One of the issues that MDC Alliance leader, Nelson Chamisa raised during his Agenda 2021 address last week were claims that Government was gunning for a one party State in Zimbabwe using some opposition political parties. Notwithstanding the contradiction in the statement, everyone who has watched the MDC since its formation would agree that the party does not need any external force to destroy it as it has done most of the work by itself.
Right from its formation in September 1999, the party, its various formations and leaders have provided a case study of how to demolish one’s own political party. To those who are familiar with the internal politics of the MDC formations, Chamisa’s claims that ZANU PF and Government were pushing for “one-party state” through “a controlled opposition” was an embarrassing face saver. It was meant to deflect blame from the fact that he and his predecessor, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, were key players in the negative transformation of the MDC of 1999 to the threadbare and officeless political scarecrow that the formation he leads has become 21 years later.
Tsvangirai was a trade unionist who had built his career in the mining sector. He rose through the ranks to become secretary general at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). When the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP)-induced economic challenges of the 1990s hit hard and culminated in the January 1998 food riots, he became the natural leader of the protests, which were sparked by a bread price increase.
When the meetings of the National Working People’s Coalition of 1998 culminated in the formation of the MDC in September the following year, his food riots “experience” gave him an upper hand over his president, the late Gibson Sibanda. He therefore became the founding leader of the MDC. The fact that in Zambia a fellow former trade unionist, the late Frederick Chiluba had beaten that country’s founding President, Dr Kenneth Kaunda during the 1991 elections to become the country’s second president buoyed the spirits and hopes of the MDC and its leadership. Their major undoing was, however, the quality of the leadership. The way successive MDC and MDC formations’ leaders provided tips on how to destroy a political
Tread internal democracy underfoot
In 2000 the party successfully campaigned against a new constitution and won 57 seats out of the 120 contested seats. This however, did not prevent it from splitting five years later. Although the party was named the Movement for Democratic Change, Tsvangirai seemed not to fully understand the concept of democracy. It appears to him that democracy only meant making grandiose speeches in front of party members criticising the former President, Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF for one reason or another. It seems to Tsvangirai that democracy was about national elections as he did not value internal democracy.
When Zimbabwe re-introduced the Senate in 2005 and had to hold Senatorial elections on 26 November that year, Tsvangirai decided against participating arguing that the elections were “an expensive project we can ill-afford when millions are starving.” His colleagues were, however, in support of the polls. The matter was deliberated by the party’s national council for five hours but the parties still could not agree. The matter was put to a secret ballot in which 33 councillors voted in favour of participating, 31 voted against it, while two papers were adjudged as spoilt.
Despite this outcome, Tsvangirai disregarded internal democracy and overruled the decision of the national council leading to the first split of the party. The then Secretary General, Professor Welshman Ncube and then vice president, the late Sibanda left the party to form a splinter MDC formation.
Tsvangirai’s successor also trashed internal democracy by wresting the leadership of the party from the rightful heiress, Dr Thokozani Khupe in February 2018 following his predecessor’s death. The move was ruled by the Supreme Court as irregular on 31 March 2020 leading to the revival of the MDC-T by Dr Khupe and rendering his own party a splinter of the main party.
Imposition of candidates
Another way that Tsvangirai wrecked the MDC was through candidate imposition and internal poll manipulation. In the run up to the party’s 2014 congress, Chamisa was very popular especially among the MDC youths which caused discomfort to Tsvangirai. He was poised to land the post of secretary general during the congress. Chamisa had received support from six provinces against the then other aspirant for the post, Douglas Mwonzora. Tsvangirai intervened at the last minute and swayed the vote in Mwonzora’s favour.
In July 2017 ahead of the 2018 polls, Tsvangirai released a statement indicating that there would be no primary elections in the party in constituencies held by party members. He added that “As regards the Senate, this time, I will choose representatives on my own. I will personally vet all those whose names will be put forward because I know every MDC-T cadre and their contribution to the party, since the formation of the party.” This did not go down very well with aspiring candidates, who felt that he was protecting members of his inner circle.
