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MDC-T faces acid popularity test

ZIMBABWE’s leading party in parliament  MDC-T party, marks its 13th anniversary at White City Stadium in Bulawayo on Saturday reeling from a recent damning survey indicating a marked decline in its popularity ahead of do-or-die elections expected next year.

Report by Herbert Moyo

Supporters attend an MDC-T rally in Highfield, Harare in 2008. Pic: Sherpherd Tozvireva

 
For the superstitious, 13 is an unlucky number, and the anniversary comes at a time when the party appears to be at a crossroads. A scathing Freedom House survey stated the party’s support had declined nationwide while United Kingdom-based Zim Vigil forecasted an electoral loss for MDC-T. The survey said MDC-T’s support declined from 38% to 19%, while Zanu PF gained from 17% to 31%. About 47% did not declare their preferences.

 
Fresh reports of in-fighting and rampant corruption within the party’s ranks have also been of major concern and the anniversary provides the party with a chance to tackle head-on some of the ills threatening to tear it  asunder.

 
The party’s volatile Bulawayo province, which hosts the anniversary, is on the brink again with disgruntled senior officials this week accusing deputy president Thokozani Khupe and provincial chairperson Gorden Moyo of attempting to unilaterally dissolve party structures to impose candidates of their choice.

 
“Bulawayo will be a litmus test of how we’ve responded to the damning (Freedom House) survey report claiming loss of support,” said a senior party official who requested anonymity.

 

“However, our cause will not be helped by the authoritarian style of Khupe who only last week descended on the province in the company of Moyo, (Abednico) Bhebhe and (Tabitha) Khumalo seeking the dissolution of the Bulawayo central district party executive in order to impose people like her sister Buhle.”

 
Sources said the choice of Bulawayo for the anniversary is meant to give Khupe an opportunity to restore her tarnished image and test the popularity of the party at the heart of the MDC-T’s strongholds. Moyo said Bulawayo was a symbol of MDC-T resistance and endurance as it is the only province where the party continued to hold “a 100%” record since 2000. “This is a record we wish to maintain until all our competitors finally accept that this is a no-go area for them,” he said. “As we speak, Bulawayo is a Zanu PF-free environment.”

 
Party leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was angered by Khupe’s failure to mobilise a sizeable crowd for his national day of prayer address at Barbourfields Stadium in the same city in May.

 
Khupe had promised Tsvangirai a full house but only 10 000 people showed up at the 35 000-seater white city stadium.

 
Khupe has spent the past week holding door-to-door meetings and strategising how to flash out her opponents.

 
She held a meeting at the home of Pumula East councillor Ephraim Ncube in the company of Moyo, Albert Mhlanga, Bhebhe and Khumalo last Saturday — a move described by a party official as “quite uncharacteristic of a party deputy president”.

 
There are claims long-serving members have been side-lined in favour of “mafikizolos” (johnnies-come-lately) such as the seconding of youth leader Promise Mkhwananzi and little-known Agnes Mvula to Jomic as liaison officers. However, MDC-T national organising secretary Nelson Chamisa dismissed all talk of divisions, saying the party would “paint Bulawayo red”  on Saturday.

 
“We have all our ducks in one row and all sceptics should come and witness the show of support instead of relying on concocted stories about disunity and dwindling popularity,” said Chamisa.

 

“We are one big family and naturally you can have differences but that does not mean the family is disunited or falling apart.”

 
Party spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said the party had done a lot of candid self-introspection in the wake of the Freedom House and Afro-Barometer surveys and would emerge stronger.

 
“We have re-connected with our supporters and we are re-connecting with civil society,” said Mwonzora. “We are working very hard on all the weaknesses noted in those reports.”

 
However, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director McDonald Lewanika said MDC-T was hard-pressed to demonstrate its popularity in the aftermath of the Freedom House survey reports and the in-fighting which sparked alleged defections to Welshman Ncube’s MDC formation.

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