MDC president Nelson Chamisa is facing a barrage of criticism from dissenting voices within the country’s biggest opposition party for meddling in recent mayoral elections in cities that it controls, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
BY ANDREW KUNAMBURA
Senior MDC officials said the mayoral elections brought to the fore deep-seated power struggles which betrayed a democracy deficit within its rank and file.
Chamisa is seen as battling to ring-fence himself and making moves to consolidate power ahead of the party’s internal national elections which are due in February next year when the party holds an extraordinary congress to address leadership problems which followed founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s death in February.
MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora is set to challenge Chamisa for the presidency, although he publicly denies harbouring any such ambitions.
Sources said the chaos that rocked mayoral elections in Harare, Masvingo, Victoria Falls and Chitungwiza as two camps tussled for the right to field their proxies reflected the extent of fractures in the party.
This comes as fresh details emerged this week revealing how Chamisa dribbled past his factional rivals during the election of the mayor of Harare, as well as allies in the disbanded MDC Alliance formation which he led to the July 30 general election.
Glen Norah (Ward 27) councillor Herbert Gomba may have been unanimously elected as Harare Mayor by councillors on September 3, but party officials have revealed the currents that raged beneath the deceiptively calm surface.
According to the sources, Chamisa reneged on an earlier agreement which could have seen MDC national standing committee member Ian Makone become mayor of Harare. Makone was supposed to be deputised by spokesperson Jacob Mafume — formerly of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The sources said Makone was wrong-footed just hours before the election took place at Town House.
So assured had he been of landing the position that he actually turned up at the venue, located at the heart of Harare’s central business district, with a prepared speech which he was set to give as the new mayor, the sources said.
“What happened is that the president called for a caucus meeting very early in the morning of September 4. The meeting was attended by all elected councillors for Harare and the provincial chairman Eric Murai. Somehow, Makone and Mafume were not aware of the caucus meeting which basically buried their ambitions. The instruction was clear: Gomba was the preferred candidate. And there was no voting to take place since everyone was supposed to approve his candidature.” said a source.
Makone, officials further said, was sidelined for allegedly being too sympathetic to former MDC vice-president Thokozani Khupe, who is largely believed to be the actual leader of the faction Mwonzora inherited.
Thinking the deal was cast in stone; Mafume reportedly threw a celebratory party on September 1, just 48 hours before the election where he treated friends and colleagues to expensive whisky and wine, only to learn goal-posts had shifted on the eve of the election.
“The issue is that Mafume wanted to contest to be MP for Mt Pleasant constituency and it became a big issue as the party already had nominated its candidate. We then had to micro-manage the situation by making sure he foregoes that in order to run for one of the council wards there and be compensated with the deputy mayor’s position. People drank a lot of whisky and wine in what turned out to be a premature celebration,” another top MDC official said.
Mafume confirmed the developments yesterday, but said the decision to deny him the position of deputy mayor was made after he was nominated to be party spokesman. He also claimed Makone had failed interviews to select the mayor.
“What happened is that before the general elections, the PDP had been allocated the position of deputy mayor of Harare and it so happened that I was the only PDP councillor in Harare. But then it was later decided that I should not take that position since I had been appointed by the president (Chamisa) as party spokesperson. It was deemed unwise that I advance a very partisan position in the morning and later on in the chamber I stand as a neutral senior city father,” he said.
He added: “On the issue of Makone, there were interviews to select the mayor and Gomba came up as the best candidate followed by (Greendale councillor Enoch) Mupamawonde. The results were taken to the president for his input and he did not make any alterations.”
On reports that he threw a party, Mafume said: “If I opened any whisky bottles, it was to celebrate my appointment as MDC spokesperson.”
In Chitungwiza, Chamisa reportedly ensured that his preferred mayoral candidate Gift Tsverere won the mayoral post against former deputy mayor Goodwill Mushangwe, who was the popular choice of both fellow councillors and party members.
Mushangwe had to withdraw his candidature before the elections under unclear circumstances.
Party members caused commotion outside the Chitungwiza council chambers as they demanded that senior leaders from their party — Voice Chinake, Morgan Femai, Dickson Tarusenga and Job Sikhala — leave the chambers, but they refused in order to ensure that Chamisa’s choice prevailed against perceived Biti-inclined councillors through intimidating them, reports said.
In Victoria Falls, residents preferred Ward 9 councillor Somvelo Dlamini, whom they felt hailed from the area and understood their concerns better, while Chamisa and his leadership preferred Ward 6 councillor, Eliphias Mambune and Ward 3 councillor, Margaret Valley as mayor and deputy mayor respectively.
During the Masvingo mayoral elections, party youths attacked and manhandled a journalist and dispossessed him of his mobile phone for trying to interview the winner, MDC-Alliance Ward 12 councillor Collins Maboke, who prevailed against their preferred candidate, Ward 4 councillor Godfrey Kurauone.
“This is a desperate leader, steering a once democratic party toward dictatorship. He is scrambling to cling to power and, in the process, he risks becoming an autocrat. He is tossing perceived political opponents around. He is cracking down on dissent,” a source said.
But Chamisa’s spokesman Nkululeko Sibanda protested against the allegations, claiming in a telephone interview this week the process to elect mayors was “the nearest approximation of democracy anywhere in the world”.
“The issue is that as a party, we prefer a situation whereby mayors are directly elected by the people, that is pure democracy. However, the law does not provide for that so what we have done is to come up with a system in which we consult the people and then the president’s role is only to whip councillors into electing a mayor who would have come from the people. Now that is the nearest approximation of democracy anywhere in the world and to try and scandalise that is rather unfortunate,” he said.