Talks spark new divisions in MDC

Augustine Mukaro



THE secrecy surrounding the ongoing Sadc-initiated talks between Zanu PF and the MDC has sparked serious divisions in the opposition faction led by Morg

an Tsvangirai.


Sources in the party said the divisions might culminate in another split.


The seemingly irreparable differences erupted over failure to provide feedback on the talks to party structures, resulting in senior officials claiming they have been sidelined and used to endorse Constitutional Amendment 18 to benefit a small clique.


The situation was worsened by alleged disregard of the constitution and unprocedural decisions by Tsvangirai that have resulted in a court battle with ousted MDC women’s assembly national chairperson, Lucia Matibenga.


Senior opposition officials said Tsvangirai and MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti have kept developments on the talks a closely guarded secret, raising suspicion amongst the party leadership.


“There is no proper briefing about the talks,” one senior official said. “Biti and Tsvangirai are driving the talks. They have become an entity on their own without recognising the consultation and feedback process initially agreed on.”


The secrecy has resulted in serious disgruntlement within the MDC.


MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa refused to comment on the allegations, referring all questions to Biti.


One senior member from the now dissolved women’s assembly said the talks had become a secretive arrangement so anyone asking about developments is alienated.


“We simply want to be appraised on the developments on the talks front,” she said. “There are people who have seen what’s in these talks for themselves and are now pushing that agenda without fulfilling the agreed procedures.”


The officials said efforts to silence the growing concerns about how the talks were being handled, resulted in the dissolution of the women’s assembly, an unprocedural decision which violated the MDC constitution and sparked an uproar in opposition ranks. It has now spilled into the courts.


Tsvangirai’s decision was a clear disregard of the recommendations of the party’s commission of inquiry set up to investigate the “dysfunctionality” of the women’s assembly. The commission, chaired by Sam Sipepa Nkomo with Sessel Zvidzai and Blessing Chebundo as commissioners, recommended that the assembly be “reformed”.


“For the process of reformation to materialise, there is need to establish a team of two or three individuals to assist/mentor and monitor the assembly for a period of three months, thereof a final decision will be made by the party,” the report said.


“During the period of three months the commission recommends that the women’s assembly should with the assistance of the monitoring team produce a strategic work plan, organise a conflict resolution and team-building workshop for the assembly and encourage the party leadership to change its attitude towards the assembly.”


To the chagrin of fellow MDC leaders, Tsvangirai allegedly used a standing committee to disregard the recommendations and to dissolve the women’s assembly.


Matibenga has since taken the case to the High Court seeking to bar the MDC from holding an extraordinary congress on Sunday that is supposed to elect a new executive.


Contacted for comment, Matibenga declined to give details on the developments saying that would prejudice her case already before the courts. “My case has been set for tomorrow (Friday) in the chambers so any comments would be sub judice.”


On Monday papers were served on Tsvangirai and his top party officials. Matibenga is arguing that the decision to dissolve the women’s executive failed to respect the party’s constitution and on that basis it is null and void.


She also argues that the standing committee that dissolved her executive had no power to do so and was only supposed to make recommendations to the national or executive council.


“The women’s assembly constitution, clause 622, says any changes in the make up of the women’s assembly shall only occur after an extraordinary congress either by the national council of the party or the national council of the women,” Matibenga argues in her court papers.


Although Matibenga is free to run for re-election, there are allegations of vote-buying levelled at Theresa Makone, the wife of Tsvangirai’s advisor Ian Makone.


Theresa wants to chair the women’s assembly.


Allegations of a possible vote manipulation emanated from an alleged bias in the selection of delegates to the congress in which only 230 women out of a total 3 000 delegates are being invited.


* Meanwhile, the MDC said it had secured a promise from the government to investigate charges of escalating violence against its supporters.


Following Wednesday’s meeting with Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi, senior MDC officials said they had been assured that the state does not regard them as “enemies” and their allegations of renewed violence would be taken seriously.


“In his own words, he said, ‘we are not enemies, we are just competitors’,” MDC secretary for home affairs, Sam Sipepa Nkomo, told journalists.


“He assured us that once the investigations are over he will call us to make a full explanation. We are happy that the minister himself now has evidence of political violence after we furnished him with the evidence.”


Chamisa, who was part of the delegation, said “there seems to be commitment on the part of the minister judging from his body language to deal with violence. We hope he won’t indicate left and turn right.”


The oppostion claims that the violence has not only continued but has also increased against rank-and-file members in recent weeks, a charge disputed by the authorities.


The MDC demanded that the minister should make a public statement denouncing violence and punish perpetrators regardless of their political affiliation. They also demanded that the minister should make a public statement that the police should not be partisan.


Nkomo said they suggested the formation of a liaison committee that would share information on violence. But it is not clear what the government’s next step will be.