Zimbabwe: forget party coups, Tsvangirai and Biti must work together

via Zimbabwe: forget party coups, Tsvangirai and Biti must work together theguardian.com by Simukai Tinhu for African Arguments 30 April 2014

Veteran opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti are locked in a fresh leadership battle that will only weaken their position against Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, says Simukai Tinhu

In 1998 two aspiring politicians met to plot the beginnings of a movement that would change Zimbabwe’s political landscape for more than a decade. One of them, Morgan Tsvangirai, was already a household name in the country as a result of the mass protests that he had led against the government’s economic austerity measures of the late 1990s. Because of this experience and associated celebrity, he naturally became the first leader of the newly created Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)

The other, Tendai Biti, a gifted and ambitious lawyer, chose not to contest the party leadership – he would have been soundly thrashed by Tsvangirai in any contest. Instead, he took a backstage, and assumed that most precarious of perches: Heir Apparent.

The two quickly fell out after the formation of the party, but for appearances sake, decided to exist side by side in an uneasy alliance that has been characterised by back- stabbing, plotting and sub-plotting against each other. The uneasiness between the two largely stems from the dominance of Tsvangirai’s personality over the MDC. Tsvangirai is popular with the party supporters and as a result he and his followers find it hard to accommodate alternative ideas and leadership. Indeed, the name of the party, MDC-Tsvangirai, illustrates the entrenchment of his personal power.

The power struggle approached comic-opera status this Saturday when Tsvangirai was suspended by the MDC’s national council after a meeting that had been instigated by Biti. Biti’s ‘ambush’ followed the suspension of several of his allies a couple of months earlier, leaving his position within the party severely weakened.

In a statement read out by one of Biti’s consigliere, Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, the MDC National Council (often the venue of the most vicious political infighting) declared that the party had suspended and dissolved the entire committee consisting of President Tsvangirai, Deputy President Thokozani Khupe, National Chairman Lovemore Moyo, Vice Chairman, Morgan Komichi, National Organising Secretary, Nelson Chamisa, Vice Organising Secretary Abedinico Bhebhe, and National Spokesman, Douglas Mwonzora. Sipepa Nkomo also announced the lifting of the suspension of Biti’s allies. According to the resolutions, the party’s Guardian Council headed by Sekai Holland will now take charge and prepare for an earlier elective congress where Tendai Biti is expected to stand for the leadership.

Biti, who has been determinedly silent about his leadership ambitions, appears to have now made his agenda clear. Indeed, for the first time, he was critical of his rival, and stated that Tsvangirai would be charged with violation of the MDC’s constitution as well as bringing the party into disrepute. In his harshest assessment of Tsvangirai to date, Biti was quoted at the weekend saying that Tsvangirai had ‘failed as a leader.’

In a statement, the opposition party said it was suspending the party leader Morgan Tsvangirai for ‘fascist’ tendencies, further alleging that the MDC had been ‘transformed into a fiefdom of the leader’. They also accused Tsvangirai and his lieutenants of resisting leadership change after losing a third general election to Mugabe last July. Behind the scenes some MDC officials have reportedly compiled a dossier of allegations of misuse of party funds by Tsvangirai which insiders say they hope will persuade him to go quietly.

The ‘putsch’ has rankled Tsvangirai’s rank and file supporters who soon after learning of the suspension, turned up at the party headquarters to show their support for the beleaguered leader. The move has also drawn outraged cries of treachery from his allies, who have since dismissed the suspension as unconstitutional and meaningless.

Nelson Chamisa, the party’s organising secretary and a staunch Tsvangirai supporter dismissed his boss’s suspension as ‘utter nonsense’. Douglas Mwonzora, the polarising party spokesman, also declared that Tsvangirai remains the MDC leader. Indeed, on Sunday, Tsvangirai’s group convened its own meeting and called for a press conference in Harare. In an attempt to discredit the MDC’s suspension of Tsvangirai, in a statement, Tsvangirai’s allies went through the composition of the National Council that had suspended the MDC leader, alleging that paid youth and political members from other parties had masqueraded as national council members.

