FEAR of growing criticism appears to have influenced the recent move by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) to ban the proliferation of social media groups in the 16-year-old political movement.
Morgan Tsvangirai (pictured), the MDC-T leader, took his followers by surprise last week when he directed them to desist from using WhatsApp and Facebook.
In justifying the ban, the MDC-T leader said he had noted with dismay how they were abusing social media for self glorification at the expense of the party.
He was, however, forced to revoke the ban after it drew strong criticism from within and outside his party.
With the MDC-T coming under heavy attack for attempting to stifle free speech within its rank and file, ZANU-PF sought to capitalise on Tsvangirai’s blunder.
Jonathan Moyo, the ruling party’s secretary for science and technology, immediately opened Facebook and Twitter accounts to allow him to converse with ordinary citizens.
Moyo, the Information and Publicity Minister, had previously sworn never to use social media in a thousand years.
His summersault has paid off with his Twitter and Facebook accounts registering more than 3 500 and 4 000 followers in less than a week.
Although Tsvangirai has rescinded his ban on social media, few believe the move had been motivated by the alleged abuse of the platform.
Following the MDC-T’s latest split last April, Tsvangirai has been anxious about any ructions in the party.
When Welshman Ncube and his team broke away from the main MDC in 2005, it was on grounds of what they perceive to be Tsvangirai’s dictatorial tendencies.
Last April, Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma orchestrated another split of the MDC-T, accusing Tsvangirai of oppressing dissenting voices.
Biti and Mangoma are now part of the MDC Renewal Team, led by Sekai Holland.
In a bid to avoid the total disintegration of his party, Tsvangirai has since changed the party’s constitution to give himself more power.
He has inadvertently played into the hands of critics who have always accused him of acting contrary to democratic tenets upon which the MDC-T was founded.
Grace Kwinjeh, a former MDC founding member, said the tightening of information by the MDC-T even on social media reflected the greater control which Tsvangirai sought to exercise over the party, as he re-establishes himself after its damaging split last April.
“Zimbabwe is in a real quandary, the two main political parties are in a mess, however, of the two, I think the MDC-T presents an even bigger disappointment as many had pinned their hopes on it to rescue them from the current situation,” she said.
“I am not sure how they came up with the ban, but it sure is an indication all is not well in the MDC led by Tsvangirai even after Elton Mangoma and the rest left.”
To some, the fact that Tsvangirai, and not the secretary-general of the party, communicated the ban just goes to demonstrate how power has been centralised around the MDC-T leader.
MDC-T insiders claimed this week that Douglas Mwonzora, the party’s secretary-general, had no input in the decision to ban social media.
They said the decision was forced on Tsvangirai by his close advisers who were fearful of a repeat of the April 2014 split.
“The whole thing is about fear, they have not been comfortable since congress as they know full well how they got into power improperly.
The issue with the WhatsApp groups is that people there comment about party issues and even on certain characters freely. People comment as they wish,” said an MDC-T official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The party’s congress in October last year was mired in allegations of manipulation of the electoral processes.
Tsvangirai himself was not spared from the allegations.
The MDC-T leader was said to have masterminded Mwonzora’s ascendancy at the expense of Nelson Chamisa who was the frontrunner for the position until the elective congress.
But with power centralised around Tsvangirai since the October congress, the post of secretary-general has been reduced to a paper-tiger position, carrying no significant clout.
Yet others say Tsvangirai felt social media was taking the limelight away from him.
Several MDC-T officials are quite active on social media where they have commanded considerable following.
These include Jessie Majome, the Member of Parliament for Harare West, Chamisa, Obert Gutu, the MDC-T spokesperson and Tapiwa Mashakada, former MP for Hatfield.
There is growing realisation among the current crop of politicians of the potential of social networking sites in reaching out to a wider audience.
While Tsvangirai is obviously alive to this fact, he seems to be torn between dealing with threats to his power and advancing the MDC-T’s founding values as a movement meant to achieve democratic change in Zimbabwe.