HARARE – With the clock ticking towards make-or-break harmonised polls next year, the MDC has been plunged into another hair-raising conspiracy linking some of its top officials to a plot to block Morgan Tsvangirai from leading a grand coalition against President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.
The MDC president, who has led the country’s largest opposition party since its formation in 1999, is facing resistance from two fronts, which has polluted the atmosphere under which the grand coalition would be negotiated.
On the one hand, is a group of MDC Members of Parliament who are mobilising the electorate in their constituencies to vote against Tsvangirai at the synchronised polls, while voting for aspiring councillors and lawmakers fronting the 18-year-old party.
Yet another plot involving a lobby among women cutting across opposition political parties is thickening as they seek to build consensus around a woman who could lead the grand coalition.
Tsvangirai’s backers have been quick to point accusing fingers at the MDC leader’s deputy, Thokozani Khupe, whom they suspect to have teamed up with National People’s Party (NPP) leader, Joice Mujuru, to block the former trade unionist’s bid to lead the mooted coalition.
Last Friday, MDC officials tried to block a women gathering in Bulawayo where Mujuru was officiating, fearing that the gathering could be used to de-campaign Tsvangirai.
This comes as Mujuru has stoked tensions within the opposition rank and file by seemingly making statements that suggest Tsvangirai lacks the profile of leading the much-talked about electoral alliance.
Last week, Mujuru punted herself to lead the envisaged grand coalition, at the same time seemingly questioning the suitability of Tsvangirai to front the mooted alliance as she promoted her candidacy during a meeting with her supporters in Zvimba, Mashonaland West.
Tsvangirai’s backers have been angered by Khupe’s participation at the Women Electoral Convergence (Wec) meeting in Bulawayo last Friday, a day before the former prime minister held his rally in Gweru, amid concerns that the gathering would act as a counter-attraction.
The party dispatched its deputy national spokesperson and Bulawayo East legislator Tabitha Khumalo to mobilise against the meeting but it failed.
MDC insiders allege that there could be a deal between Mujuru and Khupe reached during their trip to Dubai, allowing the NPP leader to use their structures in the provinces she has been touring to mobilise women to register and vote for next year’s elections.
Mujuru and Khupe have been to South Africa, the United States and United Arab Emirates on business trips, which MDC rivals say confirm their suspicions.
Wec is a non-party specific platform which is being driven by women politicians drawn from different political parties to encourage the feminine gender to register and vote for next year’s elections.
Apart from mobilising for voter registration, Wec is also advocating for increase in the number of women who hold political office.
Wec coordinator and legislator, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, said the accusations emanating from MDC were not surprising as they fit into the stereotype that women cannot lead.
“The reason why I laughed is because it is predictable from a gender perspective; men are very uncomfortable when they see women doing things they cannot take part in.
“We were very clear that is the likely response that men would come with, we engaged the leaders and he (Tsvangirai) was there before we had our meeting in Pretoria,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga told the Daily News.
“Let me make it clear we are concerned about two things, mobilising women to go and vote and making sure that women in various political formations can have equal representation. As far as I am concerned, they cannot be anyone who is supportive like Tsvangirai himself but anyone who wants to kill an initiative can only be part of the system.
“I think Zimbabwe is ready for any president male or female. Zimbabwe is ready for anyone who is not Robert Mugabe, people are not concerned whether the person is female or male, people just want anybody who can depart from Mugabe,” she added.
Khupe was not available for comment as her sister said she was not taking calls for three days as she was defending her PhD project.
The director of information in NPP Simbarashe Nyanhanga said Mujuru was committed to the mooted coalition and would not work to undermine Tsvangirai.
“The convergence is celebrated countrywide and we celebrate people like Thokozani Khupe as a worthy leader. She has represented herself well.
“It would be ridiculous for anyone to think otherwise, there is nowhere we can try to remove Tsvangirai. Our leader is committed to the MoU and would never consider any other way of handling politics other than working together in a coalition,” said Nyanhanga.
There are also growing suspicions within the party that some officials could be plotting an internal rebellion — Bhora Musango — like what happened to Mugabe and Zanu PF in the 2008 elections.
Well-placed sources within MDC told the Daily News at the weekend that there were real concerns within the party that some of its officials could be working with Zanu PF to scuttle Tsvangirai’s bid in next year’s crunch polls.
One of the insiders claimed that so wary had Tsvangirai himself become that he had allegedly warned during a meeting with his party’s Harare provincial executive last week about “enemies from within” who were working with Zanu PF under a programme dubbed “Operation Sesekedza” — under which some legislators and councillors apparently intended to campaign for themselves only, while working to ensure that the former trade union leader lost next year’s presidential election.
Contacted for comment, MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said those who were unwilling to support Tsvangirai “should quit” the party.
“If there is anyone who isn’t happy with the leadership of president Tsvangirai then that person is a saboteur who should simply ship out. We don’t want any wolves dressed in sheep’s clothes in the MDC,” Gutu said.
But another party insider, while confirming that Tsvangirai had indeed raised the issue, claimed that the MDC leader was being misled by some of his close lieutenants who felt that when he appointed Nelson Chamisa as one of his current three deputies he was putting in place his succession plan.
“There is a war brewing among the three VPs, as well as with other ambitious leaders in the standing committee, with some feeling that if Tsvangirai wins the next election he is likely to hand over the baton later to Chamisa and thereby shattering their dreams of one day becoming party leader,” the MDC national executive member said.
This comes as the MDC has also warned its prospective coalition partners that it is keeping its eyes “wide open” to avoid carrying suspected Zanu PF “spies” into the eagerly-awaited grand alliance which will take Mugabe head-on in next year’s polls.
Tsvangirai and leaders of the smaller opposition parties who include Mujuru and his one-time secretary-general, Welshman Ncube, have signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs), as the opposition finalises steps to form the much-talked about electoral alliance.
“It may be concluded that if the opposition resolves internal questions and hold together until 2018 it represents a momentous development in Zimbabwe’s political history.
“If it maintains the support of civil society, it could lead one of the broad-based movements against the government ever seen. It is also important to highlight that Zimbabweans put their trust more in a bigger opposition force,” Gutu told the Daily News.
“On the other hand, while a coalition should be inclusive, it does not mean every party which claims to be an opposition party deserves a place in the grand coalition.
“Apart from opportunists, there are also infiltrators who will seek space in order to infiltrate and destabilise the coalition.
“Parties must demonstrate what they bring to the grand coalition beyond their names and leaders. It should also be noted that whilst a grand coalition is important, it is not the silver bullet for opposition parties,” Gutu added.
It is not the first time that Tsvangirai has had to fight for his political life.
When the MDC first split in 2005, Tsvangirai survived an internal rebellion by some of his officials who were instrumental in the formation of the party in 1999.
That rebellion saw Ncube, Gibson Sibanda and others walking away from Tsvangirai to form another MDC formation.
Then came the fallout between the MDC leader and Tendai Biti in 2014, which has given rise to the emergence of fringe parties such as the People’s Democratic Party, under the former MDC secretary-general, and the Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe, led by Elton Mangoma who, along with Biti, engineered the split.
While Tsvangirai has remained on top of the crest each time his party has splintered, the disintegration has had the effect of weakening the MDC’s challenge against Zanu PF.