…Tsvangirai’s death fuels internal turmoil
THE death of Morgan Tsvangirai, who succumbed to colon cancer in South Africa two days ago, has plunged Zimbabwe’s main opposition MDC-T party into further turmoil, as one of the party’s buccaneering vice-presidents Nelson Chamisa quickly moved to seize control through the national council which endorsed him as acting president for the next 12 months.
By Tinashe Kairiza
This effectively means that he will stand as the party’s candidate in this year’s make-or-break polls expected by July.
However, Chamisa’s move has triggered an immediate backlash from party secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora who challenged the legality of the national council decision. He warned he would call for an extraordinary congress instantly after Tsvangirai’s burial to fight back against the man he defeated for his position during the last congress in 2014.
The MDC-T is locked in a messy succession battle — similar to that of the ruling Zanu PF which culminated in a military intervention last November — as three rival leaders — Chamisa, Elias Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe — slug it out to inherit Tsvangirai’s mantle. The founding MDC-T leader’s death intensified the fight into a cut-throat affair.
The factional fight has become dirty as it has seen the camps banning each other from the party offices and the Tsvangirai
family residence. Feuding sides have also been secretly recording each other and leaking the material to the media.
The intra-party political intrigue has divided not only the MDC-T leaders but also Tsvangirai family members.
Addressing journalists yesterday at Harvest House shortly after convening an urgent meeting of the national council, the supreme decision-making body in between congresses, MDC-T deputy chairperson Morgan Komichi said the party had resolved to appoint Chamisa as the acting president for the next 12 months.
“The national council has resolved that Nelson Chamisa be appointed to act in place of Morgan Tsvangirai for a period of 12 months which is in line with the constitution,” Komichi said.
According to Section 9.21 of the MDC-T constitution, in the event of the death or resignation of the president, the deputy president (in this case it envisaged Khupe as the elected one) assumes the role of acting president, pending the holding of an extraordinary congress to elect a new leader.
The extraordinary congress must be held no later than a year from the death or resignation of the former president.
Chamisa told journalists Tsvangirai’s death had created a leadership void, which demanded urgent attention. The MDC-T leader was a larger-than-life character in the party.
To demonstrate the escalating infighting, the meeting was boycotted by Khupe and Mudzuri who have waged a war of attrition on Chamisa for the party leadership.
“We are in a crisis; there must be leadership in the cockpit. We do not have a crisis of generals in the party,” Chamisa said, adding Khupe and Mudzuri were notified of the meeting, although they did not attend.
“Mudzuri was aware (of the meeting). He could not avail himself…Madam Khupe was on her way, I am sure she must be making her way to Harare now,” he said.
However, in an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent shortly after the meeting Mwonzora, who did not attend the press conference, said he had tried to advise the MDC-T national council on the illegality of its decision, but was not given “audience.”
He said Chamisa, controversially appointed by Tsvangirai as vice-president in 2016, did not qualify to assume the office of acting president in terms of the party’s constitution.
“I doubt the constitutionality of that (appointing Chamisa to the office of acting president),” he said. “There is a process that has to be followed and I advised the national council, but I was not given audience. That extension of one year is not in accordance with our constitution. If a president dies, the deputy president as defined in our constitution takes office for a period not exceeding a year. A deputy president by our constitution is elected by congress. Khupe is the elected deputy president.”
Mwonzora said he would call for an extraordinary congress in his capacity as the party’s secretary-general to elect the party’s substantive leader soon after Tsvangirai’s burial.
“I will call for an extraordinary congress to return the MDC-T to legality,” Mwonzora said. “I will take up this matter with the leadership after the burial.”
He said the hasty national council decision brazenly violated the party’s constitution.
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu castigated the national council’s decision to install Chamisa as Tsvangirai’s interim successor when the nation was still in mourning.
“I am in total agreement with Mwonzora,” he said. “Look at section six and nine of our constitution; it (the national council’s resolution) is illegal. This is an insult to Tsvangirai; it is distasteful.”
As Tsvangirai battled for life in South Africa, factions jostling to succeed him and gain total control of the MDC-T, which is part of a seven-party alliance which involves Welshman Ncube’s MDC-N and Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party.
Chamisa, who appears to be having an upper hand in the succession combat, is being backed by senior officials, including Komichi, Paurina Mupariwa, Murisi Zwizai, Thabitha Khumalo, Chalton Hwende, Ian Makone, Theresa Makone, Luke Tamborinyoka and Happymore Chidziva. Tsvangirai’s widow Elizabeth Macheka also supports Chamisa.
This week, Mudzuri — who has the backing of Tsvangirai’s main family members—was on Monday barred from convening a press conference at Harvest House, the party’s headquarters, as the fierce succession conflict escalated. Chamisa controls Harvest House.
Khupe, who enjoys massive support from the Matabeleland provinces, is reportedly working with MDC-T national chairperson Lovemore Moyo, Mwonzora, Obert Gutu and Abednico Bhebhe, among other officials.
Khupe was elected MDC-T vice-president at the party’s congress in 2014, but in 2016 Tsvangirai diluted her powers by parachuting in Chamisa and Mudzuri as co-vice-presidents.
Despite having legitimacy on her side, Khupe faces a major challenge given that Zimbabwe is a patriarchal and ethnocentric society in which gender, tribe and region are important dynamics in politics.
Khupe had a frosty relationship with Tsvangirai after his appointment of Chamisa and Mudzuri. Her allies have openly complained that the party leader appointed Mudzuri and Chamisa to thwart her ascendancy.
In his 2018 New Year message, Tsvangirai, however, said the appointments were made with succession in consideration as he wanted the younger generation to take over.
Those reportedly supporting Mudzuri argue that the party did well during his time as national organising secretary, a period which saw Tsvangirai defeating former president Robert Mugabe in the first round of the 2008 presidential election. Many believe Tsvangirai won outright, but it was stolen through manipulation and rigging.
Mudzuri lost the post to Chamisa at the party’s congress in Bulawayo in 2011. Chamisa was in charge when Mugabe and Zanu PF won the disputed 2013 elections. Chamisa’s supporters, however, argue that the party lost the elections because of massive rigging by Zanu PF.
The fight is also further complicated by the fact that Chamisa was beaten by Mwonzora 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. Chamisa’s opponents insisted he had paid the price for the party’s poor performance in the 2013 elections.
The loss resulted in Chamisa being downgraded to an ordinary card-carrying member, but in December 2014 he bounced back when Tsvangirai appointed him to the MDC-T’s national executive committee, marking his claw back into the party’s top hierarchy.
Tsvangirai also re-appointed Mudzuri as secretary for international relations.
Mudzuri and Chamisa were further promoted to vice-presidents in July 2016, setting the stage for a fierce succession battle which could paralyse the party ahead of crucial elections.