Battle for MDC-T heart, soul scales boiling point

THE MDC-T this week edged closer to yet another split as the acrimonious fall-out between party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and secretary-general Tendai Biti seems to have reached a point of no return.

Owen Gagare/Herbert Moyo

Problems which have been simmering in the party for years dramatically escalated after suspended deputy treasurer-general Elton Mangoma wrote a letter urging Tsvangirai to quit in the interests of the party to allow leadership renewal and retooling for the next general elections in 2018.

Accusing Tsvangirai of failing to provide effective leadership, Mangoma is believed to be working in cahoots with Biti as the battle for the heart and soul of the MDC-T reaches fever pitch.

Senior party officials said this week Tsvangirai and Biti failed to take advantage of an opportunity presented by the standing committee meeting on Tuesday to resolve the volatile situation in the party, leaving the two main factions in the party further apart.

Tsvangirai is pushing ahead with his nationwide mobilisation campaign to counter and isolate Biti, fuelling volatility while edging the party to the brink of yet another potentially crippling split.

The MDC first broke up in 2005, after the departure of its founding deputy leader, the late Gibson Sibanda and secretary-general Welshman Ncube, among a host of other senior officials.

The current situation now appears irretrievable as Biti and senior members of the party have been boycotting Tsvangirai’s rallies where they have been denounced as sell-outs. Instead Biti has been fighting back, holding private meetings attended by members of the national executive, national council and the party’s lower structures in preparation for the worst.

This week Biti held a series of behind-the-scenes meetings at his Milton Park offices and other venues, officials who attended the gatherings confirmed.

MDC officials say while it was conceivable before last Friday’s national council meeting for the feuding parties to bridge their differences, three events over the past week have escalated tensions and hostilities, raising the spectre of a split.

“It would have been possible to resolve the situation before last Friday but three incidents may have extinguished such prospects of an amicable solution,” a senior MDC official said.

“First Tsvangirai and Biti held a meeting at Tsvangirai’s house on Thursday last week, on the eve of last Friday’s national council meeting. At the meeting they appeared to be finding common ground, but Biti reportedly went on to address party members and structures over the national council meeting and the Mangoma issue. Tsvangirai was taken aback and this fuelled suspicions and antagonism.

“The second incident is what happened during last Friday’s national
meeting and then developments afterwards. Although Biti did not speak at the meeting, he later addressed a press conference rejecting the resolution to suspend Mangoma, saying it was unconstitutional, thus null and void. Linked to that was a meeting Biti held with his allies at Mangoma’s house after the national council meeting on Friday last week.”

The official went further: “The other issue which has badly strained relations between Tsvangirai and Biti to a breaking point was Biti’s remarks at a Sapes Trust meeting last week where he said that besides manipulation, the MDC also lost because Zanu PF had a clearer and better message compared to MDC.”

MDC officials say it would now take a “miracle” for Tsvangirai and Biti to mend relations.

Biti and his allies are reportedly gravely concerned about a number of issues which they believe are fuelling the implosion of the party. The issues include:

Departure from the party’s founding values and principles;
“Zanufication” of the MDC;
Lack of internal democracy;
Intolerance and suppression of dissent;
Impunity and use of violence as a political tool;
Subversion of the constitution and rule of law;
Factionalism, backbiting and internal strife;
Personality cult politics and hero-worshipping, and
Growing unilateralism and authoritarianism.

Officials in the Biti camp say after trampling the party’s founding values and principles which include “tolerance, respect, dialogue and love”, Tsvangirai was increasingly using Zanu PF-like arguments to justify his continued stay in power even though he might now be a liability.

“There is now a process of ‘Zanufication’ of the MDC. No one in the MDC is allowed anymore to have divergent views from those of Tsvangirai and his group without risking suspension or even being fired.

“All those associated with dissenters are now being purged,” one senior official said.

“There is also now rampant illegality being perpetrated with impunity in the party, for instance the district chairpersons meeting held on February 15 after which Mangoma was attacked was patently unlawful. The MDC has no such structure and the constitution does not provide for this. Mangoma was also suspended unconstitutionally because the national council did not vote over the issue. The constitution is clear: you need a two thirds majority in the national council to suspend a member of the standing committee. There is no more respect for the constitution, rule of law or due process in the MDC.”

Another official said there was growing intolerance and indiscipline in the party manifesting itself in party members bad-mouthing each other in public, particularly the social media.

Facebook, in particular, is now a battleground for MDC factions.

“Factions, sub-factions and internal rivalries are rampant and uncontrollable. There are now some people in the MDC who behave like Zanu PF sycophants,” another official said. “They hero-worship and promote Tsvangirai’s personality cult as they do in Zanu PF with Mugabe. That’s why Tsvangirai now wants absolute power without accountability. He no longer wants to consult and to be bound by the constitution of the party.”

Party spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora — who is in the Tsvangirai faction — however said senior party officials were working to burying the hatchet. “We are happy that key leaders are now on talking terms. Our president welcomes everybody who is willing to talk,” he said.

Mangoma’s lawyer Jacob Mafume however said problems bedevilling the party were far from over. “If those violating the party constitution do not climb down from the hysteria characterising their actions then we might not find each other and we might have to resort to court action or other remedies.”

Mafume said the party constitution allows freedom of speech and expression, including demanding leadership renewal but that was being violated as reflected by Mangoma’s suspension.

“Further to that, there has not been any compliance with Article 12 which requires a vote on issues like that of Mangoma. He was not even given the right to be heard and this is no different from police arresting before investigating.

“This is what we have always condemned and we should be working to show Zimbabwe that we have internal democracy not dictatorship in the MDC.”

Suspended Manicaland chairperson Julius Magarangoma said: “The sooner we return to constitutionality, the better for everyone. We simply can’t afford to be on a collision course with our values.”
Militant youth league secretary-general Promise Mkhwananzi said the MDC-T conflict over certain fundamentals of the constitution and values must be resolved as a matter of urgency before it is too late.