Battle for MDC top job

2018-02-18 06:01
Morgan Tsvangirai, the veteran Zimbabwean opposition leader who fought Robert Mugabe's regime for many years, died on February 14, 2018 after battling against cancer. (File: AFP)

Morgan Tsvangirai, the veteran Zimbabwean opposition leader who fought Robert Mugabe's regime for many years, died on February 14, 2018 after battling against cancer. (File: AFP)

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The family of Zimbabwe’s late opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been caught up in the party’s succession battle.

Family members this week reportedly were divided in their support for Tsvangirai’s three deputies as he lay on his deathbed in a South African hospital. Tsvangirai (65) succumbed to colon cancer on Wednesday. The fights within the MDC and the family continued as mourners waited for his body to be returned from South Africa.

Tsvangirai was a longtime foe of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. He became prime minister after Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF and the MDC cobbled together a unity government in 2013, following disputed elections.

According to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, he will be honoured with a state-assisted funeral and be buried in his rural Buhera home, Manicaland province, next week. Tsvangirai’s body is expected in Zimbabwe by today.

According to insiders, Tsvangirai’s brother, Collins, sided with Elias Mudzuri, one of Tsvangirai’s vice-presidents. On the other hand, Tsvangirai’s wife, Elizabeth, sided with Nelson Chamisa, who was confirmed as the MDC’s interim leader on Thursday.

“Essentially, it was a case of the rival factions in the party seeking to advance their interests through family members,” said a member of the MDC standing committee.

Elizabeth was not available for comment on Friday. She was apparently denied access to her husband in the Johannesburg hospital where he was being treated, days before he died. Ironically, Chamisa was also barred from seeing Tsvangirai earlier this month.

In a video clip that circulated in Zimbabwe this week, Collins said from South Africa that Chamisa and Elizabeth were barred from visiting Tsvangirai in hospital. He said the family did not understand Mrs Tsvangirai’s movements.

“She was seen in Harare after skipping a visit to the hospital on the pretext of being sick and we had no knowledge of it. This is the time that triggered the fallout and Morgan said he cannot continue like this and said she could not come to see him in hospital. Morgan told the doctor that he doesn’t want to see Elizabeth,” Collins says. The video was made shortly before Tsvangirai died.

City Press understands that Tsvangirai family members suspected Elizabeth of siding with Chamisa’s faction in a bid to wrest control of the party from the other two MDC deputies.

Collins was equally accused of dabbling in factional politics inside the MDC. Some party officials and family members said Collins aligned himself with Mudzuri, who claims he is still a bona fide acting president of the MDC. This is despite the fact that some members of the MDC’s standing committee appointed Chamisa interim leader until the party’s congress next year.

Mudzuri and fellow MDC vice-president Thokozani Khuphe have rejected the appointment as a coup d’etat and described it as shameful. Other members of the powerful standing committee boycotted the meeting.

On Friday afternoon, Khuphe distanced herself from the succession infighting. She was speaking from Johannesburg where she was making arrangements for the repatriation of Tsvangirai’s remains to Zimbabwe. She said the events unfolding in the MDC were “un-African, uncultured and barbaric” and that those behind them were trying to draw attention away from Tsvangirai’s death.

“I state on good authority that the family, and indeed the majority of the party leadership, stands distanced from any and all of the disturbing, cheap politics we have witnessed since the passing on of MDC president Tsvangirai,” she said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, some executive members in the standing committee said they resolved to appoint Chamisa, in the absence of Mudzuri and Khuphe, out of fear of being sidelined.

Mudzuri was not reachable for comment. However, MDC executive members fighting in his corner said he would challenge the standing committee’s decision to elect Chamisa interim leader.

“For now, he is lying low until the process to mourn our leader is over. He will certainly challenge the committee members who acted outside the mandate of the party and the grassroots to advance the interests of a faction leader,” said one of his backers in the MDC.

MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu on Friday criticised those party members who he said were appointing themselves to positions of power. He said the party’s members would elect an interim leader. This was likely a hint at an extraordinary congress that the party’s constitution states must be held to choose a new leader in the event of the death or resignation of its president.

Claris Madhuku, a political analyst in Harare, said the continued infighting between Tsvangirai’s deputies was bad for the party and the opposition movement. He said Khuphe was the legitimate deputy to take over, according to the MDC’s constitution.

“She can go to court. She is the only elected deputy, while the other two were appointed by Tsvangirai to help him, but not to administer the party. With a competent lawyer she can win this in court.”

However, MDC deputy chairman Morgan Komichi said on Thursday that 190 of the 250 standing committee members met and agreed that vice-president Chamisa would replace Tsvangirai.

Kurauone Chihwayi, spokesperson for the splinter MDC group led by Welshman Ncube, said the alliance had to come together and chose a candidate.

Chamisa, however, appeared to be digging in his heels over his appointment as interim leader.

He said on Thursday: “I will tell Mudzuri and Khuphe to join forces. I know there are frailties ahead. It’s no longer about party positions. We cannot all lead the party at one point. Tsvangirai’s shoes are too big.”


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