Though the suspensions and counter-suspensions provide a fertile landscape for bitter recriminations, the MDC is unlikely to split. The spectre of 2005, when the then secretary general Welshman Ncube created another splinter group, is just too much.

Tendai Biti and his group appear resolved to see Tsvangirai toppled. Unlike Welshman Ncube, whose attempt to unseat the MDC leader in 2005 was seen as a personal calamity, Biti’s move is largely seen as a party initiative. In addition, in comparison to Ncube, his political tribe is solid and is unlikely to be pushed out so easily. They are likely to play a waiting game, hoping that the former Prime Minister’s political fortunes will continue to decline before they attempt a fatal blow.

According to a Biti ally who spoke on condition of anonymity, the former Minister of Finance will continue to amass and consolidate power, using a mixture of promises and pressure to win over the elites in Tsvangirai’s group as he works to marginalise the trade unionists and expunge the support that he still has amongst this group. He added that Biti’s group is confident that Tsvangirai is now closer than at any point in his career to losing the party leadership. They just have to be patient.

But for now, with both groups not recognising the other, and claiming legitimacy of their actions, this dilemma is setting the stage for a bruising legal battle. The two groups are likely to seek legal recourse in an attempt to resolve the leadership impasse. Indeed, the suspension of Tsvangirai, and the inevitable counter-suspension of Biti by Tsvangirai’s group, is certain to be challenged by each man’s allies. The courts, packed with Zanu-PF allies, has the option of letting the legal battle drag beyond the 2018 elections, plunging the opposition into a crisis that will confuse voters. Alternatively, the courts might hand the leadership to Biti, whom Zanu-PF perceives as electorally weaker.

Turmoil in the MDC is a gift to Zanu-PF. Indeed, the MDC leadership is increasingly weakened by the constant plotting against each other, with power struggles eroding internal cohesion, tarnishing the public image and undermining the party’s recruitment drive. There is potential that voters might be turned off and stay at home rather than vote for a candidate who is not their preferred choice.

The infighting would be less chaotic if the two main combatants, Biti and Tsvangirai, realised that the MDC is not merely defined by their own personalities, but is a force that they should harness together in order to achieve change in Zimbabwe. Whilst Tsvangirai appeals to the masses, Biti has the trust of political elites and donors. The truth is, both men need each other.




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    One day, a scorpion looked around at the mountain where he lived and decided that he wanted a change. So he set out on a journey through the forests and hills. He climbed over rocks and under vines and kept going until he reached a river.
    The river was wide and swift, and the scorpion stopped to reconsider the situation. He couldn’t see any way across. So he ran upriver and then checked downriver, all the while thinking that he might have to turn back.

    Suddenly, he saw a frog sitting in the rushes by the bank of the stream on the other side of the river. He decided to ask the frog for help getting across the stream.

    “Hellooo Mr. Frog!” called the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”

    “Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you wont try to kill me?” asked the frog hesitantly.

    “Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

    Now this seemed to make sense to the frog. But he asked. “What about when I get close to the bank? You could still try to kill me and get back to the shore!”

    “This is true,” agreed the scorpion, “But then I wouldn’t be able to get to the other side of the river!”

    “Alright then…how do I know you wont just wait till we get to the other side and THEN kill me?” said the frog.

    “Ahh…,” crooned the scorpion, “Because you see, once you’ve taken me to the other side of this river, I will be so grateful for your help, that it would hardly be fair to reward you with death, now would it?!”

    So the frog agreed to take the scorpion across the river. He swam over to the bank and settled himself near the mud to pick up his passenger. The scorpion crawled onto the frog’s back, his sharp claws prickling into the frog’s soft hide, and the frog slid into the river. The muddy water swirled around them, but the frog stayed near the surface so the scorpion would not drown. He kicked strongly through the first half of the stream, his flippers paddling wildly against the current.

    Halfway across the river, the frog suddenly felt a sharp sting in his back and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the scorpion remove his stinger from the frog’s back. A deadening numbness began to creep into his limbs.

