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Zimbabwe Opposition's Tsvangirai Takes Party Pulse On Women's Crisis

Movement for Democratic Change faction leader Morgan Tsvangirai met Friday with more provincial officials ahead of a critical meeting of his national executive council Saturday in Harare aimed at resolving bitter feuding around its women's wing.

Tsvangirai met Thursday with faction leaders in Bulawayo where he was said to have received a tepid welcome amidst disenchantment among members over the faction’s dissolution last month of the women’s assembly executive led by Lucia Matibenga.

On Friday he made stops in Kwekwe and Gweru, both in the Midlands. Party sources reached in Kwekwe declined to provide details on what Tsvangirai told them.

But analysts said his tour of the provinces reflects an attempt to gauge feeling at the grass roots before Saturday's key meeting of his faction’s top governing body.

Cape Town based political analyst Glenn Mpani told Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that while some speculate Tsvangirai hoped to silence his critics, such meetings are a normal part of the consultative process ahead of a key meeting.

Meanwhile, the woman who has been named to the chair of the Tsvangirai faction's women’s assembly, Theresa Makone, said her election last weekend in Bulawayo was properly constituted and that only the women of the party can reverse it.

Though a women’s congress elected Makone assembly chairwoman, a separate and competing congress voted to reinstate Lucia Matibenga as head of the assembly.

Matibenga and the rest of her executive were removed early last month by the faction leadership for alleged infighting and ineffectiveness.

Makone told reporter Patience Rusere that the controversy around her election is being stirred up by unnamed men in the party who have hidden agendas.

Analysts voiced concern that wrangling within the Tsvangirai MDC faction might have a serious and negative impact on larger developments in the country.

As a participant in crisis resolution talks being mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki between the ruling party and opposition, the MDC faction if fractured could slow that process, in particular with respect to elections due in March 2008.

There is also concern ZANU-PF could seem a more stable party than the MDC and find support among those discouraged by the prospect of another opposition split.

The MDC split into two competing factions in late 2005, nominally over the question of whether to participate in elections for a reconstituted senate though personal clashes between Tsvangirai and his pre-split secretary general, Welshman Ncube, played an important role in the schism. The rival faction is now headed by Arthur Mutambara.

For perspective, reporter Ndimyake Mwakelyele turned to two political commentators: Senior Analyst Sydney Masamvu of the International Crisis Group in South Africa, and former Zimbabwe parliamentarian and opposition politician Margaret Dongo.

Dongo said she perceives the risk that fallout from the feud in the Tsvangirai faction could jeopardize the progress of the South African-mediated crisis talks just as they are about to tackle critical issues having to do with free and fair elections.

Meanwhile, in another incident of alleged political violence by state agents, opposition sources in Hwange, Matabeleland North, said two men died at Saint Patrick’s Hospital in Hwange this week after they were assaulted by soldiers last weekend.

The two unidentified men were brought to the hospital by police who found them lying unconscious at a shopping center in Hwange’s rural Musuna village. Sources said the police have ordered hospital authorities not to discuss the deaths with the media and that a third victim in serious condition was not be allowed any visitors.

VOA could not reach police or hospital officials for confirmation or comment.

Hwange lawmaker Thembinkosi Sibindi told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that the victims were brutalized by soldiers, including youth militia, for belonging to the opposition.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...