The faction of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Arthur Mutambara suffered a major setback Thursday with the defection of key officials in Masvingo Province to the rival faction of MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai.
Now under Tsvangirai’s banner are Silas Mangono, a former Masvingo lawmaker who was Mutambara’s secretary for education, Masvingo Mutambara faction ex-chairman Shaky Matake and some 20 Mutambara faction executive committee members.
Tsvangirai faction was further boosted as the ZANU-Ndonga opposition party – small but strong in Chipinge North and South constituencies, Manicaland – issued a formal announcement of support for Tsvangirai’s March 2008 presidential bid.
Tsvangirai is widely tipped to get the backing of Save Zimbabwe Campaign, from which Mutambara loudly withdrew last Saturday, accusing it of favoring Tsvangirai and announcing that his faction would run its own presidential candidate.
The MDC split into two factions in late 2005, nominally over whether to run candidates in elections for a reconstituted senate - Tsvangirai opposed contesting the ballot.
Ironically, Mutambara joined the so-called pro-senate faction well after the break, and earlier this year seemed to be ready to accept Tsvangirai's primacy in the party.
Mutambara’s faction lost a number of officials to Tsvangirai’s faction last year, among them its then-chairman, Gift Chimanikire, and its executive board members in the Harare satellite town of Chitungwiza and the United Kingdom also bolted.
Former Mutambara partisan Silas Mangono told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that all factions should unite under Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the defectors are welcome.
Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga, deputy secretary general of the Mutambara faction, said the formation’s leadership will not lose any sleep over the absconders.