INTRA-PARTY violence currently engulfing the MDC-T and the party’s propensity for resolving leadership squabbles through brutality have disproved the mantra that the opposition formation is deeply rooted in values of constitutionalism, democracy and peace.
By Tinashe Kairiza
The current wave of violence was ignited by the death of former MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who succumbed to colon cancer in South Africa last month. His death sparked a vicious power struggle between his deputies Thokozani Khupe, who was elected at the party’s 2014 congress, as well as Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri, who were controversially handpicked by Tsvangirai.
Chamisa swiftly moved to grab and consolidate power following Tsvangirai’s death, first as an acting president before the national council and other organs of the party appointed him on a substantive basis.
The party’s organs have confirmed him as the MDC-T candidate in presidential elections due later this year, while the seven-party MDC Alliance has also confirmed him as the coalition president, giving him considerable political impetus. Other than the swift manoeuvring, a firm grip on party affairs was one of the tools which helped to catapult Chamisa to the helm of the party. His critics accuse him of allowing the use of violence as a political instrument.
At Tsvangirai’s burial in Buhera, attended by scores of foreign dignitaries and thousands of party supporters, MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora and Khupe sought refuge in a grass-thatched hut after being attacked by rowdy youths perceived to be Chamisa’s supporters.
There were also ugly scenes at the party’s Bulawayo offices on Sunday after Chamisa’s supporters clashed with Khupe’s backers, leaving scores of people injured.
While the violence continues, none of the senior party officials involved has come out to strongly condemn the culprits or disassociate themselves from the mayhem.
But the violence is nothing new, as it has been a regular occurrence each time there is a leadership dispute or divergent views. For example, in 2005, Trudy Stevenson — then MDC-T legislator for Harare North — was assaulted by youths shortly after the party split over a disagreement on whether to participate in the senatorial elections which were held that year.
Commenting on the vicious attack on Stevenson in 2005, the late human rights activist John Makumbe noted that the MDC-T was also employing violence, which it ironically condemned.
“The attack on Trudy is part and parcel of the political culture of violence created by Zanu PF. We in the opposition think we are immune, but we are not. The real enemy is the raw, state-sponsored violence of Mugabe,” said Makumbe in 2006.
Widespread violence also rocked the party ahead of its 2011 congress. There were clashes between party supporters in Bulawayo, Chitungwiza, Midlands North, Masvingo and Mashonaland West, which soiled the party’s image.
Tsvangirai then instituted a commission of inquiry chaired by Trust Manda, but despite producing a damning report which implicated several party heavyweights, no action was taken. MDC insiders told the Zimbabwe Independent then that the party decided not to take decisive action, fearing it would widen fissures ahead of elections which were held in 2013.
The Trust Manda Commission report on violence implicated Khupe, the then Bulawayo provincial chairman Gorden Moyo and former Mzilikazi senator Matson Hlalo as instigators of violence in Bulawayo.
In 2014, shortly after controversially losing to former president Robert Mugabe during the 2013 elections, Tsvangirai sponsored a reign of terror against party officials, including Elton Mangoma and Promise Mkwananzi who opposed his continued stay as party leader. The party split yet again in 2014, with former secretary-general Tendai Biti and Mangoma forming the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Biti narrowly escaped his assailants who accused the Harare lawyer of “selling out” by breaking ranks with the MDC-T leader.
In 2017, Tsvangirai readmitted youths who had been suspended from the party for fuelling violence in 2010, attracting criticism from a cross section of society which argued he was not being tough enough on violence.
Analysts say it is therefore not surprising that this time around violence is being used yet again as a tool to assert authority.
However, in the eyes of the public and also internationally, the MDC-T has lost the moral high ground to complain about falling victim to violence. Indeed, even Zanu PF which has over the years entrenched its rule on the back of state-sponsored violence and intimidation is taking advantage of the infighting in the opposition, for political gain.
Zanu PF spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo on Monday condemned violence, saying it militated against efforts to lure tourists and attract investment. How ironic.
Political analyst and visiting politics lecturer at Rhodes University Mike Mavura said the violence in the MDC-T was ironically being fuelled by leaders who claim to uphold democracy, human rights and constitutionalism.
Mavura singled out Chamisa as a willing “beneficiary” of the violence gripping the MDC-T, as the battle to gain control of the party reaches a crescendo.
“The violence within the MDC is not in line with the non-violence and constitutionalism that they preach. But then again we know that the strict precepts of constitutionalism have not been followed of late regarding Chamisa and his appointment,” he highlighted.
“The MDC leaders preach non-violence yet their followers are merchants of violence and the fundamental question is, are those on the ground rogue elements and unguided missiles or guided missiles? I think across the political divide we have politicians and not statesmen and, when stakes are high, constitutionalism takes a back seat to archaic tactics that are seen as effective in securing positions.”
Political analyst Muchesa Chatsama said MDC-T was borrowing the use of violence to settle political disputes from Zanu PF-which has used the same tactics to silence dissenters. “This is characteristic of politics in Zimbabwe which is borrowed from an entrenched Zanu PF.Unless there is demonstrable evidence of non-violence by the MDC-T leaders, we cannot excuse them from the violence,” said Chatsama.
“This violence has been going on in the MDC-T for long and it has become part of them. They are borrowing heavily from Zanu PF and all talk by the leaders against violence is meaningless without matching it efforts to combat it.The history of constitutional breaches in the MDC-T is alarming and confusing. One wonders what will happen should they take over government.” said Chatsama.