Source: Is the end nigh for Tendai Biti, PDP? | The Financial Gazette October 27, 2016
THOSE who live by the sword, die by the sword.
In a classic case reflecting this adage, the embattled leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Tendai Biti has been left nursing wounds after several party officials deserted his relatively new political outfit.
The deserters have either gone back to their old political parties or warmed up to the mushrooming political parties preparing for a potentially nail-biting election in 2018.
Those watching the events obtaining in the PDP from the outside, reason that what goes around comes around.
In 2014, Biti was the architect of a split from the mainstream Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
The fallout resulted in at least 21 legislators cutting ties with Tsvangirai’s party, thereby weakening the movement’s position in Parliament.
The move necessitated by-elections, after the deserters were recalled from Parliament.
Because the MDC-T did not participate in the resultant by-elections, citing an uneven electoral playing field, ZANU-PF had a field day at the polls, winning all of them.
In a little less than two years since its formation, PDP has suffered an almost similar setback as its top members have left.
Over the past three weeks, Biti has lost more than two dozens of key members, beginning with 20 members of the Matabeleland North provincial executive, who defected to Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), citing Biti’s lack of political stamina.
Before Biti could barely recover from the setback, senior official and former legislator Paul Madzore and two other officials crossed the floor, to rejoin the MDC-T without shedding light on reasons behind their decision.
The development coincided with the defection of deputy party secretary general Tongai Matutu to the MDC-T. Vice president Samuel Sipepa Nkomo and deputy national chairperson Watchy Sibanda have also jumped ship to join former vice president Joice Mujuru’s ZPF.
This begs the question: Is this the end of the PDP and what next for Biti?
From his early years, activism and leadership qualities could be seen in young Biti, who between 1988 and 1989 was the secretary general of the University of Zimbabwe Student Representative Council, which led student protests against government censorship in academia.
Barely a decade later, he was instrumental in the formation of the MDC-T in 1999, the first real opposition party to pose a serious threat to ZANU-PF’s rule since independence in 1980.
Following the formation of a Government of National Unity on February 13, 2009, Biti assumed the finance minister’s post and played a significant role in stabilising the economy, which had gone through a devastating economic crisis the previous year.
However, relentless dog fights with his party boss, Tsvangirai, led to the veteran lawyer parting ways with the former trade unionist.
It is undoubted that Biti has had an eventful political life.
But as a typical politician, he has kept a brave face in the face of a crumbling political life.
He has vowed that both he and the PDP are not going to throw in the towel as yet and will never yield on matters of principle.
“In a few weeks time we will unveil new leaders whom we have no doubt are cadres who will upgrade our struggle to a higher level. The struggle continues and the PDP family remains a key cog in it,” said Biti in a statement.
The Financial Gazette understands that PDP would announce a new vice president at the party’s national policy conference to be held in Harare next month to replace Sipepa-Nkomo.
For now, the party’s provinces are seized with the selection of names of possible candidates to take over the vacant post.
Party insiders recently told the Financial Gazette that seven names have been put forward for possible replacement to Sipepa Nkomo.
This publication has it on good authority that the frontrunners for the vacant post include: Patrick Thaba Moyo, George Mkhwananzi, Philani Moyo, Kucaca Pulu, Sikhumbuzo Ndiweni, Dumiso Matshazi and Mqondobanzi Magonya.
PDP’s constitution allows for either the nomination of candidates or for elections from the provinces to be held.
It is understood that many of the potential candidates are interested in the vacant post, although others have raised work commitments as a challenge to taking up the post.
The contest is likely to be one that will go to the wire, given that all the candidates sit on the party’s national executive and are therefore well placed to fill in the vice presidency position.
Patrick Moyo, the former mayor of Bulawayo, is a national executive member and current secretary for industry for the party.
Mkhwananzi is the former president of Imbovane Yamahlabezulu, former vice chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly and current PDP deputy spokesman.
Philani Moyo is a national executive member and current secretary for research and policy; Pulu is a former provincial chairman; Ndiweni is a national executive member and secretary for security and special projects; Matshazi is a national executive member and secretary for party projects and investments; and Magonya is national executive member and party representative in Europe.
