LAST year’s controversial July 31 general elections that saw President Robert Mugabe being re-elected amid opposition claims of systematic rigging have triggered a new wave of internal instability and strife in the two main political parties — Zanu PF and MDC-T.
The MDC-T has of late stolen the limelight for the wrong reasons, with factional cracks widening over Morgan Tsvangirai’s embattled leadership, as one group led by senior party officials demanded he should step down; another faction wants Tsvangirai to stay put.
The party’s deputy treasurer, Elton Mangoma, who has joined other senior leaders like Roy Bennett and Ian Kay in calling for Tsvangirai’s resignation, was last week censured by the MDC-T leadership and gagged from discussing leadership renewal.
Like Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s succession troubles also worsened after the elections, especially during last year hotly-contested internal Zanu PF provincial polls which saw the party’s two main factions led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa clashing head-on.
The general elections brought into focus succession problems which both Zanu PF and the MDC-T are facing. The two major parties now find themselves embroiled in serious turmoil due to increasing internal discord fuelled by long-running succession power struggles, threatening their own survival while showing how broken the local polity is.
While the fight in Zanu PF is between factions which want to produce a successor to Mugabe, particularly in view of the fact that he will soon be turning 90 and may not finish his new five-year term, in the MDC-T the pressure is on Tsvangirai to quit after he lost elections in 2000, 2002, 2008 and 2013, albeit controversially.
Since Tsvangirai’s worst defeat in the July 31 polls ever since the formation of the MDC-T in 1999, the succession issue has moved top of the agenda amid growing calls for him to go. Demands for leadership renewal have spawned serious power struggles.
MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti is seen as Tsvangirai’s biggest internal rival. Mangoma is said to be working with Biti, party treasurer Bennett, Elias Mudzuri, Ina Kay and others to secure leadership change.
Tsvangirai is reportedly backed by the likes of his deputy Thokozani Khupe, party chairperson Lovemore Moyo and national organising secretary Nelson Chamisa, among others.
The infighting in the MDC-T has similarities to that in Zanu PF, although the former is more threatened by internal strife as a relatively young and fragile party compared to the latter which has survived decades of wrangling and purges. The original MDC split in 2005 following bitter disagreements over participation in senatorial polls.
Political analyst Brian Raftopoulos, a University of Western Cape professor who knows the inner workings of the MDC-T and familiar with Zanu PF internal dynamics, said the trouble with Zimbabwean politics is that the actors are concentrating on gaining state power for its own sake, not serving the public good, hence personalised factionalism and self-centredness. He said in the aftermath of elections parties were bound to focus on internal issues than national ones.
“Naturally, after an election, all political parties would look into their internal issues to see where they went wrong and map a way forward,” Raftopoulos said.
“However, for Zimbabwean politics, the problem is that all political players want state power for its own sake, so that’s why we are witnessing these internal struggles at the expense of focusing on governance issues. Alternative movements are necessarily built within particular national contexts and often these movements reproduce and assimilate aspects of the undemocratic cultures they are attempting to challenge and replace.”
Raftopoulos said this has resulted in a more general malaise in the state where policy issues have become captive to internal struggles within main parties.
Analysts say while Mugabe, who once faced serious internal pressure for him to retire culminating in the current Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire making the unprecedented “Mugabe must go” statement, is still under pressure to quit, Tsvangirai is more vulnerable because he does not have similar control over the party and no state institutions to help him maintain his grip on the command structure. Tsvangirai, unlike Mugabe, also does not have patronage to dispense within the party to buy loyalty and exert punishment on dissenters.
Alexander Rusero, another analyst, said the MDC-T is now emulating Zanu PF strategy in handling leadership renewal issues.
“The MDC-T, like Zanu PF, propped up one leader and created a situation where others feel the party cannot survive without Tsvangirai. It is emulating Zanu PF’s personality cult politics,” Rusero said.
“So it will be very difficult for those trying to push out Tsvangirai to do so because the grassroots can no longer imagine the party without him as those in Zanu PF cannot imagine their party without Mugabe.”
Rusero added: “This is the tragedy of Zimbabwean politics: creating demi-Gods out of politicians and promoting personality cults.”
Another analyst Maxwell Saungweme said recent developments in the MDC-T regarding Tsvangirai’s succession shows the opposition party is not different from Zanu PF.
“The two parties are now similar in terms of organisational and internal processes. Their leaders are pursuing power for the sake of power and thus it is more about the individual rather than the collective,” Saungweme said.
“Mangoma was bold enough to state his position regarding succession and leadership renewal, but he got attacked by elements in his party, including very senior officials in the national council. One would not expect this from a party which claims to be democratic and an alternative to Zanu PF.”
Analysts say Mangoma is being treated like Mavhaire after he demanded Mugabe to step down reportedly at the behest of his late close ally, Edison Zvobgo, who wanted to succeed Mugabe.
In fact, some say Mavhaire was treated better than Mangoma by the party and its members, showing there is actually more tolerance and diversity of opinion in Zanu PF structures than MDC-T.
“If you look at how Mavhaire was treated, it was actually better than how Mangoma is being dealt with by MDC-T leaders and supporters. Go through the social media and see how Mangoma is being viciously denounced by leaders and members of a supposedly democratic party left, right and centre for merely stating the obvious: that in civilised countries, if a leader loses elections continuously and is embroiled in scandals, he or she resigns automatically,” another analyst said.
“Mavhaire was called a ‘witch’ by Mugabe after he demanded he must go, but no senior Zanu PF leaders and supporters were all over the place baying for his blood. But look at what MDC-T leaders and their supporters are doing.”
Analysts say events within Zanu PF and the MDC-T following the general elections show how Zimbabwean politics is broken and poisoned by factionalism, personality cults and chronic internal lack of democracy and vision.