The pro-senate faction of the Movement for Democratic Change has always been referred to as the Welshman Ncube-led faction. Rarely was it ever called the Gibson Sibanda led faction. Yet Sibanda was the MDC vice-President and de facto leader of the faction. But surprisingly, the faction is frantically looking for a leader. A particular leader to be precise.
Though the faction’s management committee said the post of party president was open to anyone, the situation on the ground seems to indicate that the faction is not just headhunting for an academic but a Shona as well.
So far all candidates reported to be vying for the post of president to be contested at the party congress scheduled for this weekend, are Shona. This has fuelled speculation that the faction, which was labelled a breakaway by people mostly from Matabeleland, is more interested in striking a regional balance to portray a national outlook.
The leading contenders for president are Arthur Mutambara a former student leader and now a renowned academic, Gift Chimanikire a former trade unionist and deputy secretary of the MDC, and Priscilla Misihairabwi -Mushonga, the MP for Glen Norah and the faction’s parliamentary spokesperson.
“They are desperate to get a Shona, but he has to be a reputable leader,” political scientist John Makumbe said. “Gift Chimanikire had discredited himself by opposing (Morgan) Tsvangirai. No one trusts him now.”
The MDC split into two last year in the run-up to the senate elections when one faction decided to contest and the other led by party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai called for a boycott. Tsvangirai’s faction will hold its congress next month.
Makumbe and other political observers said party secretary general Welshman Ncube was still the power behind the throne in the pro-senate faction. He was therefore looking for someone pliable, someone he can manipulate and control.
“Chimanikire is not that kind of person. Besides, he is not an academic. In fact, if he is not careful, Chimanikire might be kicked out of the leadership completely,” Makumbe said.
He said Misihairabwi-Mushonga was a non-starter. She was clever and educated but she was not astute.
“She likes to think of herself as the Joyce Mujuru of the MDC but she is only fooling herself. She is not a mobiliser or a crowd puller,” he said.
He said Mutambara had the right qualifications but those trying to sell him were banking on his record of more than 10 years ago when he was a student leader.
“How many MDC supporters today remember him? Besides the record of academics in Zimbabwean politics is not that rosy. Look at Welshman Ncube himself and Jonathan Moyo, what have they done?” Makumbe queried.
Political commentator, Lawton Hikwa, disagreed.
“I cannot say academics have failed. President Robert Mugabe is an academic and he has led this country for more than two decades. I must say, however, by agreeing to stand Mutambara has already taken sides. He cannot claim to be neutral because right now we do not know which is the legitimate MDC.”
Mutambara was quoted by a local daily as saying the MDC needed a new leadership that was not tainted by the current disagreement to facilitate the reunification process.
Makumbe said Mutambara and Ncube were kidding themselves that they could challenge Mugabe. Ncube had already admitted that he could not lead the party and was therefore looking for a surrogate.
“Mutambara isn’t a mobiliser. He doesn’t have the charisma. He is a technocrat. But their worst enemy is the local media. Once ZTV, the Herald and the Chronicle dance to your tune, you are finished. It reflects badly on you. People want someone who is harassed, harangued, ridiculed by the media and by Mugabe not someone who is pampered.”
Another political observer said the opposition was playing into the hands of the ruling ZANU-PF because they could not tackle the ruling party, splintered as they were.
“The way I see it, we are going back to the situation in the 1960s, the days of the ANC and ZAPU (African National Council and Zimbabwe African People’s Union) where party squabbles were the order of the day and parties simply split because of differences over leadership.”