Dumisani Muleya/Ray Matikinye
WARRING Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders met yesterday in a bid to narrow the rift, but failed to find a solution beyond a tentative truce.
MDC top six leaders met at a secret location in Harare to work out a solution to the crisis which has left the party teetering on the brink of a break-up but in the end only agreed to stop “acrimonious comments on the dispute”.
The top leaders will meet again on Monday to seek common ground and the way forward.
The party is locked in a vicious power struggle triggered by the dispute over whether or not to participate in next month’s senate election.
University of Zimbabwe’s Institute for Development Studies lecturer and civic activist Professor Brian Raftopoulos chaired the meeting which was attended by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, his deputy Gibson Sibanda, chairman Isaac Matongo, secretary-general Welshman Ncube and his deputy Gift Chimanikire and treasurer Fletcher Dulini Ncube.
After heated exchanges, the MDC leaders emerged with a brief press statement read out to journalists by Tsvangirai, flanked by Sibanda, who last week accused his boss of “wilfully violating the party constitution”.
Sources said yesterday’s meeting turned out to be a battle of wills between Tsvangirai and Professor Ncube. It was said in the heat of battle, Tsvangirai accused Ncube and party agriculture secretary Renson Gasela of working with the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) during their treason trial that involved dodgy Canadian political consultant Ari Ben-Menashe.
Ncube and Gasela were also accused in the trial but were cleared earlier than Tsvangirai.
Source said Tsvangirai accused Ncube of destroying the MDC secretariat. “The meeting became a contest between Tsvangirai and Professor Ncube,” a source said. “Tsvangirai made a series of serious allegations, about nine of them, mostly attacking Ncube.”
However, sources said Ncube fired back, ridiculing Tsvangirai’s claims that he was a CIO agent during the treason trial and that the secretariat had collapsed. Both the Tsvangirai and Ncube camps think of each other as CIO agents.
“Ncube described Tsvangirai’s remarks as ridiculous. He said Tsvangirai had staged a coup against the MDC constitution, resorted to threats and violence and abandoning the party’s found principles,” said the souces.
They said Ncube complained about Tsvangirai’s alleged “mafia kitchen cabinet comprising unelected cronies”. It was understood Ncube also said he built the MDC secretariat after taking over from Tsvangirai, initially interim MDC secretary-general, when there was nothing on the ground.
Tsvangirai told journalists the MDC leaders met, “taking into consideration the current crisis in the party” and acknowledged its “founding principles” and recognised its main objective “to confront and replace the (President Robert) Mugabe dictatorship”.
He said MDC leaders also agreed to meet again on Monday; to desist from acrimonious comments on the dispute, refrain from threats, intimidation and violence and refer any solution that might come out of the talks to the national executive council.
The MDC was rocked by intra-party intimidation as the two factions went head-to-head across the country fighting over the senate poll.
Sources said the outcome of the meeting represented a “major climb down” for Tsvangirai who had rejected dialogue over the squabbling.
Tsvangirai last week refused to meet his colleagues and snubbed mediation efforts by South African President Thabo Mbeki. After meeting Sibanda on Wednesday, Tsvangirai failed to meet his top six. Last Friday he also failed to attend a meeting with Mbeki in Pretoria. Only Sibanda, Welshman Ncube, Chimanikire, and Dulini Ncube attended.
However, after suffering major setbacks in his bid to crush what he sees as a revolt against his leadership – although his rivals say he is the rebel because he staged a coup against the party constitution – Tsvangirai climbed down and agreed to meet his colleagues under Raftopoulos’ mediation.
After he recently pulled rank and overruled his party’s national executive council three weeks ago on the election dispute, Tsvangirai tried to block candidates from registering. He also failed to convene a meeting of the party’s national executive committee last Saturday.
This led to the deepening of the crisis and his admission that his party was facing a “political crisis which needs a political solution”. However, only last week Tsvangirai reportedly told Mbeki in a telephone conversation that there was no crisis in the MDC but a “storm in a tea cup”.