Can MDC do without Tsvangirai?


Three years ago he was just a trade union leader. President Robert Mugabe even joked that Morgan Tsvangirai and his colleague Gibson Sibanda, were dreaming that they could rule Zimbabwe.

Today the Movement for Democratic Change leader is the biggest pain in the neck for President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai even haunts President Mugabe to State, his official residence.

Mugabe’s sister, Bridgette, had to plead with his first wife Sally, at her grave, to stop Tsvangirai from tormenting him. Only 48 against Mugabe’s 76, Tsvangirai is now big. So big that some argue he is now above the law.

But not in the same way as Mugabe. While Mugabe overrides everyone from the Supreme Court to his two vice-presidents, Tsvangirai is now above the law simply because no one dares touch him.

Last month, he broke the law.

He told a gathering celebrating his party’s first anniversary: “What we would like to tell Mugabe today is, please go peacefully, and if you don’t want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently.” This was treason. Period.

But despite calls for his arrest, no one dared touch him. Police merely questioned him, probably more out of pressure from ruling ZANU-PF politicians, but released him. Tsvangirai’s unfortunate outburst has raised the important question no one has dared to raise since he lost the June elections to Kenneth Manyonda in the Buhera North constituency.

Can the MDC do without him?

Although the Movement for Democratic Change is campaigning on the platform of a democratic party, political analysts believe the MDC cannot do without Tsvangirai right now. On the other hand, ZANU-PF which has institutionalised Mugabe in the 20 years he has been in power, is failing to get rid of him although everyone admits he is now a political liability to the party.

Analysts say although the MDC is a coalition comprising academics, professionals, leaders of civil society and trade unionists, its base remains that of workers.

This puts Tsvangirai a head above the rest. “He is charismatic. And he has built a portfolio which puts him in good stance with the electorate,” one analyst said. ZANU-PF is quite aware of this.

That is why it has made him its major target. He has to be removed from the scene. But killing him is not an option. It would only turn him into a martyr.

The analyst say although Tsvangirai’s deputy, Gibson Sibanda, has a trade union background and was Tsvangirai’s president in the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, he is only acceptable as long as he is known to be a shadow of Tsvangirai. Sibanda is currently Parliamentary leader of the party.

MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube has all the credentials. An academic, a lawyer and a Member of Parliament. “But he is from the wrong province. He is also an academic and middle class, so he will not go down well with the workers,” the analyst said. Ncube is from Bulawayo province.

The same applies to David Coltart. He is the wrong colour. He is also from Bulawayo.

Tendai Biti, another young hopeful, a lawyer who has helped Morgan Tsvangirai in his rise as trade union leader by winning for him key constitutional cases, also has a problem. He comes from the wrong province.

He can easily be aligned to Masvingo’s ageing political supremo Eddison Zvobgo. Though an avowed ZANU-PF member often vowing that he will never abandon the party, Zvobgo is regarded by his colleagues in the ruling party as being too sympathetic to the MDC.

“It is an open secret that Zvobgo refused to be in cabinet unless Mugabe categorically stated that he was not going to stand in the 2002 elections,” the analyst said. “Besides, he has messed up things for himself in the House as he is one of the few MPs who is getting cheers from the opposition.”

The Insider has received several reports, which are difficult to confirm, that Zvobgo has been sitting on the fence even prior to the elections ready to swing with a substantial number of elected ZANU-PF Members of Parliament should he be forced into a corner.

This month he was reported by the Financial Gazette to have told President Mugabe that the manner in which he was using temporary presidential powers to seize farms was illegal and could be successfully challenged in the courts. Mugabe is reported to have snubbed Zvobgo.

This is quite understandable as land is the only thread Mugabe is now hanging on to. But the Commercial Farmers Union is challenging Mugabe’s powers.  The case will be heard by a full bench of the Supreme Court next month.

The political analyst said while the ruling ZANU-PF was aware of this delicate situation in the MDC and wanted Tsvangirai out of the picture it had been advised that this would be political suicide.

“Police are saying they should arrest him but the Central Intelligence Organisation says he should not be arrested. The CIO says if Tsvangirai is arrested, ZANU-PF will in effect be campaigning for him in the 2002 presidential elections. They will make a martyr and hero out of him.  But they are in a catch 22 situation. If they don’t arrest him they will be showing the world that he is untouchable.”

Tsvangirai seems to be aware of this.  He has stated that if he is arrested, he will not be “responsible for the reactions of the people. . .” another subtle reference to the fact that Mugabe could be removed violently by the people. He also argues that although the law says it is an offence to say anything derogatory of the President, he was addressing Robert Mugabe as leader of ZANU-PF.

