Mangoma storm: MDC-T intolerance exposed

THE fire raging within the MDC-T, torched by deputy treasurer-general Elton Mangoma’s letter calling for party leader Morgan Tsvangirai to step down following the party’s heavy defeat in last year’s general elections, is instructive.

Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja

The shrill reactions to Mangoma’s calls, which have widened fissures in the opposition party currently seized with introspection, is a window into the inner thoughts, attitudes and pre-dispositions of senior MDC-T officials and supporters towards leadership, dissent, and democracy — the party’s catchphrase and supposedly an alien concept in ruling party Zanu PF .

While there may be legitimate concerns over the manner in which Mangoma raised the issue of leadership renewal, it is difficult to imagine a better way he could have raised the matter besides at the party’s national executive or national council where it would have leaked even faster. That the letter was leaked had nothing to do with Mangoma, but Tsvangirai loyalists.

The debate over Mangoma’s actions must not be allowed to cloud the real issue at stake, as the politics of expedience seems to be triumphing over discussion of the MDC leadership issues, which is paramount following the party’s thumping at the polls. It is neither about Tsvangirai nor Mangoma per se, but the culture of debate and tolerance within the party for the MDC purports to embody such qualities.

In that regard, the mockery and threats of violence against Mangoma by rented party youths for merely voicing his opinion, which he is perfectly entitled to, is shocking. Nor was it edifying for Tsvangirai to “save” Mangoma from youths baying for his blood; it only served to reinforce the perception that the youths were under his instruction and control, and violence is acceptable within the party.

On several occasions Tsvangirai loyalists have abused and threatened to beat up those expressing dissent, only for Tsvangirai to allegedly “save” them.

Tsvangirai should not find comfort in most of the senior party officials rooting for him, for their anti-Mangoma crusade betrays a disturbing intolerance for internal democracy and diversity of opinion, at a time the party desperately needs to chart a new trajectory.

As Mangoma pointed out, “the party is grieving from a crisis of leadership legitimacy, crisis of expectation and above all a crisis of confidence …” borne of perennially playing opposition politics.

Ironically, and contrary to Mangoma’s suggestion in his letter, leadership renewal should not only concern Tsvangirai stepping down as party president.

As part of the senior leadership and a key member of the party’s elections campaign last year, Mangoma himself may have to be among those ready to go if allegations that he was part of a plot to derail Tsvangirai’s campaign by starving the campaign of funds is substantiated.

However, issues raised by Mangoma — mostly already in the public domain — over Tsvangirai’s political profile are pertinent and cannot be wished away. Indeed, Tvangirai was found wanting on the reforms front despite “executive” powers in the unity government; his relationships with women have frankly been scandalous and he has lost thrice to President Robert Mugabe in presidential polls amid rigging accusations.

So it might well be time for leadership renewal in the MDC-T.