The MDC formation led by Zimbabwean prime minister has fired its deputy spokesperson, who becomes the first victim of the internecine factionalism rocking the party in Bulawayo where dozens of supporters have reportedly bailed to join a rival faction.
Thabitha Khumalo, lawmaker for Bulawayo East, took delivery of a letter from her party Wednesday informing her that she had been relieved of her duties with immediate effect and that her position was now occupied by Public Works Minister Joel Gabhuza.
Gabuza is a trusted lieutenant of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who personally signed Khumalo's letter of demotion. Party sources played down her removal as part of a mini-reshuffle of secretaries although no one else but her was dropped.
The party is expected to announce the development ang other minor changes after a national executive meeting Thursday.
The sources say Khumalo has been heading on a collision course with the party's leadership following her election to the position of deputy president of a faction of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions led by Lovemore Matombo.
Following the split of the umbrella union, the Tsvangirai MDC aligned itself with the faction led by George Nkiwane, but Khumalo chose the Matombo wing, putting herself in an awkward position.
A petition is reported to be circulating in Makokoba, a constituency riven by incessant in-fighting that saw the defection of more than 200 members early this month, targeting senator Matson Hlalo, who is believed to be Khumalo’s ally, seeking his ouster.
“What is surprising is that all those who deserted the party claimed they were not happy with deputy president Khuphe’s leadership style but here we see Thabitha (Khumalo) being victimized,” said another source.
The sources said Khumalo’s fallout with the party was worsened by her radical views on the legalization of prostitution. She has also been linked to the recent defections of some members of her party to the rival faction led by Welshman Ncube.
Khumalo said she will only speak openly Thursday. Gabhuza told VOA the reshuffle was part of the restructuring ahead of the elections expected any time before June next year.
“As you know the party had some vacancies due to deaths of senior members so this is part of the restructuring to feel those vacant positions,” he said.
But pressed on the fact that he had stepped into a position that was not vacant, Gabhuza said of his predecessor: “Maybe she will be posted to another position. I’m not sure on that though. Our leaders are going to make that clear soon.”