    “You fool!” croaked the frog, “Now we shall both die! Why on earth did you do that?”

    The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drownings frog’s back.

    “I could not help myself. It is my nature.”

    Then they both sank into the muddy waters of the swiftly flowing river.

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    I Hope no one takes this particular scorpian across the river.

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    The warring parties in the MDC are like a bunch of crabs placed in a shallow bucket by a fisherman.They spent the whole day climbing all over each other. Whenever one climbed up and was about to reach the top he got pulled down.By the end of the day they were all exhausted and not a single one had escaped.The fisherman tipped them all into a pot of salted boiling water and had them for dinner!

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    peters 9 years ago

    Biti has already made his decision let him follow the beat of his heart as for Tsvangirai’s survival it us upto to the people who voted him to lead MDC if Biti is to rejoin Mdc he can join as an ordinary member

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    robhombs 9 years ago

    The best thing to come out of all this farce is the separation of goats from the Sheep. Biti and his goats should leave the MDC-T period. Kozvaave kurambira neSurname yemunhu haanyare. Tibvigwe

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    munzwa 9 years ago

    What happened to the church mediation that was on offer?

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    kutongwa nonjazi 9 years ago

    MDC-T is a brand that can not be changed. Itoti MDC-Biti kuti zvifambe

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    If these guys where genuine and not sell outs why did n t they convene their meeting at Harvest House? Thembani please answer me.

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    word writer 9 years ago

    tsangirai is a loser. he will never win an election. you guys who are paid writers are doing no one a favour. after how many elections he loses will you finally give up on him? another 20 years?

    MDC is a strong opposition but this failure has to go, and be replaced by someone with education and legal skills. Biti is an obvious possible candidate

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      wensil 9 years ago

      What education? Which skills? Look at what somebody with more than five degrees one of which is a Master in Economics has done to the country. The country is now a laughing stock, brought back almost to the stone age with urban dwellers now fetching water from wells at the same time down the road some people earn half a million dollars per month for running losses at a once profitable company. Where are the skills?

      Noone being paid to write the glaring truth that anybody and everybody can see.

      Don’t get me started on losing elections. Which elections? Where are RGM’s 2 million plus voters? Who in his right senses would want a 90 year old pensioner to be a president?

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    @word writer or should I say Gono MT has won elections and everybody knows it when Mugabe stayed indoors for 2 months. There are no paid writers here unless Biti is paying you??

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    mujibha 9 years ago

    Zimbabweans, we have a problem we think someone who has a degree is a star in everything which is wrong. Someone who hasn’t got a degree or even to the xstant of not even being in school can do better/run things/ogarnisation better than those whom u thing they r educated. For example motor mechanics one without a certificate can do much better than those who did the course for three years.They r some countries which r being run by people without degrees and they r performing better than us. Are u guys telling us that someone who doesn’t speak english can’t do better in nthing than those who does. I think that is shallow minded. If you do not know that they r people who can’t even say a word in english but so clever and can write books in their mothers tounge. Come on guys to be educated does not mean you r clever, theory and practical they r different things. A doctor know each and every part of human but when it comes to sexy he can be beaten by someone who hasn’t been at school at all.

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    Msizeni silwelani 9 years ago

    I have a feeling that it could be much easier for Tsvangarai to reconcile with Ncube than his erstwhile trusted team of Mangoma and Biti.

    As i see it, a legal battle is looming between Tsvangirai and Biti over party leadership. Cunning as Mugabe is, needless for me to say the Ncube/Mutambara soapie is on the rewind. I mean once the guys drag each other before the courts, Mugabe will cease to recognise Tsvangirai as a legitimate MDC-T leader.

    Meanwhile Zimbabwe burns.

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    Joboringo 9 years ago

    Mugabe has recognised that biti is educated but unable to lead&tsvangson uneductd bt wth ppl’s hearts in minds thus he contracted biti to demolish tsvangs with aded court asistance,BUT GOD LOVES THIS MAN AFTER MANY ATTEMPTS they FAILED TO KIL THIS GUY