WITH factionalism ravaging the country’s largest and to date the most competitive opposition party into near annihilation, Zimbabwe could emerge out of the crisis in the opposition a de-facto one-party state, critics point out.
The internal strife in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC–T), which came to a boil this week following a coup that saw a national executive council suspend party president, Morgan Tsvangirai, and six of his allies on Saturday, and was followed up by a retaliatory counter measure by Tsvangirai’s side on Tuesday to expel the secretary-general Tendai Biti, who is believed to have masterminded the coup, can be traced back to the crushing defeat of the party by ZANU-PF in the July 2013 elections.
Deflated spirits from the defeat resulted in calls for leadership renewal in the MDC–T by senior party members, among them, the party’s treasurer-general, Roy Bennett, his deputy Elton Mangoma, former Marondera lawmaker Ian Kay and Elias Mudzuri. In efforts to quash the mounting calls for him to step down, Tsvangirai suspended Mangoma and lawyer Jacob Mafume together with two other “disciples” of leadership renewal.
However, the leadership renewal team hit back at their leader and his followers last Saturday by suspending Tsvangirai, his deputy Thokozani Khupe, national chairman Lovemore Moyo, organising secretary Nelson Chamisa and his deputy Abdenico Bhebhe before reinstating all members who had been suspended by the MDC–T leader’s faction including Mangoma. Three days later, the pro-Tsvangirai side retaliated by expelling Biti from the party. The unfolding drama points to an imminent split.
The events are reminiscent of 2005 when internal wrangles in the original MDC party resulted in a breakaway formation ironically also led by a sitting secretary-general. The 2005 split came about with the then secretary general Welshman Ncube accusing Tsvangirai of dictatorial tendencies and unleashing violence on people opposed to his views. This followed a party deadlock on whether to participate in the senatorial elections after ZANU-PF had won two thirds majority in Parliament in 2005.
The Ncube-led MDC formation, after a spirited run in the 2013 elections in which it performed dismally, has not made a convincing come back following that defeat. In fact, there has been an exodus of some of its key members since July last year. Another opposition party which contested in the 2013 polls, and also had a crushing defeat, ZAPU, has not amounted to much thereafter.
Other parties such as Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn led by Simba Makoni have since failed to make any mark on the political landscape in their six years of existence.
Numerous other parties, though registered entities, have really not registered in the public political psyche.
With new parties such as Transform Zimbabwe, Zimbabweans United for Democracy, the National Constitutional Assembly, among others, still to make an impact, the MDC-T was the only opposition to write home about.But today the MDC-T finds itself in a very contentious situation where Biti who is the party’s secretary- general is in the forefront of challenging Tsvangirai’s rule. He accuses Tsvangirai of lacking leadership qualities and having dictatorial tendencies as well as unleashing violence on his opponents.
Tsvangirai’s loss to President Robert Mugabe in the last polls saw ZANU-PF commanding two thirds majority in both the upper and the lower houses of Parliament. The MDC, formed with support of the labour movement, students unions and civic organisations in 1999, had been the country’s biggest threat to President Mugabe’s 34 year uninterrupted rule. However, recent developments might redefine the country’s political landscape and give the impetus to ZANU-PF which will now have less political pressure as a result of a weakened opposition.
With a weakened opposition, Zimbabwe could be heading to a de facto one party state where there is only a single political party in the country. President Mugabe is a strong believer in the one party state system and once tried the idea in the late 1980s but his manoeuvres towards the one party state were openly opposed by the then party’s secretary-general, the late Edgar Tekere, who quit the revolutionary party in a huff and formed his own Zimbabwe Unity Movement which contested the 1990 elections and won considerable seats in Parliament.
Midlands based political analyst, Didymus Dewa, admitted that the current problems bedevilling the opposition have weakened ZANU-PF’s rivals. “The current problems in the MDC–T will lead to legal battles for the control of the party’s assets with both groups claiming legitimacy. I foresee the same situation of Welshman Ncube and Arthur Mutambara who fought legal battles for the control of the smaller MDC formation but they were never resolved until the collapse of the inclusive government when the matter became inconsequential.
“If this happens, this will give (President) Mugabe a chance to manage the succession issue in his own party. The infighting within the opposition will give ZANU-PF ample time to deal with their own in-house problems as there would not be an external threat and will deal with issues at their own pace,” Dewa said. Bulawayo political commentator, Dumisani Nkomo, said an opposition vacuum is likely to be created.
“In the next two or three years a vacuum may be created leading the country to be a de facto one party state as the opposition in Parliament won’t be playing their oversight role of making Cabinet to account as they will be concentrating on their own internal issues,” Nkomo said. – Lovemore Zigara