OPPOSITION MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s (pictured) announcement that he is considering retiring from politics has escalated succession fights in the party with officials warning of implosion.
By Owen Gagare/Wongai Zhangazha
Insiders revealed that party officials were coalescing around vice-presidents Thokozani Khupe, Elias Mudzuri and Nelson Chamisa although a significant number believe an extraordinary congress should be called to enable any interested person, and not necessarily the vice-presidents, to contest.
Tsvangirai’s succession has been complicated by the fact that the party has three vice-presidents, following the MDC-T leader’s unilateral decision to appoint Mudzuri and Chamisa as his deputies in 2016. They joined Khupe who was elected at the party’s 2014 congress.
A senior MDC-T official said Tsvangirai had not yet formally informed the party of his decision to resign and neither had he given a timeline or a hint of how he wants to be succeeded, hence the confusion and the escalation of jostling for posts.
“But because we are in an election year, this issue has to be resolved as a matter of urgency because if we delay, we risk losing ground,” the official said.
Tsvangirai is reportedly torn between Mudzuri and Chamisa, but appears to be leaning towards Chamisa to lead the party.
However, Khupe has also received strong backing from party supporters by virtue of the fact that she was elected at congress unlike her unelected rivals.
According to Section 9.21 of the MDC-T constitution, in the event of the death or resignation of the president, the deputy president assumes the role of acting president, pending the holding of an extraordinary congress that shall be held to elect a new president. The extraordinary congress must be held no later than a year from the death or resignation of the former president.
“We have some people who want Tsvangirai to handpick his successor, others want him to soldier on because we are in an election year, while others are lining up behind his deputies. But there is also quite a significant number who believe the constitution should be the ultimate guide. They want an extraordinary congress where anyone can contest,” the official said.
Another official said: “We are in an election year and in the event that Tsvangirai’s doctors advise him that he needs to rest and he advises his party that he intends to step down, a deputy president becomes acting president until an extraordinary congress is held within a year. But because we are in an election year, we cannot afford to wait for a year; we have to go to congress in the shortest possible time.
“Within a year can mean two weeks after the president’s resignation or one month after, it is still within a year. The MDC-T will follow the constitution if Tsvangirai officially resigns. The constitution is very clear on the procedures to be taken.
“In addition, it’s not only the three VPs that are eligible to contest for the presidency post at the congress. Any senior member, whether from the standing committee or not, is eligible. It is not only confined to three people. The most sacred principle is the choice of the people. Whoever takes over must be chosen by the people.”
Despite having legitimacy on her side, Khupe faces a major challenge in that Zimbabwe is a patriarchal and ethnocentric society which is a key factor in politics.
Khupe has a frosty relationship with Tsvangirai. Her allies have openly complained that the party leader appointed Mudzuri and Chamisa to dilute her influence. In his New Year message, Tsvangirai said the appointments were made with an eye on his succession as he wanted the younger generation to take over.
An official said those supporting Mudzuri point to the fact that the party did well during his time as national organising secretary, a period which saw Tsvangirai beating Mugabe in the first round of the 2008 presidential election.
Mudzuri lost the post to Chamisa at the party’s congress in Bulawayo in 2011 and Chamisa was in charge when the party performed dismally in the 2013 elections. Chamisa’s supporters however argue that the party lost elections because of massive rigging by Zanu PF.
Chamisa was beaten by Douglas Mwozora for the secretary-general’s post in 2014. He garnered 1 762 votes while Mwonzora got 2 464 votes. There were however allegations of rigging in favour of Mwonzora who got his nomination from just one province against Chamisa’s 11. The allegations are yet to be substantiated.
Chamisa’s opponents insisted he had paid the price for the party’s poor performance in the 2013 elections, where he was accused of underestimating the extent and vigour of Zanu PF’s election machinery.
The loss saw Chamisa being downgraded to an ordinary card-carrying member, but in December 2014 Tsvangirai appointed him to the MDC-T’s national executive committee, marking his slow return into the party’s inner circle. Tsvangirai also re-appointed Mudzuri as secretary for international relations.
Mudzuri and Chamisa were further promoted to the position of vice-presidents in July 2016, a move that was condemned by many senior officials. The appointments put them in the race to succeed Tsvangirai.
Chamisa’s supporters say he has greater appeal to the younger generation which constitutes a larger part of the electorate. He turns 40 next month.
Contacted for comment, MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said the MDC-T is united and denied that massive succession infighting is taking place.
“We are preparing for elections and busy mobilising our structures. When I read stories on social media I laugh my lungs out. We are all busy occupying ourselves on how we can register as much voters as we can, taking advantage of the extension of the voter registration exercise,” Gutu said.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme this week was of the opinion that Tsvangirai could be under a lot of pressure to appoint Chamisa, but preferred Mudzuri to take over.
“I think Morgan wanted to succeed himself. Sadly, ill-health is standing in his path. He would prefer Mudzuri to take over as he thinks Chamisa is too young, ambitious and scheming. Tsvangirai also belongs to the old school of political leaders who think young people and women can at most occupy the vice-presidency and no higher,” Saungweme said.
“However, he faces a lot of pressure to anoint Chamisa mainly due to his wife’s influence and also because he came a long way with Chamisa. If rumours doing the rounds have some truth, Chamisa may have facilitated the pension negotiations. He does not fancy the idea of Khupe as she is opposed to the alliance idea and they have clashed many times before. The contradictions between (Luke) Tamborinyoka and (Obert) Gutu attest to the fact that the man is reluctantly leaving power but also has pressure to anoint Chamisa yet he preferred Mudzuri. So I believe the man would want Mudzuri now then Chamisa after 2023.”
Saungweme said Khupe had the qualities to move the party forward.
“As an outsider, I think the poor guy complicated things for himself when he decided to appoint Chamisa and Mudzuri to weaken Khupe. He eschewed the MDC-T’s opportunity to demonstrate that it was a party of high values and big principles that has no problem with a Ndebele woman taking over the presidency,” he said.
“In Khupe, MDC blew the chance of having a highly educated leader from politically excluded groups in our politics — women and Ndebeles. How I wish our politics mimics Tanzania where someone’s ethnicity does not matter for presidency.”