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MDC embraces restaurant democracy

By Pedzisai Ruhanya

EVENTS that took place at the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC women’s assembly congress in Bulawayo need thorough interrogation in ord

er to appreciate the capacity of the opposition party to handle national public affairs in a democratic manner in the event that it assumes power next year.

The issues at stake include the handling of the women’s assembly congress process, Tsvangirai’s lackadaisical approach to constitutional matters and whether or not the decision to dissolve the women’s assembly was in line with party policy or otherwise.

Firstly, the statement issued by the MDC faction’s secretary general Tendai Biti that the MDC had won against Lucia Matibenga in the High Court was glaringly misleading.

The High Court ruling did not endorse the decision by the standing committee but made a compromise ruling which said that the women’s assembly’s congress should deal with the matter. This means that the Bulawayo congress was supposed to dissolve or confirm Matibenga’s leadership.

For reasons best known to those who want to oust Matibenga outside the provisions of the MDC constitution and more critically the High Court, that was not done. It’s a shame that such things are being done by people who purport to adhere to the concept of the rule of law.

Delegates to that event were hardly the kind of people that can preside over such a matter especially given the outbursts by that faction when it held its party congress in March 2006. During the time, we were told that 3 000 people attended the congress and if among those thousands less than 200 people were from the women’s assembly then somewhere along the line the truth was not told.

The secrecy of the congress also points to an illicit meeting meant to confirm Theresa Makone as the chairperson of the women’s wing. It is inconceivable that a popular party such as the MDC can hold a national congress in a small restaurant and then declare the process legitimate and binding.

More so, if the MDC leadership was not supporting one of the candidates, why was the venue of the meeting secret to Matibenga and not Makone and why was Matibenga barred and not Makone?

If Makone was popular why did the MDC leadership fail to have a transparent process where the women themselves would oust Matibenga?

Given these circumstances, the public deserves to know what Makone has done to Tsvangirai to make him sacrifice his political career and bring discomfort in the party ahead of a crucial election against Zanu PF dictatorship.

From my reading of events, I am persuaded to think that the decision against Matibenga remains unlawful according to the MDC’s constitution. The High Court confirmed that by asking for the matter to be brought to the women’s congress.

The report of the subcommittee which investigated the business of the women’s assembly did not recommend the dissolution of that body pointing to the fact that someone in the top leadership of the party is responsible. More so Tsvangirai’s reluctance to follow legal party processes indicates that he supports the ousting of Matibenga and the elevation of Makone through unconstitutional means.

Even if the subcommittee had recommended dissolution or was empowered to dissolve, due process would demand that the committee report to the body that gave it the power for endorsement.

In this case the subcommittee did not report to the party’s national council for endorsement or otherwise.

In my view, the decision to dissolve the women’s assembly is not constitutional and therefore null and void because it was not confirmed by the national council which is the party’s highest policy decision-making body between congresses.

The subcommittee is not an executive body of the MDC and cannot make executive decisions.

Tsvangirai should understand the feeling of his colleagues in all the party structures who are being sidelined because if he is not careful the boat can be rocked again.

All these matters bring to what I see as Tsvangirai’s lackadaisical approach to constitutional matters related to the administration of his party.

I have difficulties in appreciating why an opposition political leader fighting an oppressive system such as the one in our country would not appreciate the magnitude of the crisis he is creating for himself and his party.

Given the current political crisis in Zimbabwe, it is common cause that Zimbabweans would want a president different from the way President Robert Mugabe is running state affairs. They expect to have a new president who respects the rule of law, shuns nepotism and discourages vote buying in the conduct of electoral matters be it at party or national level.

Zimbabweans are very worried about the manner in which elections are administered in this country. They have very sad memories about how the 2000 and 2002 parliamentary and presidential elections respectively were rigged by the incumbent regime.

It becomes frightening when an opposition leader like Tsvangirai who has suffered a lot at the hands of Zanu PF through beatings, harassment, electoral rigging and an attempted murder case in 1997 does not see anything wrong in the manner things are developing in the MDC. My role wrongly or correctly is to critique such behaviour with a view of making sure that the kind of society that we seek to create from the mess that Zanu PF has put this country in does not reproduce itself. In short I would be ashamed to have another Mugabe in a post Zanu PF political dispensation.

Most critically for Tsvangirai and his associates, the current Matibenga debacle is viewed as a national mirror on the capacity of his group to resolve internal conflicts and their capacity to administer national affairs in a prudent way.

There are some cases such as the Matibenga saga where I think it was not necessary for the MDC to approach the courts without exhausting all the internal remedies in the party. In this matter, it is my view that the Matibenga saga was supposed to be addressed using party structures such as taking the matter to the national executive and finally the national council. In the event that all these party organs fail to resolve the matter then Tsvangirai as the party leader should act as the last court of appeal outside of congress to resolve party differences.

In my view, this has not happened because Tsvangirai becomes involved in otherwise petty issues at early stages. This kind of entanglement makes Tsvangirai an interested party to the extent that aggrieved parties in conflicts within his party cannot see him as a neutral arbiter.

It is now common cause in the MDC that this is done through the unelected officials which the other faction’s secretary general Professor Welshman Ncube prefers to call the “kitchen cabinet”.

At the centre of most critical problems I have heard and witnessed that this group of unelected officials is made up of very close allies of Tsvangirai.

If indeed it is true that Tsvangirai is now a captive to the kitchen cabinet, then those who wish him well in his political quest to be the next President of Zimbabwe must rescue him quickly.

* Pedzisai Ruhanya is a human rights researcher.

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