SENIOR MDC-T officials, including vice-president Thokozani Khupe, national chairperson Lovemore Moyo and national organising secretary Abednico Bhebhe, have not been attending meetings at the party’s Harvest House headquarters in Harare for several months. There have been suggestions that the three party officials want to lead a breakaway, particularly because they are strongly opposed to the MDC-T’s alliance with other parties ahead of the 2018 general polls. Zimbabwe Independent reporter Nqobani Ndlovu (NN) caught up with Moyo (LM) to discuss the potentially damaging standoff in the party. Find excerpts of the interview below:
NN: There are reports that you have not been attending MDC-T meetings at your head office. Other reports say you face expulsion as a result. What is your response?
LM: It is absolutely true that since July 28 2017, I have not attended a meeting in Harare. This is primarily because we had some fundamental disagreements on the content of the MDC Alliance agreement document, which to date remains unresolved.
Remember, Matabeleland MDC leadership and structures were totally excluded from the process of alliance-building.
Consequently, a dispute arose on the actual allocation of both parliamentary and local government seats to alliance partners.
I want to make it categorically clear that I wholly subscribe and support the principle of a coalition as a strategy to unseat Zanu PF from power. However, such efforts must be inclusive, fair and just in order to maximise on energies of all stakeholders.
We officially registered our concerns, both from leadership and structures in a formally constituted meeting. In addition, we penned all our political concerns and forwarded the said letter to president (Morgan) Tsvangirai. As a matter of practice and procedure, the president was supposed to respond. Unfortunately, to date, no official communication has come our way from the president.
NN: How best can the differences between you and other party members on the MDC Alliance issue be solved?
LM: As l alluded earlier, there are still some outstanding issues to do with the MDC Alliance which fundamentally l am opposed to. MDC Alliance exists, it’s a reality and a good thing if it is properly and transparently constituted. I still stand by submissions l made to the president with regards to the holes and ambiguity in the implementation. Remember, some of us our minds are still fresh from a flawed so-called Unity Accord of 1987, which literally relegated people from Matabeleland to be always deputies, in our national politics. So, you wouldn’t want me to blindly accept, follow and actively participate in something that l have questions about its integrity and objectives.
NN: What concerns did you highlight to Tsvangirai regarding the MDC Alliance?
LM: The concerns were: The leadership and structures were not consulted on the contents of the MDC Alliance document. To date, as the national chairman l have not officially seen the signed alliance agreement document. The partitioning of Matabeleland constituencies in particular and other regions without consulting a single person or leader or structures from affected constituencies. Allocation of seats lacked logic; MDC-T gave away to alliance partners seats that are dominantly ours and safe.
Concerned about the violation of the principles agreed upon by the national council on the Alliance-building guidelines. The concerns and many others were officially raised with the president in the National Standing Committee and followed up with a written letter further highlighting those concerns. First, provinces convened their meetings and raised concerns with the president on the same issue.
Second, three provinces met and raised similar concerns with the president.
Third, the three of us, myself, vice-president Khupe and Bhebhe, jointly wrote a letter to the president raising similar concerns praying for speedy resolution. Unfortunately, to date nothing has been officially addressed.
NN: What will happen if the concerns are not addressed before the general elections?
LM: I am optimistic that the leadership would endeavour to accommodate these political concerns. People want the MDC Alliance, but are still asking questions with regards to constituency allocation and the rationale behind the formula, if any at all. Failure to address these concerns, people are free political agents and will make their own judgements and choices, especially in Matabeleland, where people feel that they have been marginalised and relegated to a lesser political role in the (MDC) Alliance.
I am not contesting for MP in the forthcoming harmonised elections. I feel l have adequately served the people of Matobo for the past 15 years and now it’s time to open up the constituency to other party cadres to contest. I am grateful to the people of Matobo for having given me a lifetime opportunity to represent them. And l shall always be indebted to them for the favour and unwavering support extended to me during my tenure of public service. However, the struggle for democratisation continues until we reach, together, destination new Zimbabwe.
NN: What are your plans after relinquishing the Matobo parliamentary seat and is this decision informed by Tsvangirai’s failure to address your concerns?
