Allegations of violence, vote-buying, tribalism and jostling for top positions at last weekend’s national congress of Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change have dealt a blow to the party’s improving fortunes.
The MDC recently scored crucial political victories against Zanu-PF, retaining the post of Speaker of Parliament and sealing its majority in Parliament. It has also garnered overwhelming support from the Southern African Development Community to oppose Zanu-PF-led crackdowns against its supporters.
The national congress was intended to further consolidate the MDC against Zanu-PF ahead of the elections expected this year. Instead, it created deep divisions in the party and posed a challenge to Tsvangirai’s 12-year leadership.
Although Tsvangirai retained the party presidency, the run-up to the congress was marked by violent clashes among MDC youth members and conflict between Gorden Moyo and Matson Hlalo for the coveted Bulawayo chairperson position, denting the party’s pro-democracy image.
Zanu-PF has expertly exploited these internal squabbles to attack Tsvangirai as “a leader without real power” and accuse the MDC of “ill discipline” and involvement in violence across the country.
Eager to be seen reining in the chaos in his party, Tsvangirai promised to set up an independent commission to investigate all acts of violence.
“We know those people causing violence … we don’t tolerate violence and party leaders sponsoring it face expulsion and will be investigated thoroughly,” he said.
A senior MDC official told our reporter of the extensive vote-buying that overshadowed the congress, a worrying sign that the party has lost its pro-poor stance and has been overtaken by elitist practices.
“It’s known that people were paid as much as $3 000 to buy votes for the provincial posts. This congress wasn’t concerned about ordinary people, but with the self-serving interests of power-hungry individuals,” said the official.
While other party heavyweights, including Tendai Biti, Nelson Chamisa, Lovemore Moyo and Roy Bennett, romped to easy victories at the congress, veteran leader Elias Mudzuri lost the race for the post of national organising secretary. Mudzuri has long been viewed as an ambitious schemer who is seeking to oust Tsvangirai.
In a Cabinet reshuffle last year Tsvangirai dropped Mudzuri as a minister, strategically paving the way for his removal from top party structures.
The conference also sparked complaints of tribalism in the MDC’s executive committee; only three of its 13 leaders — Moyo, Thokozani Khuphe and Abednico Bhebhe are drawn from the Ndebele-speaking regions.
Traditionally, the Matabeleland and Midlands regions have been bastions of support for the MDC during elections.
The smaller MDC faction, led by Welshman Ncube, has recently stepped up its criticism of perceived tribal representation in Tsvangirai’s grouping. This has had a knock-on effect among some of Tsvangirai’s supporters, who have intensified their calls for a “regional balance” in the leadership.
Responding to the accusations, new National Organising Secretary, Nelson Chamisa, said both the National Council and Congress resolved that “all those people who were directly or indirectly involved in disturbances are going to be dealt with in very swift circumstances.”
The run up to the congress was dominated by allegations that certain candidates were sponsoring mobs to beat up rival candidates and supporters. Several provincial elections were disrupted in a number of provinces as rival supporters clashed or argued over who was eligible to vote.
Chamisa conceded that violence “particularly in Bulawayo, in some cases in Manicaland and partly in Harare” had been a cause of concern. He however said there had been an ‘over-dramatization’ of the disturbances which he said were in ‘isolated areas.’ He blamed ‘internal’ and ‘external’ factors for fuelling the violence in the party.
Of the internal violence he said; “There is an almost certain belief the party will win the next election and this is why people were so energetic in their campaigns and everybody is seeing that we have a train that is about to get to the destination, so they would want to be either part of the drivers or the passengers. And those who failed to do so would use even uncouth mechanisms so that they cling onto this moving train.”
In the pressure of the campaigns, Chamisa said ZANU PF found room “to disrupt our structures, even from the branch level.” He added that as a result there were MDC-T members who became willing tools of “ZANU PF shenanigans. Those people we are going to flush out,” he vowed. But he said that overall ZANU PF had failed to “contaminate our basket of good apples.”
“We want to make sure that this demon of ZANU PF is exorcised from the structures of the party and the people of the party. The culture of our movement should be such that we don’t have people who use violence or anarchy or chaos as a way of organising or transacting political business. It’s a culture alien to the MDC, it’s a culture that has been imported from ZANU PF by certain elements.”
Last month journalist Pedzisai Ruhanya wrote an article suggesting that, “apart from the Mashonaland West provincial congress where the leadership there was elected in a decent manner, the majority of the MDC electoral processes and gatherings were marked by acts of violence, alleged vote rigging and vote buying.”
Much more seriously he alleged the MDC-T disciplinary committee had failed to bring to book Prosper Mutseyami, the provincial organising secretary of Manicaland, and former Minister of Home Affairs Giles Mutsekwa, on allegations of violence against party supporters, including the assault in 2010 of Thamsanga Mahlangu, the party’s national youth chairperson.
“What stinks about the Mutseyami controversy is the persistent allegation that he is linked to a vigilante group made up of party youths called “Hunters”. This group commits acts of violence against its opponents. It is alleged that the Hunters do so at the behest of Mutseyami and his handlers in the standing committee of the party who avoid being disciplined by the party,” Ruhanya wrote.
But on Friday a senior party official in Manicaland denied the existence of the so-called ‘Hunters’ vigilante group. The official said Mutseyami and Mutsekwa faced a disciplinary hearing which absolved them of any blame in acts of violence.
This committee will be chaired by Harare lawyer Chris Mhike and had legislators Jessie Majome, Dr Tichaona Mudzingwa and Tongai Matutu, among others.
“Mutseyami could not have been part of the pre-congress violence or disruptions as he was on suspension pending this case” the official said. Mutseyami’s suspension was only lifted a week before the congress he added. He said accusations against Mutseyami were meant to tarnish his name, as it was initially thought he would challenge Elias Mudzuri for the National Organising Secretary’s position.
In the end it was Nelson Chamisa who ran against Mudzuri and won.
Meanwhile Chamisa has said that he will try to unite all the structures and roll out educational programmes to encourage tolerance and a new ‘genre of politics where we have happy differences.”