MORGAN Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) is not taking the challenge to his leadership of the party lying down.
Instead, he is fighting to the bitter end. In the coming weeks, he is set to embark on a whirlwind tour of the country’s 10 political provinces to openly confirm his popularity among the grassroots.
Suggestions to hold a mini-congress ahead of the official party congress slated for April 2016 have been resisted in the past few weeks by Tsvangirai’s supporters, as they batted off demands for leadership renewal emerging from the party’s ranks. But lately, Tsvangirai seems to be warming up to the idea.
His decision to traverse the country’s provinces could be an indication that it may not be long before the MDC-T family sits to elect new office bearers at an extraordinary congress to lead the party past the 2018 elections. Tsvangirai’s personal indiscretions and a drama-filled marriage to Elizabeth Macheka have been cited as having contributed to the failure by the MDC-T to beat ZANU-PF at the polls.
His deputy treasurer-general Elton Mangoma to bravely put it to him to answer how he would bring closure to the issue of his sex life which had become the glee of the public. Another dent on Tsvangirai has been his craving for opulence after the inclusive government bought him a luxurious mansion in one of Harare’s leafy suburbs. MDC-T officials were also mired in acts of corruption, particularly in councils under the party’s dominion, with critics accusing the party of having joined the gravy train.
The 2013 polls saw Tsvangirai suffering his third successive defeat at the hands of President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. Mangoma is the latest high ranking official to question Tsvangirai’s continued stay in power. Before him, several senior party officials, including treasurer general Roy Bennett, Elias Mudzuri and Eddie Cross had publicly said the MDC-T needed to seriously consider leadership renewal, inviting a backlash from Tsvangirai’s backers.
The tour is therefore seen offering Tsvangirai an unofficial platform to whip up support for his continued leadership of the MDC-T while at the same time allowing him to test the waters. The stain of violence that has blighted the MDC-T after the gruesome attack on Mangoma is also something which Tsvangirai would attempt to sanitise during his nationwide tour.
Tendai Biti, the party’s secretary-general, survived a bomb attack on his home in Harare last week, fuelling speculation that he was the target of ongoing power struggles in the country’s largest opposition party. As usual, Tsvangirai would be hoping for huge turnouts in Bulawayo, a traditional MDC-T stronghold, as well as in Harare, where his party lost only three seats out of a possible 14.
The different provincial youth leagues are expected to play a key role in drumming up support for Tsvangirai during his tour of the party provinces. The Bulawayo provincial youth assembly has already followed up after the Harare youth assembly to express its allegiance to Tsvangirai, ahead of his visit to the hub of the Matabeleland provinces.
Should he succeed in pulling huge crowds at his rallies, it would be a blow to those who have expressed displeasure with his continued leadership of the MDC-T. This would leave those waiting in the wings to succeed him with the daunting task of having to win over the hearts and minds of the grassroots supporters that Tsvangirai has earned during a 15-year-long period as president of the MDC-T.
Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, said his boss remained “dearly loved” by the ordinary people, far away from the coup plotters and schemers in upmarket boardrooms and the doomsayers who have often under-estimated his popularity and his relevance to the national discourse. “Judging by the input from the party’s grassroots leaders from the 210 districts, Tsvangirai remains the repository of national hope and confidence,” said Tamborinyoka.
“Put him before the people and Tsvangirai will certainly be in his element; his natural habitat. In the coming weeks he will continue to interact with the ordinary citizens across the country and other stakeholders to deliberate on the poverty afflicting the people of Zimbabwe”. Shingi Chimwaza, a political commentator intimated that the task at hand now for Tsvangirai was to “rally his troops” and organise the people to dispel the notion that his party is dead and buried as recently intimated by President Mugabe of ZANU-PF.
“Tsvangirai needs to revive the spirit of non-violent defiance as was the case in the 1990s when he was still with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions,” said Chimwanza. “What does it help, after all, to be a president of a political party, with no strategy of confronting a system each time the vote is stolen right from under your nose?”
While Tsvangirai will continue to turn up the charm among his supporters, behind the scenes he would not be merely brushing aside the leadership challenge flung at him.
He is seen burning the midnight oil behind-the-scenes to secure the endorsement of his leadership team.