LM: No, not at all. l am not quitting politics. For your own information, politics was introduced in my DNA system in 1977 as a young man, when l crossed borders and finally landed in Zambia to participate in the war of liberation. In simple terms, politics is embedded in my human system and I’m unable to flush it out. My decision not to contest for a parliamentary seat was made known to the party a long time ago. It is not in any way connected to the current internal political disagreements in my party. Further, l informed my colleagues that I’m not available for re-election as the national chairman of the party in the next congress in 2019. My decision to relinquish these two political roles does not mean I’m quitting politics; instead, I am merely changing roles. And please note that my not going to meetings at Harvest House does not mean that I’m no longer politically active. On the contrary, I have been politically active at grassroots level.
NN: We understand there have been bad relations between you and the other MDC-T vice-presidents (Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri), partly because of disagreements over who should succeed Tsvangirai in the event that he steps down.
LM: This is not true. On the contrary, l have excellent relationships with vice-presidents Chamisa and Mudzuri. I am not sure whether it is appropriate and cultural for the party, its leadership or anyone to talk about succession now when the leader is still in charge. In our tradition, akula langa eliphuma elinye lingakatshoni (no sun can rise before the other has set).
In the event that the president decides to relinquish his position, the constitution is automatically triggered.
By operation of the law governing the resignation of the president, a deputy president assumes the functions of the president in an acting capacity for a period not more than a year. He/she is directed by the constitution to convene an extraordinary congress to elect a new party leader. So, the question who should or shouldn’t take over does not arise. Simply because MDC is a democratic movement guided by democratic principles and values which among many others, leaders are elected by the people and not handpicked. Remember, we are not running a church organisation which anoints people, but a political party, whose leadership must always come from people not through imposition.
NN: In your opinion, do you think Khupe deserves the MDC-T leadership post? If yes, why?
LM: It’s a very subjective question. To me, it has never been about personalities, but a principle enshrined in the constitution of the party, which allows qualified cadres of the party to contest whatsoever vacant position in the party.
It’s not about who deserves or does not, people are the judge and have a final say in such democratic processes like choosing leadership.
NN: How should the MDC-T leadership dispute be solved?
LM: First and foremost, there is no leadership dispute in the MDC. No one in the leadership is questioning his constitutional mandate or confused. You can only convene an early congress or an extraordinary one once the structures have passed a vote of no confidence in the entire leadership. The party constitution has no such provisions of appointing or anointing a successor, as leaders are elected by the membership.
NN: In the event Tsvangirai anoints a successor other than Khupe, are we to see Khupe, you and Bhebhe quitting the party?
LM: No, the party is not splitting. I want to correct the perception that the so-called leadership differences that allegedly exist have something to do with who should succeed President Tsvangirai. As l stated earlier, the differences arose from alliance-building processes and distribution of seats without consulting the affected structures. In essence, It’s not about appointing Khupe as president or not. It’s our desire to see the party constitution respected and religiously followed.
NN: How is your relationship with Chamisa, Mudzuri, Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti respectively?
LM: My relationship with the four comrades in the democratic struggle is good.
NN: How do you rate the MDC-T chances in the coming elections?
LM: If the next elections are going to be run on a free, fair and credible ticket, chances of MDC-T winning elections are good.
NN: Do you think it’s high time Tsvangirai stepped aside?
LM: There is no doubt that the president is the glue that keeps the party together. Accordingly, he must be respected for his lifetime contribution in struggle for a change and should be given the necessary support he so much deserves. I wish him speedy recovery and good health.
NN: May you clarify the issue of a deputy MDC-T president taking over in an acting capacity should Tsvangirai step down, now that there are three?
LM: Remember, when we framed the constitution then, we had one deputy president in mind. However, as things stand, we now have three deputy presidents after the National Council resolved to amend the constitution. Whether the National Council had the authority to do so or not, it’s a debate for another day. Unfortunately, as things stand now, the constitution doesn’t tell us who among the three should automatically take over as acting president in the event the sitting president resigns. It clearly presents a constitutional crisis.
NN: In the circumstances, which MDC-T organ must step in should this constitutional crises catch up with the party?
LM: In between congress, the National Council is the highest decision-making body in our party constitution. I am not sure whether the National Council has the competence to appoint an acting president given that such matters are automatic and usually done by operation of the constitution. In the end, the National Executive Committee and National Council should find a way forward if we find ourselves in that predicament.