By the end of that month he had ditched primary elections, a key internal democratic process, altogether opting for what he termed candidate selection by consensus. During the 2013 harmonised election campaign period, Tsvangirai attempted in vain to impose Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, (MKD), leader, Dr Simba Makoni, in Makoni South Constituency during a campaign meeting. The move was rejected in favour of the candidature of senior party member, Pishayi Muchauraya.
Keeping “Kitchen Cabinet” cliques
Tsvangirai further contributed to the destruction of the MDC by angering his fellow party leaders through increasingly leaning on a group of people, who were derogatively referred to as the “Kitchen Cabinet” for advice on various party matters. The “Cabinet” included party member, Ian Makone and the late Elphas Mukonoweshuro, among others. Makone and his wife, Theresa, were reportedly the major financiers of Tsvangirai and the party. Tsvangirai routinely side-lined official party structures and relied on the "Kitchen Cabinet.”
When former senior MDC Alliance members, Lilian Timveous and Blessing Chebundo defected to ZANU PF in February this year citing abuse and bullying by his right hand man and secretary general, Chalton Hwende and others that include Obey Sithole and Murisi Zwizwai, the “kitchen cabinet” phrase readily came to the minds of those who know the history of the MDC. Chamisa only suspended Hwende when the preferential treatment of the businessman who, like the Makones, also reportedly funds some of the party’s expenses, had caused an outcry within the party.
Use of violence against internal opponents
Since the 2005 split, the use of violence to settle scores has become a norm within the MDC-T. A then senior member, Frank Chamunorwa was assaulted by six party youths who dragged him from his home in Harare in July 2005. They deliberately humiliated Chamunorwa by throwing him to the ground, kicking and beating him. Chamunorwa was suspected of plotting against Tsvangirai. Another member, Diamond Karanda was beaten up inside the party’s headquarters on June 2005. He was dragged into the party’s boardroom and assaulted. The former Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Senegal, the late Trudy Stevenson, was also assaulted by MDC-T members in 2006, for joining the MDC-N following the 2005 split.
When former MDC-T secretary general, Tendai Biti and former treasurer general, Elton Mangoma pressed for leadership renewal in 2014 following the party’s poor showing during the 2013 harmonised elections, Mangoma was assaulted by youths in front of the Harvest House while Tsvangirai watched. Biti escaped. This led to the split of the party with Biti and Mangoma each forming their own party. When Dr Khupe disagreed with Tsvangirai over the coalition of opposition parties, a team of youths was dispatched to Bulawayo to assault her in 2017. During Tsvangirai’s funeral at his Buhera rural home in February 2018, the police had to rescue her and Mwonzora when the youths were about to torch a hut in which they had herded them into. The youths were sent to assault her again the following month in Bulawayo to force her out of the Bulawayo offices of the party.
After failing to stop the MDC members from participating in the 2005 Senatorial polls, 26 members participated and were summarily dismissed by Tsvangirai. He expelled 21 legislators comprising 14 National Assembly members, three Proportional Representation legislators and four Senators from that party in March 2015, for opposing his leadership and breaking away to form the Team Renewal faction, which advocated for his stepping down.
This week Chamisa expelled two Mutare City councillors, Elizabeth Tsoro and Tsitsi Ziweya for voting for an MDC-T councillor in an election for the city’s deputy mayor.
A one Party-State convenience
It is clear from the foregoing that Chamisa’s claims of a one-Party State push by ZANU PF and Government is just cover up for the years of poor leadership of the MDC party and its formations which has culminated in the woes that it is currently bogged in. ZANU PF continues to dominate the local political landscape not because of a deliberate one-Party State policy, but because of poor leadership in the opposition.
The fact that there were 23 Presidential elections in 2018 and a number of opposition entities in the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) shows that Chamisa was just telling a convenient lie to explain away his woefully poor leadership of his formation so far.