After almost two decades in the trenches, fighting for power, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai is likely to exit the political scene empty-handed. He can no longer sustain the fight, having been dealt a heavy blow by a debilitating health problem — cancer of the colon.
By Derick Jairosi
Multitudes of his supporters are disappointed but they do not have a choice — they have to allow their revered leader to let go.
Whether they like it or not, Tsvangirai no longer has the energy to put up the fight, much as he would have wanted to.
Tsvangirai’s departure from the political scene, unless a formidable replacement is found, is set to reduce the political muscle of opposition formations against a rejuvenated Zanu PF party which seems to be winning its fight to restore a legacy that was tainted by former president Robert Mugabe. Mugabe was elbowed out of power through a military intervention on November 14 last year. After the dramatic turn of events, Zanu PF is tirelessly working to restore the country’s battered economy as it braces itself for a looming do-or-die general election this year.
Tsvangirai has been a dominant player in politics, having been the MDC-T leader for the past 19 years. He is also known for his role in Zimbabwe’s trade union movement, where he held various positions culminating in leading as the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
He is famed for transforming the labour body into a formidable body that rattled Zanu PF before taking the bull by the horns in 1999 by forming what was to become the country’s biggest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently visited Tsvangirai, a move that many people welcomed as a gesture of goodwill.
In his belated New Year’s message released recently, Tsvangirai made controversial indications pointing at a possible intention to leave the hot seat for youthful Nelson Chamisa.
He said: “I am looking at the imminent prospects of us as the older generation leaving the levers of leadership to allow the younger generation to take forward this huge task that we started together so many years ago with our full blessing and support.”
His utterances sparked a lot of fire within his party and grew otherwise invisible fissures within the MDC-T. Within hours of making this statement, factionalism had reared its ugly head, with top leadership of the party, including its vice-presidents, Elias Mudzuri and Chamisa making open declarations of interest in Tsvangirai’s post. The hitherto whispered rivalry between Chamisa and Tsvangirai’s long-serving deputy, Thokozani Khupe also came to the fore. But in all this, it is Chamisa who appears to be holding the top card as even the MDC Alliance, a grouping of opposition parties that have chosen Tsvangirai’s leadership, is seemingly rooting for the youthful lawyer.
In his speech, Tsvangirai said the recent developments on the political scene were not enough to deliver national betterment.
“As we move towards the upcoming elections, we must not lose sight and misinterpret what happened in November 2017. The departure of Mugabe resulted in a change of guard at the helm of our state but #ChangeIsNotEnough. This country requires transformation of both our governance culture and the way we do business,” he said.
It is getting increasingly clear now that of the three vice presidents in the MDC-T, Tsvangirai seems to favour Chamisa. How he is going to juggle this sensitive issue is going to be one of the last strategy tests for Tsvangirai. It is critical that whoever he picks to take his seat is acceptable in the party to avoid a split that could compromise the party in the coming election.
While Chamisa appeals among the party’s youthful followers and is believed to be a more popular person in the general followership of the MDC-T, Khupe’s massive support in Matabeleland cannot be taken for granted. It would also be folly to ignore the respect that the other VP, Mudzuri has among the party faithful given his political maturity, age, leadership, business experience and the general support he commands in the party.
The three contenders to Tsvangirai’s throne are all founding members of the MDC who held various positions right from the beginning in 1999. Khupe was elected national executive member responsible for transport, logistics and welfare at the party inception in 1999 before she was voted vice-president of the party in 2005.
It is this card that she and her supporters raise in questioning the possibility of young Chamisa coming to upstage her. Besides being one of the country’s youngest MPs, Chamisa has on the other hand held the influential party spokesperson position very successfully. That is perhaps the position that has catapulted him to become the party’s most popular leader after Tsvangirai due to his charisma, which enhanced his public appeal quite significantly.
It remains to be seen therefore how Tsvangirai is going to play this very sensitive succession card. The three VPs are all presidential material and it will depend on their campaign strategies and of course luck to make it to the hot MDC-T presidential seat.
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