As fellow political leaders, Tsvangirai and his lawyer Innocent Chagonda, argue, they are expected and encouraged to debate issues, and even renounce each other when necessary. But another political analyst said this would not stop ZANU-PF from having a go at him. Worse still, some people within his party are beginning to have airs, that they can actually lead the party.

“Some people within his party are beginning to warm up and since he is outside Parliament they are beginning to get some airs that they can take over. His arrest would be a bloodless coup for which they would not have to blame,” the analyst said.

The analyst said while Tsvangirai is surrounded by experts and advisers, he is having to tread cautiously, relying more on his intuition.

“What most people tend to forget is that Tsvangirai is a self-educated man. He may have the Welshman Ncubes, Tendai Bitis, David Coltarts, Eddie Crosses, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with him.” According to this analyst the only person he seemed to have absolute trust in was youth chairman Noel Chamisa.

The analyst also had another theory about how ZANU-PF was trying to get rid of Tsvangirai. He said they were trying to drive him into exile. The raids on MDC offices and the bombings were all old tactics ZANU-PF had used before to force its opponents into exile.

Former vice-President, Joshua Nkomo was forced into exile in 1983 when he was still leader of ZAPU. Police had been constantly raiding his house in Pelandaba, on some flimsy excuses.

Nkomo later told reporters in London: “Mugabe’s boys almost switched me off.” He said members of Five Brigade had plundered his Bulawayo home killing his chauffeur, the son of a friend and a stranger who was visiting.

Although Nkomo was only in exile for five months, ZANU-PF had already achieved what it wanted by the time he returned. His deputy, Josiah Chinamano backed by Cephas Msipa started talking unity while Nkomo was in exile. This paved the way for the merger of the two parties in 1987 which killed the only opposition.

In 1984, they garnered for Ndabaningi Sithole, leader of ZANU-Ndonga. He ended up spending eight years in exile.

There were threats that he would be arrested on his return because the State had in its possession letters written by people in the United States and Europe asking for sophisticated weapons to overthrow the government. Sithole was accused of having links with the right-wing Heritage Foundation in the United States as well as ganging up with the Mozambican Renamo rebel movement which at the time was trying to topple the Frelimo government but is now the official opposition.

When Sithole returned home in 1992, he was an advocate for peace, proclaiming: “In the spirit of Mbuya Nehanda, Kaguvi, Mapondera, Parirenyatwa, Takawira, Herbert Chitepo. . .. Our 30 000 men and women who died for this country and in the spirit of our veteran fighters, our orphans and widows as a result of our liberation war, I wish to appeal to our 150 legislators to use their constitutional powers to afford the people of this country the opportunity to elect leaders they believe can see them through the present national mess that is turning our country into a laughing stock.”

While the country was experiencing its worst drought in living memory that year, it was in a much healthier state than it is today.

Abel Muzorewa, leader of the United African National Congress, and now United Parties, also went into exile although initially this was said to be voluntary. He retired from politics soon after losing the 1985 elections when he lost the Glen View seat to Ida Mashonganyika.

His political come back in 1993, at the request of his constituents has not yielded anything up to now.

“This is the same thing they are trying to do to Tsvangirai,” the political analyst said. “They want to force him into exile. And if you look at it closely they are using the same old tactics. The raids and the threats are usually made when he is out of the country.  This is meant to make him think it might not be safe to go back home since he will not be in touch with the ground.”

So far the trick has not worked. One political observer said seeking exile was the last thing on Tsvangirai’s mind.

“All the people who have had to seek exile in the past have had to come back with their heads between their legs. He cannot do that.  Although the situation is so volatile, he will make better political mileage within Zimbabwe by being harassed or tortured.”

But while everything seems to be going well for him, people are beginning to ask: What really does the MDC have to offer. Two papers that have backed Tsvangirai all along recently had some harsh words against him and his party.

“Tsvangirai’s propensity for disastrous tactical errors, and the MDC’s thinness on ideology and principles, could spell havoc for the party in a heel- to-heel fight with ZANU-PF, whether the election was free and fair or not,” The Zimbabwe Independent said recently. Its sister paper, The Zimbabwe Standard said the MDC had “merely ridden on the coattails of public disgruntlement” because it lacked a “post ZANU-PF vision (people) can latch on to”.


Don't be shellfish... Please SHAREShare on google
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Like it? Share with your friends!

Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *