Factional cracks are growing in Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change led by former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
MDC-T members are arguing over who is the acting president while the party leader undergoes cancer treatment in South Africa.
It’s been over almost a month since Tsvangirai left for medical treatment in South Africa. This is the longest he has been gone for medical care.
On Thursday, Tsvangirai’s spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka, tried to tamp down rising concerns. “When is Mr. Tsvangirai likely to be back? We expect him soon, that is all I can say at the moment. He is unwell but we expect him home soon.”
Tsvangirai founded the party in opposition to Robert Mugabe, who led the nation 37 years. The military forced Mugabe out late last year, but his ZANU PF party continues to run the government, under President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
On Wednesday, Tamborinyoka said Tsvangirai wanted Vice President Nelson Chamisa to serve as MDC acting president until he returns. Chamisa takes over from another vice president, Elias Mudzuri, who has been acting president since Tsvangirai left early last month.
Tamborinyoka says there is no need for debate over the announcement.
“There has been needless furore over my statement communicating President Tsvangirai’s position that Vice President Hon. Nelson Chamisa is now the acting president.
“For the record, I have been communicating the President’s messages for almost a decade. He has entrusted me with the position of being his official spokesperson and he has shared with me many confidential matters; some for the press and some not for the press. That has been the nature of our relationship.”
He said it must be noted that in September 2017, “President Tsvangirai left an MDC Alliance workshop in Kadoma and went for treatment in South Africa. He left VP Khupe as acting President and we communicated the same. On 5 January 2018, the president appointed Vice President Hon. Enginer Elias Mudzuri as acting President and again I communicated the same to everyone.
“On the 7th of February 2018, he appointed Hon. Chamisa as acting President. There is a pattern about these appointments because as of now all three of his deputies have acted in his absence.”
He further noted that “I want to place it on record that I am the official spokesperson of the President and what I place on the market are his views as instructed personally by him. That position has not changed.
“I also want to place it on record that there is a purported statement from the Office of the President that seeks to nullify what the President himself directed that I communicate. For the record, that letter is on a fraudulent letterhead with a scanned signature of the President, which signature is readily available online. The Office of the President has not released such a letterhead to anyone and the President, who is currently in SA, has not asked for it for him to place his purported letter. In short, the so-called letter is fraudulent and bogus.”
Tamborinyoka said acting president Chamisa has already assumed his responsibilities, albeit in an acting capacity as directed by the president. “He has addressed the parliamentary caucus and will be meeting provincial chairpersons this afternoon.
“I wish to state that the stampede in the cockpit is needless and unnecessary. The President remains unwell but is stable. Our behavior and deportment in these trying moments for our President must enhance the towering brand of Morgan Tsvangirai and not seek to undermine it. Unfortunately, this needless stampede by political vultures is disrespectful of his wife and family as well as the towering edifice of brand Tsvangirai that has inspired Zimbabweans over the years.”
However, the stage has been set for a battle within the party, after the MDC national spokesperson, Obert Gutu, contradicted Tamborinyoka.
“Let me speak to you as the official spokesperson of the MDC-T, I am authoritatively instructed and advised to advise the world that the acting president of the MDC T remains Honorable Elias Mudzuri.”
Gutu said Mudzuri himself will set the record straight on Friday when he is back in the country.
However, Tamborinyoka says the appointment of acting presidents had been arranged earlier.
Some Zimbabwe political analysts note that the country’s politics have been characterized by factionalism driven by self-interest. As a result, they say, the MDC will not be able to win national elections later this year, unless they resolve their dispute soon.