The party last week issued a strong statement that it had set up an independent committee to investigate an incident of violence and intimidation that had occurred at Harvest House –– the MDC headquarters –– about a fortnight ago.
MDC director-general Toendepi Shone and security director Chris Dhlamini were assaulted by youths allegedly belonging to a faction in the party led by Tsvangirai. The case against the directors, according to media reports, was that they belong to another faction in the party headed by secretary-general Tendai Biti. The Biti faction was reportedly positioning itself to land key posts at the party’s congress next year.
What is disturbing is the culture of intolerance that has been creeping into the MDC since 2001. Some of the party’s youths have turned into hoodlums who are intolerant of divergent political views.
To make matters worse, over the years the party leadership has done little to stop violence within the party. Independent committees to investigate earlier cases were set up, but nothing concrete was done to end the culture of impunity.
Several commissions of enquiry into violence within the party were established since 2001 when then MDC lawmakers and activists, among them, Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Gabriel Chaibva, Edwin Mushoriwa and Janah Ncube were assaulted by hired youths during a Harare provincial meeting.
There were other commissions of inquiry into the September 2004 attempted murder of then security director Peter Guhu and the assault of the then Bulilimamangwe MP Moses Mzila Ndlovu and other party members.
When in July 2006, Trudy Stevenson, now ambassador to Senegal, was attacked in Mabvuku by MDC youths, the party was quick to establish an independent internal inquiry chaired by Advocate Happiaus Zhou. The committee also consisted of two prominent lawyers, Irene Petras of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Kay Ncube of Gill Godlonton & Gerrans while Kudakwashe Matibiri was the secretary.
What I found unacceptable was that when the findings of all the commissions I alluded to above were revealed, the MDC expelled some of the youths involved, but some of them found their way back into the party because they would have participated in the orgy of violence on behalf of the powerful and might in the party.
The founding legal secretary of the MDC, David Coltart, in an article he penned giving reasons why he did not join the Tsvangirai-led MDC chronicled how the party had adopted violence to deal with dissent.
He wrote: “Zimbabwe is afflicted with a disease akin to alcoholism, namely endemic violence. What attracted me most to the MDC was its commitment to breaking this cycle of violence by using non-violent means to achieve its political objectives. I was also impressed by its commitment to end impunity in Zimbabwe.
“Accordingly, the attempt by some MDC youths to murder MDC director for security, Peter Guhu, on the 28th September 2004 in Harvest House was deeply shocking, because it breached a fundamental tenet of what we stood for. Even worse were the subsequent revelations made at the enquiry into the Guhu incident that senior ranking MDC officials and employees were either involved or sympathetic to the youths. No action was taken against any of those responsible for this violence and in that inaction we saw for the first time a culture of impunity developing within the MDC itself, which in some respects was the worst thing of all.”
Coltart added: “Those responsible for the September 2004 violence were not immediately disciplined and it came as no surprise when the same youths were used to seriously assault MDC staff members in mid-May 2005. A further enquiry was held and its report was presented to the National Council meeting held on the 25th June 2005. It was resolved that one member of staff found responsible for directing the youths be expelled.
“The youths themselves had already been expelled in late May by the Management Committee and the expulsion of the youths was confirmed. That was undoubtedly progress but regrettably it was clear from the evidence that other senior members of the MDC and staff members were also involved or sympathetic towards the youths. Before a full debate about their fate could be held the meeting was ended much to the dissatisfaction of many, including myself.”
My point in quoting Coltart is to demonstrate how the MDC has allowed a culture of impunity, which if not nipped in the bud may have disastrous consequences for the party.
We have seen how violence has discredited and alienated Zanu PF from the electorate. It is my
hope that the committee set up last week will come up with stern measures against the perpetrators of violence. The inquiry should not be a ruse this time around.