Elements of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change are proposing binding arbitration to resolve serious differences within the party’s leadership over the question of whether to take part in this month’s senate elections, among others.
Sources close to the situation say the new reconciliation initiative involves recruitment of neutral arbiters whose conclusions will be binding on both sides – one led by MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai, the other by Secretary General Welshman Ncube.
The effort follows an unsuccessful attempt to organize a parley between the two sides on Nov. 5, which failed to bring the pro-election Ncube faction to the table.
The crisis within the opposition has been festering since mid-October but has grown deeper in recent days with reports of violent clashes between supporters of the two factions. Sources said a man lost an eye in weekend fighting in Bulawayo.
Mr. Tsvangirai sought to convince party leaders to boycott the senate election and on Oct. 12 overrode a close vote by the MDC National Committee for participation in the election of a reconstituted upper house. But the faction led by Mr. Ncube objected to Mr. Tsvangirai’s effective nullification of the vote, calling it a violation of the party’s constitution, and the pro-election side has fielded 26 senate candidates.
While the pro-election faction moves ahead with senate campaigns, particularly in the southern Matabeleland region which is a traditional MDC stronghold – and therefore has a good chance of electing some MDC senators – the anti-election faction has been urging rank-and-file opposition members to stay away from the polls.
Mr. Tsvangirai on Sunday told a rally in Bulawayo, the capital of Matabeleland, that the pro-election faction was serving the interests of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party. The MDC’s nominal spokesman, Paul Themba Nyathi, who has joined the pro-election faction, responded that Mr. Tsvangirai was unfit to lead.
The Nov. 5 mediation effort was organized by an ad hoc reconciliation panel including party executive member Eddie Cross, chairman Isaac Matongo, Mashonaland Central official Shephard Mushonga and Bulawayo parliamentarian Thokozani Khuphe.
Mr. Cross, an economist, said his panel met with Mr. Tsvangirai to discuss where he stood on the crisis, and attempted to meet with MDC Vice President Gibson Sibanda, a leading figure in the pro-election faction, as well as with Mr. Ncube.
"I'm afraid we have got nowhere with Gibson Sibanda or the others," Mr. Cross said. "In fact they have steadfastly refused to speak to us." He said the pro-election camp at first cited the demands of election campaigning, then refused outright to meet on grounds that its members regarded his reconciliation committee as partisan.
"Morgan (Tsvangirai) expressed willingness to meet the other side anywhere, any time," Mr. Cross said, adding that Mr. Tsvangirai, while in Bulawayo on the weekend, had said he was available to meet with his opponents who were also in town. But the pro-senate elections faction refused to meet with Mr. Tsvangirai, he said.
Mr. Cross said the arbitration proposal was brought forth "by a colleague of mine" who suggested an investigation by two arbiters, both legal practitioners, whose conclusions would be binding upon both camps of the now-bifurcated opposition party.
He said Mr. Tsvangirai had accepted the arbitration proposal in principle, and that it was currently being discussed with the group favoring election participation.
But he was not optimistic as to the possibility of a positive outcome.
"To be honest, I think the split is probably going to be irreconcilable, and that we're going to have to wait for the outcome of the senate elections before any follow-up action can take place," Mr. Cross said.
Mr. Cross tells reporter Chinedu Offor of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe about his committee’s efforts to bring the two MDC factions together.