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Leon Hartwell: Leadership Crisis, Internal Rifts Weakened MDC-T

Leon Hartwell
Leon Hartwell

A former political adviser at the Netherlands Embassy in Harare says the Movement for Democratic Change once led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai has over the years been devastated by serious internal problems, including a leadership crisis, which can be addressed if the party reverts to its founding principles.

In a paper titled: What Went Wrong With Zimbabwe’s MDC-T?, Leon Hartwell, cites many issues that have weakened the MDC, which include lack of prudent leadership, intraparty violence, failure to respect the party’s constitution, the individualization of the party, policy inconsistencies and poor internal and external communication strategies.

According to Hartwell, the MDC-T has also been weakened by its failure to fully utilize its huge manpower base as in most cases it depends on foreign experts, who end up controlling its agenda.

He also notes that the party does not tolerate any internal debate and boycotts media entities that oppose its views.

The writer says the MDC-T failed over the years to capitalize on its popularity and could not even effectively engage the Southern African Development Community, which reportedly discouraged it from participating in the 2013 general elections it contested and lost to the ruling Zanu PF party then led by former president Robert Mugabe.

The writer indicates that the MDC-T has not been able to harness, for its own benefit, local youth and the military, and also to articulate issues resonating well with the masses unlike its bitter rival, Zanu PF.

Speaking on VOA Zimbabwe Service’s call-in show, Livetalk, Hartwell said his criticism of the MDC-T does not mean that he supports any party but this is what he observed when he engaged various political outfits in Zimbabwe when he worked at the Netherlands Embassy.

“… I have never been anti-MDC. I have never been pro any party in Zimbabwe or anything like that. I have written a lot about Zanu PF violence and some things like that. I also was fortunate to spend three years in Zimbabwe and to witness a lot of things first hand. I kind, like, felt disappointed by the MDC led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai.”

Hartwell said Tsvangirai’s MDC was already weakened by serious challenges before participating in the 2013 general elections.

“I started writing this paper just after I left Zimbabwe. I arrived late in Zimbabwe just after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and then I left Zimbabwe shortly after the 2013 election and I started to make notes about why is it that the MDC is a weak party because although I thought that the elections were not free and fair in 2013, you know, the MDC that went into that election was a weak party.”

Hartwell, who is a current PHD candidate at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, blames Tsvangirai’s leadership for some of the party’s pitfalls.

“Leadership is very hard to define but I know what I saw there in Zimbabwe was lack of leadership when it came to Tsvangirai and there you can look for anything from all the sexcapades to, you know, issues where there was violence for example in the party.” END ACT

TEXT: Responding to a question on the prevalence of such challenges in Zimbabwe’s political parties, Hartwell said Tsvangirai’s problems are faced by most leaders in the country.

“I think the more I think about this the more I thought that many of these issues I identified with regards to the MDC are many of the same issues that you will find inside Zanu PF. Now, I want to be very, very clear about this. I am not saying the MDC is the only party that has intraparty violence or anything like that. I think the violence that we have seen that was committed by Zanu PF is much worse than what we have seen in MDC but at the same time the big difference between the two parties is that MDC was born because of people’s love of democracy, people’s love of human rights and they demanded an end to violence.”

In his response to Hartwell’s remarks on challenges of Tsvangirai’s leadership, Dr. Nkululeko Sibanda said the late founding president of the opposition MDC, was a strong fighter for freedom and human rights and as a result he stood for the people of Zimbabwe until he succumbed to cancer of the colon.

Dr. Sibanda, who is the spokesperson of the current MDC-T leader, Nelson Chamisa, said Zimbabweans are currently not interested in Tsvangirai’s weaknesses but focusing on having a new government at the end of this month.

“… For whatever reason and whichever way one wants to look at it, the fact of the matter is Zimbabweans are not faced with a question whether or not the MDC is stronger today than it was in 2000. What Zimbabweans are faced with, and I think that is important, is a choice of a life time. If we do not change this government this year, if we do not change this government … we will never be able to achieve full democracy.

“For whatever its weakness is, anybody can identify, the MDC is the only party offering the Zimbabwean electorate, and Zimbabweans are very intelligent, it’s offering the Zimbabwean electorate an opportunity to truly transform and start anew, and that Zanu PF is offering the same and we know that things will remain the same.”

Dr. Sibanda said Chamisa has transformed the opposition MDC-T, which is part of the MDC Alliance that has fielded him as its presidential candidate.

“If you look at anybody in this world you are going to find a fault in them. If you look at an organization in this world, you are going to find a fault in them. But Zimbabweans do not have the luxury right now to be looking at that. Advocate Nelson Chamisa, undoubtedly and every Zimbabweans can see for themselves, since he took over this party six months ago he has built a movement that is rising with momentum, is unstoppable … And that tells us that whether the party was weakling between 2009 and 20013 is immaterial because Advocate Nelson Chamisa is building it up.”

Hartwell suggested that Chamisa and other political leaders should make reflections on the successes and failures of the MDC-T in order to avoid making the same blunders as Zimbabwe inches closer to crucial council, parliamentary, senatorial and presidential elections.