Party national spokesperson, Jacob Mafume, said PDP members have the task of putting forward the names of their choice and none would be imposed.
“It’s up to the membership of PDP to come up with names and any in the party can be suggested,” he said.
The position of PDP vice president is not the only vacancy; there are other senior positions that are up for grabs that include those of deputy national chairman, left vacant by the exit of Watchy Sibanda, the deputy organising secretary, formerly held by Gift Mabhena and women’s assembly chairperson post formerly held by Gladys Mathe.
Defections in PDP have sparked debate among opposition political parties given that the growth strategy of parties like ZPF seem to be anchored on raiding other opposition camps.
Political commentator, Zibusiso Dube, said Sipepa-Nkomo’s action, for instance, was typical of self-seeking politicians, who are after high position.
“Some opposition leaders are after positions and not really driven by any ideology or personal conviction. Sipepa Nkomo serves as a good case study of this given the number of times he has defected,” said Dube, adding: “This amounts to the opposition shooting itself in the foot. What is needed right now is for opposition leaders to come together to challenge ZANU-PF.”
Recently, Sipepa-Nkomo described his departure from PDP as “excruciating and heartbreaking”, given that he had played a key role in the formation of the party.
“To me, I see People First as a sincere and genuine party, which can bring change in Zimbabwe. Mujuru does not have positions. We all know that those people who want positions are subjected to elections.
“What becomes imperative is ascertaining that one positions himself in an environment that is conducive to embark on vigorous strides to dismantle the incumbent tyrannical system of governance,” he said.
Despite the latest developments in the ranks of the opposition, other opposition party officials this week said they were still sleeping easy at night and were not anxious over ZPF’s strategy of raiding its rival’s rank and file for new membership.
But what will PDP do next?
Ibbo Mandaza, the director of SAPES Trust, a local think-tank, said in light of the high profile defections in PDP, Biti needed to do an introspection about the future of his political outfit.
“Biti is not a politician, he is a technocrat…The PDP has failed to become a political party and it is a group of technocrats. It will be sad if this marks their end, but they would do well to transform PDP into a lobby group…,” said Mandaza, who believes that despite the defections, Biti remained an important thought leader.
“There is a craze in this country about high office and the need to get into office, what they see as an imminent election is what is pushing people to defect. The thinking is to try and position themselves well ahead of the elections…,” he added.
Political commentator, Pedzisai Ruhanya, said the current wave of defections in PDP cannot be used as a yardstick to declare the party’s political fortunes as over.
“I don’t think defections can be linked to the doom of the PDP, it is differences and contradictions in a political party on points of policy, political direction and other issues; which is only but normal, it can only become fatal if the whole executive leaves the party, say if the chairman and secretary-general leave…we can only then talk about a party going into extinction. The PDP must reassess itself, look at its policies and the way it goes about its business. What has happened naturally weakens the party, but does not destroy it,” Ruhanya said.
Other analysts canvassed by the Financial Gazette expressed further divergent views about Biti’s future in opposition politics.
Rashweat Mukundu, a political observer, believes Biti is a brilliant and brave politician, but his lack of grassroots appeal is his major let down.
“In this regard, a reunion with Morgan Tsvangirai will be the best move for Biti. If he remains outside MDC-T he will be in the same group of politicians (such) as Simba Makoni — brilliant politicians with no support base or public appeal,” opined Mukundu.
Asked whether he thinks Biti would swallow his pride and return to reunite with Tsvangirai, Mukundu retorted: “Nothing is impossible if a genuine assessment of one’s capacity and weaknesses is done. It’s either that route or the end of his political career.”
Political scientist, Eldred Masunungure, said political careers are situational and despite the current setback, Biti can still turn around his political misfortunes.
“While his party is on the verge of collapse, it is too early to write his political obituary.
“It is wise for him to allow the PDP ship to sink, while he swims to the shore and carefully assess his options. He can retrace his roots back to the MDC-T or join ZPF where many people are going,” Masunungure told the Financial Gazette. – By Ray Ndlovu and Tendai Makaripe