suspend other party members.
As if the dismissal charade was not enough, the party’s former secretary for mobilisation, who is also the Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance (ZWPA), Linda Masarira abandoned the PDP in order to contest the Harare Central National Assembly constituency as an independent candidate. She was frustrated by the fact that the constituency, which she had been eyeing for long, would not fall under the PDP under the MDC Alliance’s constituency sharing scheme. Retaining her membership of the PDP would cost her the opportunity to contest in the 2018 elections.
Apart from this, she seemed disgruntled with the party somehow. This was reflected in the tweet, “Zimbabwe is swimming in deeper murky muddy waters of confusion, economic quagmire, and political discord. People first egos later,” which she posted on her Twitter handle, @lilomatic on 29 September 2017. This seemed to be a barb directed at Biti and his executive.
At the beginning of the year the MDC-T and the NPP warmed up to each other and even signed a coalition memorandum of understanding at Tsvangirai’s Highlands house in Harare on 19 April 2017. At some point the issue in the coalition discourse was no longer about whether or not the NPP would join the coalition but about who between Tsvangirai and the NPP leader, Dr Joice Mujuru would lead the coalition. The coalition of opposition parties, which was hoped to bring the parties together to unseat ZANU PF, has paradoxically turned out to be their bane. The two fell out when Tsvangirai cobbled together the MDC Alliance with other small opposition and launched it on 5 August 2017, when negotiations between the two parties were still in progress.
Besides the coalition challenges, Dr Mujuru is also grappling with a number of internal issues which have seen the party failing to gain traction let alone prepare for the 2018 elections. Since the NPP’s inaugural elective congress, which was held in August 2017, it has reportedly kicked out several party executives while some have left on their own accord, accusing Mujuru of being dictatorial in her leadership.
NPP treasurer-general, Wilbert Mubaiwa seems to be Mujuru’s the next target as he was served with a letter on 9 October 2017 inviting him for a disciplinary hearing for allegedly claiming that he had defeated the opposition party’s leader and promoting disunity in the party.
Other small opposition parties such as ZANU Ndonga and the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), which have set their sights on the elections, are pinning their hopes on the materialisation of the coalition as they have neither meaningful numbers nor clear and attractive policies to go it alone.