SHORTLY after taking to the podium, following hours of being showered with praise in song and speeches, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai exercised his authority when he ordered party members not clad in party regalia to do so. In no time there was a sea of red T-shirts in the hall.
The venue was Andy Millar Hall at the Exhibition Park, Harare, where over 500 delegates had crammed in to attend the partyâ€™s ninth annual conference.
Among some high-ranking party officials that were caught unawares by Tsvangiraiâ€™s instruction were party secretary of Defence and co-Home Affairs minister Giles Mutsekwa, Science and Technology minister Heneri Dzinotyiweyi and party policy secretary Eddie Cross.
Despite complying with the instruction, the party members saw this gesture as an icebreaker by their party leader before officially opening the conference.Â
Having had a turbulent relationship lately with civic organisations and white commercial farmers who have propped up the MDC since its infancy, party chairman Lovemore Moyo acknowledged the presence of Commercial Farmers Union president Trevor Gifford and National Constitutional Assembly chairman Lovemore Madhuku.
Although not present during the opening of the conference, the MDC-T also welcomed former United Kingdom legislator Kate Hoey. For a party that has lately exposed the simmering tension within the inclusive government, Tsvangirai needed more friends than foes.
â€œThe coming years will test our strength and friendship. They will test our commitment to our ideals as the journey ahead will not be easy but it is a journey that we must complete,â€ he said.
â€œIt is these ideals that tell me that a land reform programme must empower the majority of Zimbabweans without victimising any of our citizens and it must ensure food self-sufficiency. It cannot be based on racist persecutions that leave productive land fallow and our people hungry.â€
After Tsvangiraiâ€™s remarks, Gifford told the Zimbabwe Independent on the sidelines of the conference that â€œtwo thirds of those (farmers) removed from farms no longer wish to farm but require a dignified exit where full compensation for losses and damages are paid according to international lawâ€.
At a tea break, delegates were provided with a breakfast served by a local hotel. The quality of party regalia and the food served pointed to substantial funds splashed on this annual meeting designed to provide a reality check for the decade-old party.
Seemingly countering threats of discrediting the constitutional reform process now in place following uproar among some civic society organisations, Tsvangirai warned that not taking part in the reform exercise could be self-destructive for some organisations.
â€œThere is no point in emphasising the importance of process instead of content at this strategic moment; this could be suicidal,â€ Tsvangirai said.
A day after stating his position on the controversial constitution-making process, the MDC-T softened its position in an attempt to mend relations with civil society partners.
It declared in its resolutions: â€œNow therefore it is resolved that the conference calls for the transitional government to take on board concerns by the civic society on the process and ownership of the constitution-making process initiated in the Global Political Agreement. The party shall actively participate and mobilise actively in the constitution-making process and further more shall work with civic society in reaching some understanding on the process.â€
The September 15 power-sharing agreement tasks a 25-member parliamentary team formed earlier this year to spearhead the reform exercise against a backdrop of resistance from civic society organisations such as the National Constitutional Assembly led by Madhuku.
â€œConcerned and frustratedâ€ by delays by the new government to convene a meeting of the new National Security Council, of which Tsvangirai would be a member, the MDC-T conference demanded the transitional governmentÂ â€œmove urgentlyâ€ to ensure transformation of state institutions. The council replaced the Ian Smith-initiated Joint Operations Command which was attended by service chiefs.
The MDC-T leadership demanded the immediate resignation of central bank chief Gideon Gono and Attorney-General Johannes Tomana in the â€œpublic interestâ€.
The dispute over the reappointment of the two has been referred to regional mediators that brokered the power-sharing pact between Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara of the MDC.
The MDC challenged government to urgently address the welfare of victims of politically-motivated violence despite a lack of â€œlegal framework for the national healingâ€ process.
Â â€œNoting the reference of GPA outstanding issues to Sadc, conference calls for the immediate convening of an extraordinary summit of Sadc to urgently deal with the outstanding issues,â€ the partyâ€™s resolutions read.
While MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti, backed by the partyâ€™s top leadership, was announcing the resolutions to the press, party supporters were toyi-toying at the Glamis Stadium which is adjacent the hall.
Most of the supporters anticipated an update from Tsvangirai regarding the inclusive government.
Unfortunately for them that was not to be.
A lunchtime rally that was scheduled after the two day conference was cancelled.
BY BERNARD MPOFU