FIERCE jostling for power has reportedly erupted in the opposition MDC-T, as party hawks were lobbying for ailing opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to step down on health grounds and hand over power to his youthful deputy, Nelson Chamisa, NewsDay has established.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA
The opposition party was thrown into a panic mode over the weekend after Tsvangirai, who is battling cancer of the colon, was air-lifted to South Africa early on Friday morning as his health took a sudden plunge.
Chamisa, who was catapulted to the position of vice-president by Tsvangirai last year, was according to insiders, a front-runner to take over from his boss, NewsDay heard.
“There are calls within the party and among our supporters that Tsvangirai should stay at home, rest and relax because the extra work he is doing is taking a heavy toll on his health. The emergency which saw him being airlifted to South Africa left the party in panic,” the source said.
According to analysts, Tsvangirai had, of late, been grooming Chamisa to take over the reins of power, going with him on international trips where they have met foreign leaders, partners and potential funders.
“Chamisa has been Tsvangirai’s right, hand man over the past year. The two travelled together to Ghana
early this year for the swearing-in of President Nana Akufo-Addo, before going to Kenya where they met [opposition leader] Raila Odinga. Chamisa was also left in charge at the MDC Alliance meeting in Kadoma when Tsvangirai’s health took a nasty turn [last week],” the source said.
Chamisa, an advocate, turns 40 next year in time to present his nomination papers as a presidential candidate, who will face Zanu PF’s soon to be 94-year-old candidate, President Robert Mugabe.
But, both Chamisa and MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu yesterday dismissed Tsvangirai’s succession reports as “ill-timed and malicious”.
“There is nothing to take over. If anything, we need a take-off, president Tsvangirai is well. He is our best foot forward in 2018, he is the popular candidate, he deserves all the support by all of us in the movement and in the country to deliver victory in the 2018 watershed elections,” Chamisa said.
He added: “So, instead of people calling for him to step down [if ever there is anything like that happening], I think the correct message is to ask him to step up and to encourage every Zimbabwean to register to vote so that we deliver a decisive blow to poverty and backwardness.”
Gutu weighed in saying: “President Morgan Tsvangirai is doing fine. Why should we even talk about succession when he has been endorsed as our presidential candidate by the MDC Alliance? We are now focused on mobilising our supporters to register to vote in their millions. At the same time, we are also strenuously pushing for the adoption of electoral reforms that will ensure that next year’s elections are free and fair.”
Gutu also said: “Whoever is making those calls is motivated by malice and ill-will. We will not even dignify such rubbish by offering a substantive response.”
Tsvangirai’s other vice-presidents Elias Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe denied that the party was in a panic mode.
“The president is doing alright, I last spoke to him this afternoon and he will be back to lead the party and the alliance. So I don’t know why people are speculating on leadership change. I don’t want to comment on that speculation save to say it’s their democratic right to do as such,” Mudzuri said, adding he had just met Tsvangirai in South Africa and got assurances that the MDC-T leader was in good health.
Khupe, who of late has clashed with Tsvangirai over the party’s participation in the MDC Alliance, declined to comment over the issue.
Academic and activist Blessing Vava, however, urged the MDC–T to look beyond Tsvangirai and begin a process of leadership renewal.
“I think the MDC-T now needs to look beyond Tsvangirai, he has done his part and he needs to rest. His latest images show that he is deteriorating, he should consider his health more than anything else. The electoral period is rigorous and intense and it’s a matter of concern if he is going to pull through, but whoever should takeover should go through democratic processes and not by direct appointment,” Vava said.
The succession issue has been a major factor in the negotiations between MDC-T and Joice Mujuru’s National People’s Party (NPP), with Tsvangirai retaining leadership of the MDC Alliance.
“He has been clear that in the event that he becomes indisposed then his deputy, who was supposed to be Joice Mujuru, can’t take over the presidency. Instead, it should be taken by someone from his party and we clearly did not agree with that,” a source at Mujuru’s NPP said.
Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party was, however, optimistic that Tsvangirai will pull through and lead the alliance to victory.
“He looks ready to manage. We all have our days, remember he is contesting against a man who is almost a century old. We need to make sure we support him to get to the elections and beyond as best we can and we will leave the rest to the Almighty God. The same who has taken him to this point and will not abandon him at this hour,” PDP spokesperson Jacob Mafume said. – NewsDay