SERIOUS divisions pitting the old guard and emerging young academics have erupted in the main opposition party MDC, with party leader Nelson Chamisa being accused of siding with the Young Turks.
The nasty infighting, which has also rocked MDC-controlled urban areas, is threatening to rip the 21-year-old movement apart and diminish its chances of winning the 2023 general elections.
Sources said battle lines have been drawn between a group in the party calling itself the “academic group, which has Chamisa’s backing against another going by the moniker the “organic group”, comprising mainly of the “old guard”.
The organic group is aligned to Chamisa’s long term rival Douglas Mwonzora, who is also the party’s deputy secretary for international relations.“There is a major crisis obtaining in the party. The president is seen as trying to promote the new faces emerging from the academia at the expense of the other members who have been in the party for a long time. Some predict that there will be a split between the organic group and the academic groups. There is a general feeling in the party that the split could happen before the 2023 general elections,” an MDC national executive council member said.
“The split will mostly occur during the candidate election process. Already, there is a lot of uneasiness in Harare province where many old-timers are under siege. For instance, in the Harare Central constituency, efforts are underway to replace long-serving House of Assembly member Murisi Zwizwai with secretary for international relations, Gladys Hlatshwayo while Maureen Kademaunga (public service and social welfare), Fadzayi Mahere (secretary for education), Ostalos Siziba (youth assembly secretary general) and one guy called Webster Mhondera are all being lined up for various constituencies in Harare.” Some MPs in Harare claim they have been told to consider contesting in local government elections instead of parliamentary polls.
The clearest manifestation of the ongoing crisis, officials said, was in Masvingo where over the weekend Chamisa suspended the entire provincial executive and, for the third time, sacked Masvingo mayor Collin Maboke.
According to sources, the executive, led by James Gumbi, is being accused of being loyal to Mwonzora.Chamisa made the announcement in person at a meeting with them at the weekend and cited “insubordination and incompetence” as the reasons for the suspension.
“As we speak, there are no structures in Masvingo. An independent commission handpicked by Chamisa will run the affairs of the party in the province. Everyone is shocked that someone like Gumbi, who used to fund the party activities in the province with his own resources is being treated callously like that,” an MDC official from the province said.
Gumbi could not be reached for comment as his mobile phone went unanswered.Chamisa, who took over the MDC reins in controversial circumstances following the death of founding president Morgan Tsvangirai two years ago, has been locked in a raging factional firestorm with Mwonzora.
Although Chamisa emerged triumphant at the party’s congress last October, sources said factionalism has persisted.Chamisa is being accused of seeking to firmly establish his authority in the party by shunting out the party’s old guard along with Mwonzora’s followers in favour of new faces emerging from the academia.
In addition to that, he is facing stiff resistance from councillors who accuse him of attempting to interfere in their operations.
Sources further said Chamisa is planning massive purging of councillors and mayors who are refusing to toe the line.Councillors and mayors are said to have vowed to resist attempts to bring them before Chamisa’s integrity and accountability panel, whose stated purpose is to investigate suspected cases of corruption in the local authorities, particularly in procurement deals.
The panel is chaired by Chamisa’s lawyer Thabani Mpofu.A purge is targetting those at the Harare City Council where the city fathers have moved to block Mpofu’s panel.
Addressing a press conference late last month, Mpofu declared: “We will, in the coming weeks, turn our attention to the City of Harare. We intend to deal with in the first instance all the contracts, running contracts, unclosed contracts to which the City of Harare is part. We will look into the nature and number of contracts.”
Some senior party officials, however, indicated that councillors and mayors have collectively resolved to boycott the panel fearing it would be used for personal political interests.
“There are serious concerns that this panel is only a weapon by the president (Chamisa) to launch a smear campaign against them with the aim of dumping out of favour mayors and councillors. So the collective agreement is that no one should appear before that panel since it is a covert operation to get rid of Chamisa’s perceived rivals. This is why Maboke is being targeted in Masvingo,” a party official said.
“There are also doubts about the nature and scope of the said investigations by the panel. For instance, what mandate does it have and who will it invite for hearings? Who will fund their operations when they travel to various cities and towns across the country? They say they want to investigate and establish if contracts entered into between councils and their business partners are corrupt free, but conveniently forget that councillors are not in any way involved in tendering processes.
“The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act prohibits councillors from sitting in the procurement committees and as far as we know, the party can only censure its members seconded to council and cannot engage council officials who are the ones that decide on contract issues. The ministry (of local government) will definitely not allow that brazen interference to take place.
“They must be concentrating on establishing circumstances under which ZW$2 million vanished from party coffers at the HQ instead of hounding innocent people. What they are basically trying to do is to carry out an audit of council books, which is legally done through municipalities’ internal auditor, external auditors and the auditor-general. You can’t really comprehend what they are trying to achieve,” the source said.
Maboke declined to comment saying he has not been served with a formal notice of suspension.“I was not in the meeting where the said suspension occurred since I had gone to attend to an emergency, so I cannot comment at the moment. I have only heard of it from other people,” he said.
Chamisa’s spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda said: “The people’s president has a party that is intact and smart. Friction is the poor imagination of those in Zanu PF who want the MDC equal to the problems in Zanu PF”.