HARARE – Sanity could soon return to the country’s largest opposition party as the quarrelling parties — MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy, Thokozani Khupe — signalled their desire yesterday to smoke a peace pipe to avert a split that might diminish their prospects of winning the 2018 polls, the Daily News can report.
Tsvangirai has not been seeing eye-to-eye with his long-serving deputy after the MDC president bulldozed his way into signing a coalition deal with a coterie of opposition parties that include his former secretaries-general — Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti — whom he had fallen out with in 2005 and 2014, respectively.
Khupe, whose grievances have resonated well with influential MDC figures in the southern part of Zimbabwe, has been boycotting meetings called by Tsvangirai to get him to reconsider his decision.
She was also conspicuous by her absence at Saturday’s rally where the former prime minister in the inclusive government launched the MDC Alliance — formed on August 5.
In the wake of the growing chasm between Tsvangirai and the MDC leadership in the Matabeleland region, it had been feared that the party would disintegrate for the third time in 12 years, with Tsvangirai risking losing his popularity in the second largest city.
Bulawayo has consistently voted for Tsvangirai’s party since its formation in 1999, and only broke the trend when the MDC leadership took the decision to boycott all elections preceding the 2013 ballot to press for the levelling of the electoral playing field.
Since then, Zanu PF has been winning all the by-elections in Bulawayo and elsewhere.
The Daily News can, however, reveal that none of the quarrelling MDC parties is interested in pursuing their dispute to breaking point. Efforts are, therefore, now underway to mend the rift, which has excited the MDC’s main rival, Zanu PF.
Sources privy to the dispute said both sides had realised that none of them would benefit from a split on the eve of a major election, in which the MDC needs to be at its strongest to fight a well-funded Zanu PF which, apart from enjoying the power of incumbency, has the electoral playing field tilted in its favour.
Nonetheless, each side is hoping to extract maximum concessions from their engagements to justify the efforts they have invested in sustaining the impasse thus far.
It was revealed to the Daily News that Khupe, who is being backed by the party’s national chairman, Lovemore Moyo, and Abednico Bhebhe — the MDC’s organising secretary — wants Tsvangirai to declare seats in Bulawayo a no-go area for MDC Alliance partners, while the former trade unionist is not keen on going back on the undertakings he made with his Alliance partners.
Moyo, the most senior MDC official in Khupe’s camp, told the Daily News yesterday that they were keen on meeting Tsvangirai anytime soon to deal with the burning issues rattling the 18-year-old party, which has its roots in trade unionism.
“I think it’s an easy problem, which I think as MDC, we are going to solve soon so that we move forward. We made our efforts to meet the president and we hope we are going to meet him soon. I cannot confirm the day but we are going to meet him,” he said.
“I hope there will be a meeting of minds because the leadership must unite; we must fulfil the mandate of (the) 2014 national congress. People who were elected (at that congress) must unite and make sure that we deliver”, he added.
Moyo allayed fears that the MDC could be on the brink of yet another debilitating split, the third one since its formation in 1999.
“There will be no split. The disagreements are just something we want to correct. As a leadership, we have raised our concerns. We need to solve these issues and move on. We want to form a government of the people in 2018. I think it’s a problem that can be resolved,” said Moyo.
“Our disagreements were on the issues to do with the distribution of seats to Alliance partners and some clauses. We must make sure that we transform the country economically,” Moyo added.
Tsvangirai spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka confirmed that his boss was ready to meet with Khupe and her group.
He said: “The president is open and ready for a dialogue. He is a man who wants dialogues but for the issue of the meetings we cannot discuss it in the media”.
Tsvangirai was selected to lead the MDC Alliance on August 5 at an event boycotted by Khupe, Moyo and Bhebhe.
The MDC Alliance includes the People’s Democratic Party led by Biti; Ncube’s MDC; Transform Zimbabwe headed by Jacob Ngarivhume; Zanu Ndonga headed by Denford Masiyarira and the Multi-Racial Christian Democrats led by Mathias Guchutu.
Both Biti and Ncube are former secretaries-general of a united MDC. Biti had turned his back on Tsvangirai in 2014, while Ncube was the first to rock the boat in 2005.
Amid the latest bickering in the MDC, officials in the party (excluding Moyo and Bhebhe) have not pronounced themselves clearly on whether they are with Tsvangirai or Khupe because they are all weighing their options.
With the exception of Tsvangirai, whose path to take on President Robert Mugabe at the forthcoming polls has been cleared by the MDC Alliance partners, the rest of the officials in his party risk being pushed down the pecking order as the signatories to the pact start operationalising the Memorandum of Understanding signing last month.
United Kingdom-based political analyst and former advisor to Tsvangirai, Alex Magaisa, opined yesterday that while some in the MDC saw coalitions as opportunities “others might see them as impediments to their ambitions”.
“If a possible coalition deal is seen by one faction as favouring the interests of a rival faction, that faction will work actively to stifle the deal. Alternatively, the faction will simply disengage and not support the coalition,” Magaisa said, adding that it is not surprising that there is a faction within the MDC not amenable to the alliance.
He said the MDC electoral success in Matabeleland was often credited to the party leadership that remained with Tsvangirai when others broke ranks.
“The battle is often framed as between those who stayed and remained loyal to Tsvangirai and the party and those who deserted and broke away in 2005 and 2014.
“At a regional level, those who remained do not see any value in those who left. Those who remained regard the return and accommodation of those who left as a betrayal of their loyalty. It is worse if those who left return to occupy more senior roles than those who remained,” he said.
Professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London Stephen Chan said this was so mainly because Ncube’s influence in Matabeleland region was minimal compared to Khupe’s.
“If Khupe breaks away, the new MDC Alliance is dead in the water in Matabeleland,” Chan warned.
“Ncube cannot take those seats for the Alliance. The manner in which Tsvangirai traded away the seats of his loyalists without serious face-to-face negotiations with them, followed by someone close to him sending party thugs to beat up Khupe, beggared description.
“The only way he can save the western part of his party is by making peace with Khupe as a greater good than entering an alliance with Ncube”. – Daily News