Although it is dominated by trade unionists and a host of unknowns, the Movement for Democratic Change, launched on September 11 is made up of a cross section of the Zimbabwean population representing women’s groups, lawyers, war veterans, students, residents associations as well as ex-detainees.
Twelve of the 34 executive members are trade unionists led by Gibson Sibanda, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the new party, and Morgan Tsvangirai secretary general of both.
Sibanda’s deputy, Dr Tichawona Mudzingwa, is a medical doctor and an ex- combatant.
Tsvangirai’s deputy is another trade unionist, Gift Chimanikire, a militant who leads the Posts and Telecommunications Workers Union. Chimanikire has been jailed on a number of occasions for organising strikes by Posts and Telecommunications workers. The strikes were declared illegal as postal and telecommunications services are designated essential services.
The other trade unionist in the top seven is Pauline Gwanyanya from the Commercial Workers Union. She is in charge of women’s affairs while a former student leader, Learnmore Jongwe is in charge of youth.
At the time of going to press, the party had no treasurer. It had appointed Paul Themba Nyathi director of Zimbabwe Project, a non-governmental organisation that was largely responsible for the well being of ex-combatants. Nyathi said he could not take up the post because of work commitments. But he remains a member of the new party executive.
Other trade unionists in the new party are Isaac Matongo a vice-president of the ZCTU, Kumbirai Makore, Thokozani Khupe, Edward Muchena, Esaph Mdlongwa, Nicholas Mudzengerere (one of Tsvangirai’s deputies in the ZCTU), Remus Makuwaza and Wellington Chibhebhe.
The ZCTU has more than 30 affiliate trade unions which means less than a third are in politics.
Ex-combatants backing up Mudzingwa are: Hapson Nenji Gwauya, Ngoni Chitauro ( an accountant) and Fletcher Dulini.
There is only one ex-political detainee, Lovemore Moyo. Former and current student leaders such as Job Sikhala, Hopewell Gumbo, Tafadzwa Musekiwa and Nicholas Dube back Jongwe.
There is also a strong representation of residents associations. These include Trudy Stevenson who was largely responsible for the demise of former Harare mayor, Solomon Tawengwa, who has also been forced to resign from the board of mining conglomerate Rio Tinto after 22 years as a director, Anna Chimanikire from the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, and Albert Ndambe from the powerful Bulawayo United Residents Association.
Women’s organisations are represented by Sekai Holland and Martha Ditima both from the Association of Women’s Clubs and Emilia Chamunorwa from the Msasa Project which looks after abused women.
The party also has three powerful lawyers, Tendai Biti, David Coltart and Yvone Mahlunge. Biti has successfully challenged the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act on behalf of the ZCTU and is a member of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers Association.
Coltart, from Bulawayo, once headed the Legal Projects Centre and was named by President Mugabe in February as one of those who should “search their consciences and ask themselves if they belong in Zimbabwe”.
Fidelis Mhashu, a former principal lecturer at Seke Teachers College and mayoral candidate for Chitungwiza is also in and so is Valentine Ziswa of the Ecumenical Development Service, a funding agency.
Tsvangirai who will be off to the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Germany and Britain on October 1 to canvass support for the new party says elections for the proper executive will be held in December.
Though relatively full of unknowns, the new party has been welcomed by the public, starved of a strong opposition, as a viable alternative that could perhaps unseat the ruling ZANU-PF at next year’s general elections.
But it has been under a barrage of attacks by the ruling ZANU-PF and the mainline media with the ruling party newspaper, The People’s Voice, describing the MDC leadership as “strange political creatures, mercenaries as well as vultures”.
The Sunday Mail told Tsvangirai that the road to State House, passes through Mambo, Zengeza, Lobengula, Sakubva, Vengere, Mahombekombe, Chiweshe and not through the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Finland or Britain.
The formation of the new party, however, is likely to create a vacuum in the ZCTU. The departure of Sibanda, Tsvangirai, Mudzengerere and Matongo leaves Shangwa Chifamba and Ena Chitsa in the presidency and Isidore Zindoga as the only one in the secretariat.
Chifamba, a veteran trade unionist, is reported to be too ill to take over the presidency. Chitsa could make history by taking over to become the first woman to head the labour movement. She is from the small but powerful hotel and catering workers union which paralysed the hotel industry for a week from September 10 to 17 when workers downed their tools demanding higher wages.
While Zindoga could easily take over as secretary-general, sources say he is not popular with the workers because of events over the past few weeks. Some workers claim he was opposed to the present set up where some leaders opted to join the new party but wanted to remain within the trade union leadership.
Besides, there is still a feeling that trade union members in the executive committee who do not hold posts should be allowed to hold union posts. This could open doors for Mudzengerere to take over as secretary-general and Matongo to take over as president.
Matongo is a charismatic and dynamic leader who some believe could even be a suitable replacement for Tsvangirai.