HARARE – The announcement by veteran MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai that he is likely to step down any time soon has come as a wake-up call for the country’s largest opposition party which does not seem to have a natural successor.
A legend of Zimbabwean politics, Tsvangirai carved his niche in the political space after rising from being a mere trade unionist to become the biggest rival of feared former president Robert Mugabe.
Over the years, he became a brand name in Zimbabwean society and was the only person who managed to win an election against Mugabe since independence in 1980.
In 2008, he won the first round of the presidential election although he could not secure the margin needed to be declared a winner.
This led to a bloody run-off in which the MDC leader pulled out fearing for the safety of his supporters.
Respected for fighting for democracy at a time the country was under Mugabe’s iron-fisted rule, Tsvangirai’s health has deteriorated since his announcement in 2016 that he was suffering from colon cancer.
He has been in and out of hospital, an aspect many said is the push factor for his mooted resignation that will leave a void in the opposition as the former trade unionist’s shoes appear too big to fit anyone.
Political analysts who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the Zimbabwean political space will never be the same again in the absence of Tsvangirai, who had become the pillar of hope for a better society and remained a force to reckon with over the years.
His departure could pose a serious dilemma on who should take over from him, considering that he is deputised by three people, Nelson Chamisa, Elias Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe.
“…Mudzuri and Chamisa won’t make names like Tsvangirai. It’s all gone,” political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said, following Tsvangirai’s statement, in which he hinted on leaving the throne to a younger person, which many believed could be Chamisa, aged 39.
“Tsvangirai certainly is playing a big role in determining his successor. The appointment of Mudzuri and Chamisa were clear moves to show that he wanted to determine his successor. Current assignment of roles also indicates that the race is now more between Chamisa and Mudzuri. It looks like Mudzuri is poised to take over to complete Tsvangirai’s term with Chamisa expected to take over after,” added Saungweme.
The die has been cast between Chamisa and Mudzuri, according to Saungweme, even though they both have their flaws.
“Whether it’s Chamisa or Mudzuri it’s clear ED (President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa) will win elections this year. There is no doubt that ED will win. But to get economy back ED needs opposition and to create a sense of inclusivity that will dilute the huge political risk investors are wary about. It’s not only about politics but also the economy. So we are likely to see politics of cooperation of sorts with some form of opposition’s corporation into government. So expect some coalition government of sorts post elections, if we have the elections at all,” he said.
Some argue Chamisa is still too young to get the post of president, despite his track record with the party, while Mudzuri seems to lack public appeal.
Khupe has not been in good books with Tsvangirai over the MDC Alliance issue, which would make it difficult for the veteran opposition leader to leave the post to her, although she is the most senior and having been appointed through a congress.
The other two were appointed following a resolution by the national council.
Tsvangirai has been the best foot forward in the opposition to an extent that he was chosen to lead a coalition of seven political parties under the MDC Alliance banner.
The alliance is set to battle it out with the ruling Zanu PF party in elections expected later this year.
Another political analyst Alex Magaisa, said there is no doubt that Tsvangirai was important to MDC, but said the party must have another option beyond the current leader and his deputies.
“There is no reason why the field must be restricted to the three VPs. The party must move from a focus on personalities and embrace politics based on policies and substance. Whoever has the best vision, policies and substance must lead.
“That Tsvangirai has been important to the MDC is not in doubt but it is lazy to tie the party to an individual. The MDC must be able to survive Tsvangirai and do even better after him. If it cannot survive him then it’s not fit to govern,” Magaisa said.
However, another political analyst Shakespeare Hamauswa said Tsvangirai will play a role in determining the one to take over from him, based on the strengths and weaknesses of his three deputies.
“On the three, Chamisa will give a big blow to Zanu PF and can be the best. Mudzuri can stabilise the party, I do not think he is a fighter to face off the Junta-backed government. Khupe can still bring in some advantages but her disadvantage is the political environment. Patriarchal system is deeply entrenched in our system and that’s a major issue. Recently, she has proved to be disloyal to her boss and the party,” Hamauswa said.
Analyst and civil rights campaigner Xwayani Hope Msipha said the success of the successor to Tsvangirai would be vested in the ability to articulate and lead a revived narrative against austerity and neoliberal dictatorship.
“The candidate must wrest the liberation polemic from the jaws of the elite Zanu PF hegemony and unite the urban and rural poor towards a new dawn. It’s a historic opportunity to proclaim the leadership of a new Zimbabwe beyond the façade of opportunism and self-aggrandisement incubated by the resilient tyranny of Mugabe,” said Msipha.
“November 18, 2017 is a testimony of the potential of a united Zimbabwe. While the rural areas watched as Harare took centre stage, they are living exuberant lives now in the aftermath of Operation Restore Legacy, an opportunity in itself to reignite the un-molested urban-rural solidarity.”