HARARE – Just like the ruling Zanu PF party, Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party — the MDC — is facing the same headaches of succession that have become apparent now that its charismatic leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is under the weather.
By Maxwell Sibanda
The MDC leader was airlifted to South Africa earlier last month where he is receiving colon cancer treatment — having been diagnosed with the disease in June last year.
His illness has sent panic in opposition circles with some doubting if Tsvangirai would be able to withstand a punishing campaign schedule ahead of next year’s do-or-die elections.
Tsvangirai has led the MDC since its formation in 1999.
He has survived internal rebellions on several occasions, remaining in control of party structures in spite of the ugly splits suffered by the MDC in 2005 and 2015.
His popularity ratings were dealt a body blow when he agreed to go into a coalition government with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF in 2009 to end the acrimony that had been caused by inconclusive elections of the previous year.
In that government of national unity (GNU), Tsvangirai had no real power and was therefore overshadowed by Mugabe.
During the subsistence of the uneasy GNU, Tsvangirai, who had lost his wife, Susan, during the early days of the coalition, was caught up in relationship scandals.
His officials also got entangled in corruption scandals as they fell into the trappings of power.
It got worse for Tsvangirai when he suffered an embarrassing defeat at the 2013 polls which followed the liquidation of the GNU.
It was that humbling defeat that saw questions emerging as to whether it was not about time he paves way to a fresh pair of hands.
With illness now taking its toll on him, many are wondering if the MDC is not behaving like Zanu PF which, faced with an ageing and ailing leader — Mugabe’s acolytes insist he would rule Zimbabwe from the grave.
Analysts canvassed by the Daily News on Sunday said none of the major political actors in Zimbabwe have a viable succession plan, which is why the country is stuck in this anomalous situation.
They said while Mugabe faces the dual challenge of age and ill-health with Tsvangirai facing the albatross of the terminal illness, both have a responsibility to push Zimbabwe forward if they stop pursuing narrow political and personal gains.
Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka, said this week his boss will not cling to office an hour longer than is necessary if he feels his health is failing him to the extent that he will not be able to stand for the 2018 presidential race.
“Just as he came out in the open that he has cancer, he is the kind of man who will come out in the open if he feels he is no longer able to stand,” Tamborinyoka told the Daily News on Sunday last week.
“He has already shown that he is unlike Mugabe by coming out clean on the nature of his ailment and I know he will not cling an hour more than is necessary if he feels his health is failing him to the extent that he will not be able to stand.”
Tsvangirai’s health status has been of concern to the MDC, the opposition political parties with whom he had formed an alliance and the general citizenry fighting for change.
Tamborinyoka said Tsvangirai is fine and that he will be able to withstand the rigours of an election campaign.
“I am talking about a man I have worked with closely for more than 10 years.
“For now, he is OK and there is no reason for the nation to panic.
“Remember, we are all mortal beings and we fall sick sometimes,” said Tamborinyoka.
He added that he was talking about a man for whom many have written premature obituaries.
“In fact, some such premature obituary writers have been called to higher glory ahead of him. Nguva ndeyaMwari. Ngatisatongere Musiki! (God’s time is the best time, let’s not get ahead of ourselves)” he added.
Tsvangirai’s illness has, however, divided opinion.
There is a school of thought that says the MDC leader should put in motion his succession plan to keep the MDC Alliance afloat.
Playwright Leonard Matsa believes logic will dictate an urgent replacement ahead of the 2018 elections.
He, however, observed that the same logic comes short in guaranteeing a replacement capable of mobilising votes more than an unwell Tsvangirai can.
“Maybe that replacement exists, but the costs of that political uncertainty are way too high in these swim or sink elections for the MDC,” opined Matsa.
“Besides, the Zimbabwean votes have never been about logic but dogma.
“As long as Tsvangirai’s heart has pulse, he is and has to be their man. For all their sakes!” said Matsa.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme, argues that Tsvangirai should have left power eight years ago when his two terms ended.
“So whether ill or not, he should leave. Otherwise he is not different from his arch adversary Mugabe.”
Sungweme said the MDC Alliance, formed on August 5, must think beyond Tsvangirai and look for another leader though their campaign will suffer a heavy blow as Tsvangirai like Mugabe has not invested in a succession.
“He even complicated matters by appointing (Nelson) Chamisa and (Elias) Mudzuri to be his deputies instead of sticking to Thokozani Khupe, the elected vice president.
“Now his party has to deal with complications he created by bringing these two VPs,” he said.
“There is no apparent heir anymore yet Khupe is the only elected VP. She must be the one to take over, but knowing tribalism in MDC, she will be fought from within. So this issue is a likely political disaster for the MDC,” added Saungweme.
Another school is premised on the view that removing him will be suicidal because he is the only one with numbers on the ground.
Political commentator Farai Maguwu said on the part of the MDC there is still need to get an honest assessment of Tsvangirai’s health.
“If the party leadership feels it’s time to replace him the smarter thing to do is to call for an early congress and allow party faithfuls to select the next leader.
“If they do a shoddy job this might mark the beginning of the end of the MDC project,” said Maguwu.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said while the hospitalisation of Tsvangirai has caused concern, he does not think it requires the MDC Alliance to look for another candidate as yet.
“That will only be the case if he cannot continue anymore. What his doctors say in this regard will be crucial. In the meantime, other leaders need to continue with the campaign or have an elections taskforce.
“It is true that Tsvangirai has been at the helm of the opposition for quite a while, so naturally — thoughts about a new face start to present themselves to some people,” said Gwede.
He added that while this is a democratic debate, it might not be strategic to seek to amplify it before 2018.
“This is because the MDC Alliance talks have effectively, for now, shelved it by endorsing Tsvangirai as the presidential candidate.
“Who knows, Tsvangirai might win the 2018 elections and the debate becomes irrelevant for some years until his term limits lapse,” opined Gwede.
Gwede said many people in the MDC Alliance have started to appreciate that fighting a fully-fledged dictatorship is not a perfectly- simulated computer game.
“It is a hard walk to freedom. So hard decisions like the opposition succession ahead of 2018 will need to be made if they become necessary, yes, but only after hard and long thinking without being trigger happy.” – The Standard