DEPOSED MDC-M leader Arthur Mutambara was reportedly offered a smooth exit package six months before the party’s controversial congress earlier this month but rejected it, insisting that the party must not “subvert democracy”, it emerged this week.
A briefing of the Zimbabwe Independent by senior MDC-M (now MDC-N) officials this week shows that Mutambara was offered a “soft landing” by the party’s new secretary general Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga mid last year. But he eventually refused to take the offer after initially accepting it.
The offer made to Mutambara by Misihairabwi-Mushonga in June last year was that the MDC-M leader would, after congress, become deputy president of the party and remain as deputy prime minister in the inclusive government.
“Sometime last year, after realising that Mutambara was not going to win because party structures were geared against him and in an attempt to ensure his dignified exit, we offered him a deal to become deputy president after congress and to remain as deputy prime minister,” a senior party official said.
“Misihairabwi-Mushonga went to meet him and discuss the issue. Mutambara initially agreed and said he wanted to talk to Welshman Ncube about it.
Ncube and Misihairabwi-Mushonga then went to him. When they got there Mutambara said he wanted to discuss the issue one-on-one with Ncube and in that meeting he changed his position. Mutambara said he was a democrat and would not want to subvert the democratic process in the party. He rejected the deal and said he would contest for the party leadership in the next congress. They agreed whoever loses would accept the result and allow the party to move forward.”
Mutambara, Ncube and Misihairabwi-Mushonga were not available for comment this week. Mutambara and Misihairabwi-Mushonga were apparently out of the country, while Ncube could not be located.
Ncube squared up with Mutambara before their recent congress and defeated his former boss to assume the party leadership. A group of disgruntled party officials are however challenging Ncube’s election and subsequent actions in the courts. Ncube and his party have now redeployed Mutambara in government to become minister of Regional Integration and International Cooperation.
Ncube, former Bulawayo East MP and party secretary-general, was redeployed by his party to become deputy prime minister, while Misihairabwi-Mushonga, an ex-Glen Norah MP and party deputy secretary-general, was proposed to become Industry and Trade minister.
Another MDC-N leader said after Mutambara’s meeting with Ncube to discuss the leadership issue in the run-up to congress, the robotics professor formed his campaign team in a bid to retain his position and fight off a challenge from his rival. In response Ncube, a professor of law, stepped up his campaign against Mutambara.
“The power struggle then became real and serious after the deal fell through. Mutambara’s campaign team worked hard around the country and party structures and was convinced he would win. Ncube’s team also intensified its campaign and believed he would win,” the official said.
“Both candidates, Mutambara and Ncube, thought they had a good chance, although Ncube’s team thought they would easily win because their candidate had been working with structures for much longer than Mutambara.”
Party officials said the battle between Ncube and Mutambara had been going for a long time. They said Ncube was sceptical about Mutambara from the beginning but had no choice at the time after the split of the original MDC.
“For the record Mutambara was not brought in by Ncube,” an official said.
“It was Job Sikhala and Gabriel Chaibva who brought him to the party just before the 2006 congress. What happened was that the late Gibson Sibanda and Ncube were offered the opportunity to lead the party and refused on grounds that a Ndebele could not lead the party because of the ethnic demographics of the country.
“Chaibva and Sikhala said that was a false assumption because Joshua Nkomo once became the undisputed leader of the nationalist movement but after Sibanda and Ncube flatly refused, they came up with Mutambara’s name.”
It was said that Ncube was reluctant but Chaibva and Sikhala — later supported by Misihairabwi-Mushonga — pushed for Mutambara. Ncube gave in and he was assigned later to contact Mutambara who was in the United States at the time.
“Sikhala and Chaibva were the ones who had contact with Mutambara”, another party official said. “So they gave Ncube Mutambara’s contact details in the United States and the two later arranged a meeting in South Africa to deal with the issue. Mutambara was clear from the beginning that he wanted to situate the MDC-M within a pan-Africanist context because he thought the original MDC was too closely associated with imperialist powers,” the official said.
“That is why right from the beginning Mutambara came saying he was standing on the shoulders of Sekuru Kaguvi and Mbuya Nehanda and Josiah Tongogara and Nikita Mangena. Mutambara was his own man and Ncube accepted that because he had no choice.”
There were many other names, including some top business executives and senior officials in MDC-T, who were initially considered for that post before Mutambara was roped in. The reason why Mutambara became a compelling choice was because of his history as a student leader, an academic and the desire to block Gift Chimanikire who was manoeuvring to take over.
However, after taking over, Mutambara found himself at loggerheads with senior party officials because of his rhetoric which they considered “immature and smacking of student politics. It was also felt that his anti-imperialist rhetoric was out of sync with the political mood of the time and made the party sound too much like Zanu PF,” an official said.
“However, Mutambara sincerely believed that was what was needed to shift the MDC politics and agenda. This created an explosive situation and started making Ncube and others uncomfortable because they thought their party was going to lose ground to MDC-T if it appears like an extension of Zanu PF.”
Serious tensions and divisions developed as a result of Mutambara’s ideological drift and pronouncements, leading to threats of resignation by senior party officials such as David Coltart, Trudy Stevenson and Miriam Mushayi, among others.
After that, a committee of senior officials led by the late Renson Gasela was formed to engage him to “tone down” his “unhelpful grandstanding and rhetoric” but he effectively refused to change course. That angered many party official and they started plots to remove him.
“There was actually a serious attempt to overthrow him just after the signing of the GPA around November and December 2008 but Ncube blocked it, saying it would appear as if it was an attempt to stop him from becoming deputy prime minister,” an MDC-N official said. “It was then agreed that he should be allowed to lead the party until congress by which time he would have no chance of political survival.”