Tribal politics revolt fears after Mutambara ousted

Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara was ousted as the leader of his faction of the Movement for Democratic Change by his former secretary-general Welshman Ncube last weekend.

The move was expected, but fears now abound that the MDC-M may fall victim to Zimbabwe’s tribal politics.

Ncube, father-in-law of South African president Jacob Zuma, predominately drew his support from the Ndebele-speaking regions of Matabeleland and some parts of the Midlands provinces.

A faction of the Shona-speaking supporters of the MDC-M boycotted last Sunday’s elective congress in Harare, citing tribalism in the manner Mutambara was ousted. They petitioned Ncube in an 11-page document, citing allegations such as misuse of party finances, selective application of discipline, a shambolic party and Ncube turning a blind eye to what they claimed were non-observance of constitutional provisions.

The group also said the elective congress was unconstitutional, and they still regarded the disposed Mutambara as the legitimate leader of the MDC-M.

That set the stage for a further split in the party, which broke away from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC in October 2005. At the time, the breakaway MDC-M cited dictatorship and violation of the party’s constitution as reasons for the split after Tsvangirai refused to participate in senate elections, despite the wishes of the majority of his executive members.

Analysts told Sunday Times this week Ncube faced a difficult task in uniting the smaller MDC faction, pointing to the tribal tag being hurled against him and his Matabeleland supporters.

Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst with Harare-based African Reform Institute, said the restructured MDC-M would most likely be rocked with suspicions of Ncube’s ploys, given that many people might view him as intelligent but devious.

"This may not be his characteristic, but it’s the perception that has been painted – and unfortunately politics works with perception," Maisiri said.

"Given that, the party may face a lot of leadership instability and internal squabbling, all based on what many would think was Ncube’s strategic and sublime imposition of himself through his own creation of political circumstances in the party. In the end the party will end up being personalised around Ncube and that will inevitably be the end of what is otherwise a noble and democracy-seeking party," he said.

The MDC-M leadership had indicated the congress was to be attended by about 5000 people but only about 1000 turned up.

"What is the reason for the 4000 balance having remained in their provinces? Could that also not be an indication of silent protest to the transpiration of Ncube’s ascendancy?" Maisiri asked.

Insiders in the MDC-M claim Mutambara was kicked out of the party for two reasons. First, he failed to bind himself to the party’s ideals, given the numerous policy and position differences that came from him and from his MDC-M executive. Second, his deposing had been on the cards since the formation of the MDC-M.

When it was formed, the MDC-M needed a stop-gap measure to dispel the 2005 spilt as a power-hungry move by the leadership. In public, both Mutambara and Ncube professed not to want the presidency.

"In that regard, Mutambara was conveniently cozened into the presidency, knowing full well that he would be dislodged once the dust had settled. Unfortunately that dust settled on January 8 2011," Maisiri said.

Earnest Mudzengi, another political analyst in Harare, agreed Mutambara had been brought in for convenience.

"The MDC-M was widely regarded as a party that was formed on tribal lines for Matabeleland interests. Making Welshman Ncube president then would have confirmed this idea, which would not have allowed the party to take off in the manner it did," he said.

Independent analyst Takura Zhangazha said Ncube faced a formidable task to expand its support base from the southern Zimbabwe regions. "He will definitely try to shake off any particular ethnic narratives. Mutambara failed to balance his role as DPM with that of being MDC-M president."