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Friction in Zimbabwe Opposition Parties Stalls Political Reforms

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai addressing supporters recently in Chegutu, Mashonaland West. (VOA)
The split of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 2005 was arguably one of the most important political events in independent Zimbabwe.

Party president Morgan Tsvangirai and then secretary general Professor Welshman Ncube had political differences so profound that the two continue to decline opportunities to unite and take on President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, which may have contributed to their losses in the 2013 elections.

The two men have little regard for the other now. Insiders say that Mr. Tsvangirai, Mr. Ncube is merely power hungry.

Meanwhile, the leader of the other MDC views the former prime minister as a clueless person who lacks the creativity and political stamina to dislodge Zanu-PF from power.

Now, both men face mounting challenges to their leadership, as many of their supporters call for change, complaining that neither man seems capable of leading their parties to victory against Zanu-PF.

Roy Bennet is the treasurer general of Mr. Tsvangirai’s MDC. He says time has come for the party to dump leaders who failed to deliver in the July polls.

‘We need to question each other, we need to stand up, we need to be transparent, we need to be accountable and we need to accept responsibility of our actions,” he says.

Movement for Democratic Change supporters (AP)
Movement for Democratic Change supporters (AP)
A party member for 13 years, Bennet also charged that some senior MDC officials promote factionalism in the party, a major obstacle to any electoral success.

“There are individuals within the MDC who through their participation in the government of national unity lost touch with the people and have tried to re-endorse themselves forcibly upon the people without respecting the people’s will and allowing the democratic process to take place at grassroots level. The people of the MDC know who they are.”

“They know what the issues are and everybody knows where those issues lie. It’s individuals who have possibly felt insecure over their positions, tried to create parallel structures and force candidates on the electorate in support of their positions,” says Bennet.

There has long been speculation that party secretary general Tendai Biti hopes to unseat Tsvangirai, but others continue to back Tsvangirai, saying he should run for president again in 2018.

But party chairman Lovemore Moyo believes that the party remains united behind Mr. Tsvangirai, who he says, is still popular among party followers. And a meeting of the party’s national executive council last month seemed to reconfirm Tsvangirai’s position, at least among the party chiefs.

“Tsvangirai has done exceptionally well. No opposition leader has done what Tsvangirai has done in the first elections coming from just nowhere winning almost neck to neck with Zanu PF in terms of Members of Parliament and of course you know that in 2008 we had a majority …

“And only this is when things did not go well which everyone knows that some of these things were beyond our control and also beyond the control of president Tsvangirai. President Tsvangirai I think has is still very popular with the people,” he says.

Moyo says the party learned its lesson following the 2005 fallout with Mr. Ncube and notes that he does not foresee the party splitting again.

“It’s a victim of the outside work of Zanu-PF in trying to divide the leadership. I don’t foresee any split given our experience and our knowledge that Zanu-PF want us to split.”

MDC leader Professor Welshman Ncube (AP)
MDC leader Professor Welshman Ncube (AP)
Mr. Tsvangirai is not alone in facing disappointed supporters. Mr. Ncube has its share party members disgruntled over the party’s poor performance in the July 31 elections.

The party’s treasurer, former freedom fighter Paul Themba Nyathi, says some supporters are now creating real chaos within the party.

“We certainly in the MDC are not fracturing. We do have our own internal problems that have to do with indiscipline. We have people who instead of resorting to the laid down procedures and processes of the party would prefer to go and air their views or grievances, if you may call them that, to the news media.

“It has nothing to do with the party fracturing. It has to do with some in the party having failed to come to terms with the elections of July 31. So, when a party goes through that kind of trauma there are those that tend to look inward instead of looking outward.”

While some say the problem is the lack of vision and charisma on the part of leaders, Mr. Nyathi complains that too many supporters are too “big-headed” and simply do not want to be led by anyone.

Despite these challenges, Bennet, Moyo and Nyathi agree that the two major opposition parties can recover and manage to unseat Zanu-PF in the 2018 general election. For Bennet, this can be done only if some top party executives are removed from leadership.

But in a country as divided as Zimbabwe, does any single opposition party have a chance to win a free and fair election? Mr. Nyathi is skeptical, saying the only hope for the opposition is to work together.

Whether the opposition can actually move past their differences to form a coalition in the next election or beyond is something only time will tell.
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