Though it is still not clear whether the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) will participate in next year’s general elections or not, daggers are already drawn in Makokoba, the pulse of Bulawayo, which is to the City of Kings what Mbare is to Harare.
Incumbent Member of Parliament Thokozani Khupe, who has allegedly already been endorsed as the party candidate for the constituency in next year’s elections, is reportedly being challenged by MDC councillor for the area, Matson Hlalo.
The opposition party is said to have been so miffed by Hlalo’s defiance of party protocol that it suspended the councillor after it accused him of organising a demonstration against the MP.
MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi refused to comment on the issue saying it was now a subject for disciplinary hearing and investigations.
The friction between Khupe and Hlalo came to a head on June 23 when about two dozen “disgruntled” supporters of the MDC marched in Mzilikazi and Makokoba protesting against alleged incompetence of Khupe.
One of the demonstrators said they wanted a new person, who was more knowledgeable about the constituency’s problems, to represent them. The demonstrator was quoted by the local daily as saying: “I think Tsvangirai and his gang should know that if they impose Khupe on us, they will lose this seat to ZANU-PF.”
Khupe, and other senior MDC officials, claimed that the demonstration had been organised by Hlalo and consisted of people mostly from Mzilikazi. Khupe said Hallo was bitter because she had been endorsed on June 20 as the party’s candidate for the next elections.
“The party’s policy is that if a sitting MP is endorsed by the party’s district committee, the MP cannot be challenged. I won two-thirds majority on June 20. Eight members of the committee who were present voted for me. There are 12 members. Four did not turn up but they sent their apologies,” Khupe said.
She said what had baffled her, and other MDC leaders, was that the June 23 demonstrators had been given police protection, which is only normally accorded to ZANU-PF.
“I even asked the police why they had found it fit to give these demonstrators police escort when they will not even allow me to address people in my constituency,” Khupe said. “This clearly shows you this was not an MDC demonstration. Since when have police escorted MDC demonstrators?”
Hlalo denied organising the demonstration but added: “Mzilikazi is a very enlightened constituency. When the council increased rates last year people from Mzilikazi were the first to protest and they signed a petition which forced council to revise them. They know their rights. I was not responsible for their actions.”
The local media claimed at the time that Hlalo was behind the demonstrations. But he argued: “What people forget is the type of people who live in Mzilikazi. They are very enlightened. I have been a councillor for that area for 10 years so whatever happens there is linked to me. Unfortunately a lot of it is on the negative side on my part.”
Hlalo was elected councillor on a ZANU-PF ticket but left the party in 1999 to become an independent councillor. He contested against Khupe as an independent candidate in the 2000 elections but only polled 1 773 votes against Khupe’s 12 901. He was even beaten by ZANU-PF’s Sithembiso Nyoni, who had been a long rival of his. She polled 2 196 votes.
Hlalo complained at the time that he had lost because people had voted for the party rather than the candidate. “People did not care about what a candidate had to offer,” he said, adding that they had voted for Khupe who had not even campaigned.
Khupe accused Hlalo of being a rabble-rouser who had given headaches to the previous ZANU-PF MP for the area, Sithembiso Nyoni, and was now gunning for her. She said it was now apparent that Hlalo was a political opportunist who had joined the MDC to challenge her in the next elections but was deep down a ZAN-PF person.
She also denied allegations by the demonstrators that she was neglecting the constituency. “I am currently paying school fees for 42 children in my constituency,” she said. “I have helped set up two burial societies and have offered funeral assistance to a number of people in the constituency.”
Khupe said she had even paid $50 000 as funeral assistance to one of the women who was among the demonstrators, whom she named and insisted her name should be published, when her sister passed away.
“I have organised soccer tournaments for youths, and have paid examination fees for several youths to supplement their O-levels,” Khupe said.
She said she had sponsored at least three projects, one for youths, the other for women and a third for men, in 2000 but they had flopped because of lack of commitment from the people.
Khupe, the only woman MP in Bulawayo and a former trade unionist, had moved several motions to improve the welfare of workers. These included the removal of tax on pensions and bonuses.
She has also moved a motion on the widening of tax bands. She is advocating that tax on individuals should be reduced to a maximum of 20 percent while the threshold should be increased from the current $200 000 a month to $960 000 a month, which is the current poverty datum line – the minimum amount a family of six requires to meet its basic requirements. Currently high income earners are taxed 45 percent of their salaries.
“I worked harmoniously with my constituency until the arrival of Hlalo. We welcomed him into the party but little did we know that he was going to cause such havoc,” she said.
Hlalo, a former president of the Affirmative Action Group, joined the MDC in August 2000.
Asked whether he was a political opportunist who had joined the MDC to contest the Makokoba seat he lost in 2000 at the next elections, Hlalo said: “That is not fair. Maybe I have a different perspective of politics. When you go into politics you accept to be led and you can also lead if you are elected.”
Hlalo, however, grudgingly conceded that he was aware that Khupe had been endorsed as the party candidate for Makokoba, but he insinuated that the process was not transparent because she had not been popularly elected by the people. “My view is that in any political dispensation, what people want is what they should get,” he said.
Asked what he had done for the people of the constituency, Hlalo said that was not for him to say. “Just go and ask the people. They will tell you,” he said.
The MDC has set 15 pre-conditions for it to participate in next year’s elections but it has said preparations for the elections should go ahead as normal. A decision on whether to participate or not would only be made closer to the election date.
One of the major conditions is that there should be an independent electoral commission and voting should be over a day. ZANU-PF has already conceded to these two conditions.