THE battle to control the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC faction’s women’s assembly remained open after the party’s national executive coun
cil refused at the weekend to endorse the election of Theresa Makone to replace Lucia Matibenga.
Sources in the party said at the Saturday meeting the national council forced Tsvangirai to shelve the women’s assembly debate following concerns about the “Bulawayo restaurant” elections, plus allegations that Makone had splashed thousands of South African rands bribing senior party officials in all provinces to vote for her. The allegations have however not been substantiated.
Tsvangirai had before Saturday’s indaba met provincial leaders and the party’s parliamentary caucus to rally them to endorse Makone’s election.
The MDC leader had tried to race through Makone’s election in his presidential report, telling party officials that the matter was now “water under the bridge”. But the officials insisted on a full debate since the item was on the agenda.
Makone was asked to leave the meeting in a clear message that the national council did not recognise her election. Matibenga, who had indicated that she would attend the meeting, was asked to stay away.
Several senior MDC officials then took turns to attack the process that secured Makone’s election, itself a condemnation of Tsvangirai, who has staked his political career on dumping Matibenga for one of his friends.
Makone, whose husband Ian is one of Tsvangirai’s top advisers and financiers, was controversially elected as the head of the women’s assembly to replace Matibenga.
Matibenga’s supporters said her ouster was unprocedural and unconstitutional, accusing Tsvangirai of failing to uphold the party’s internal procedures.
Nelson Chamisa, the party’s spokesman, emerged as a surprise opponent of Matibenga’s ouster during the meeting. Chamisa was joined by former Harare mayor, Elias Mudzuri, deputy secretary-general Tapiwa Mashakada, Kwekwe MP Blessing Chebundo and Thamsanqa Mahlangu, the youth leader.
Several other senior officials have thrown their weight behind the “Friends of Lucia Campaign”, which has been a rallying point for Matibenga’s supporters.
Following the tension-filled deliberations, the national council agreed to reopen debate on Makone’s election on November 11, when the national chairman Lovemore Moyo would be expected to present a report on Theresa Makone’s controversial election.
Moyo missed Saturday’s meeting because he was in South Africa, where the MDC is involved in talks with the ruling Zanu PF.
However, impeccable sources said the proposed Sunday meeting had since been shelved and the matter would be deliberated on at another national executive council meeting in December.
Chamisa said the party resolved to put the issue of the women’s assembly aside and wait for the report from Moyo.
“The national chairman will compile a report about what happened in Bulawayo regarding the women’s assembly and we expect that report in a few days’ time,” Chamisa said. “However, there is consensus on the way forward and the party will soon make its position known to the public.”
Non-governmental organisations who observed the restaurant elections said the entire electoral process of the women’s assembly was severely flawed and could not have constituted a legitimate process in terms of the MDC’s internal party procedures, basic electoral norms and the Sadc guidelines regarding elections.
Officials supporting Tsvangirai said the dissolution of the women’s assembly was justified because Matibenga had failed to lead the most important organ of the party as shown by the nomination results.
“Following the recommendations to reform the organ, the best was to ask the affected people to seek a fresh mandate,” one of the officials said. “Makone was then nominated for the post by 11 provinces while Matibenga was nominated by a single province.”
The officials also alleged that since the beginning of the year, Matibenga failed to organise a single meeting for the women’s assembly, seriously crippling the party’s drive to harness the majority of the voters. Women constitute 52% of the voters in Zimbabwe.
The officials also alleged that when the talks started, the MDC created four committees to research, advise and make recommendations to the negotiating team and Matibenga was made leader of one of the committees.
“Her committee is the only one which failed to come up with a report and recommendations to the negotiating team,” the official added.