Tackling alleged tribalism in the MDC-T

By Freeman Chari

Although I had promised to write on federalism as my choice of system, events on the ground have forced me to postpone and in the mean time examine the question of leadership in MDC.

Freeman Chari
Freeman Chari

It is again not a secret that I sympathize with the party, I have burnt my butt for it before and I don’t mind running across the fire for it again. So, in the quest of sharing ideas I would not want to overly expose the party’s armpits; rather, I will strive to objectively touch on three sensitive issues: third-term for President Tsvangirai, alleged tribalism in the party and alleged sidelining of Tendai Biti.

A figtree in the forest

Somebody once described MDC as a figtree in a forest, growing freely without restriction, owned by nobody but serving a different purpose to different animals. Those that are hungry get figs; those that are hot get shade and those that are sick get the roots and barks. This figtree represents a hope of life to all animals, it is god-given and accessible to all and sundry.

Munyaradzi Gwisai in the 2000 Parliamentary elections polled 12,616 votes in Highfields but in a by-election held in March 2003 following his expulsion from MDC, he managed only 73 votes. The only logical explanation for such a steep dip in popularity is that people were voting for the brand name and not the product.

People were only interested in a fig that was attached to the tree; once it fell off the tree it became rotten.

Lemons in a figtree

But are people in MDC so myopic to the extent that they cannot differentiate between figs and lemons? In 2004 there was a by-election for Zengeza constituency which had been vacated by Tafadzwa Musekiwa when he fled to the UK.

Chalton Hwende, a former student leader had worked tirelessly for the party in that constituency and appeared to be the most suitable candidate to run for MDC. The then party chairman Isaac Matongo forwarded the name of James Makore as the official candidate. Under such circumstances primary elections were supposed to be the best way forward.

Unfortunately a clique of former trade unionists forced its will over others, thus James Makore was unfairly given the ticket to represent the party in Zengeza. James Makore lost the election and there emerged cracks that eventually led to the split.

The people who had once voted in Musekiwa in 2000 decided not to support James Makore. To confirm that the loss was as a result of the protest by the people Goodrich Chimbaira who had also been sidelined in the by-election won convincingly in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

A fence around the figtree

Even though the figtree is in a forest and serves all and sundry, animals decided to elevate a few individuals so that they see to it that their tree is not abused. The figs belong to everybody, so does the shade and the barks. The animals agree that only those who have been chosen are able to stay up the tree harvesting and throwing figs down to everybody.

For some time things worked well but later on those up the tree began to dictate who gets the figs and who doesn’t.  The baboon started throwing figs only to baboons whilst squirrels wallowed on the sidelines, the same with the monkey which only saw other monkeys.

Meanwhile the animals had agreed that after 20 days they would change leaders and a new crop would climb up the tree. On day 10, the squirrels shout that they want one of theirs up the tree and the monkey, baboon and leopard down.

Baboons, leopards and monkeys protest vehemently and tell squirrels that initially they had come for barks and not figs therefore they cannot suddenly begin to wish to climb the tree for figs. The squirrels are beaten thoroughly and pushed far off.  The remaining animals begin erecting a fence around the figtree.

Eventually new rules are put in place. All new animals are told to respect the rules, whilst smaller animals are threatened with expulsion. The fence in MDC was erected a few years after the glory of 2000 elections.

The expulsion of Munyaradzi Gwisai, the imposition of Makore and subsequent suspension of Hwende, assault upon Peter Guhu, the party’s Director of Security at Harvest House in October 2004 and the violence at Harvest house in 2004 were a clear testimony to this.

Let us remember that Morgan Tsvangirai was an ordinary man in 1999, so was Tendai Biti, Nelson Chamisa, Welshman Ncube and Gibson Sibanda. There was nothing extra-ordinary about them except that they had willingly accepted to lead the freedom train. The people built the stature of Morgan Tsvangirai because they supported him.

Sometimes he would blunder yet people continued with him. Through this support Tsvangirai grew to who he is today. There is limited doubt that given the spirit in 2000, Gibson Sibanda, Learnmore Jongwe or Lucia Matibenga could have grown to same stature of Tsvangirai or even better had they too been chosen like Tsvangirai.

Let us imagine a situation where up the tree, the baboon, the monkey and the leopard begin to fight about who goes to the top of the tree. Eventually the baboon and the monkey fall off the tree but after cutting down two-thirds of the branches. The baboons, jackals and monkeys decide to go and look for another figtree across the river. 

The leopard after defending the territory like that, with all its injuries and scars to show for it remains.  Now would it be unfair if the leopard declares that it wants to defend the tree until the threat has subsided then let somebody up the tree and assures other animals that it will not stay up there beyond 20 days?

The party split in 2005. Of the so-called top six only Tsvangirai and Matongo remained.  Deputy President Gibson Sibanda, SG Welshman Ncube, treasurer general Fletcher Dulini-Ncube and deputy secretary general Gift Chimanikire left.

So did Paul Themba Nyathi, the then Secretary for Information and Publicity. There is no doubt that although the boiling point was the senate elections there were other previous issues that had necessitated rifts in MDC. These include the sidelining of intellectuals by trade unionists and the claims of a kitchen-cabinet that circumvented elected offices like that of the Secretary General.

The failure by the group that left to realize that people would eventually sympathize with Tsvangirai as a victim is the reason why today Mr. Tsvangirai appears to be the head and tail of MDC. Tsvangirai was left alone, he managed to present his case to the people and they supported him.

The Welshman group despite that its initial reasons were valid failed to account for the discrepancy in its wish to participate in senate elections when they had all along opposed the formation of the senate house. It was like rebuking a thief at Aroma Bakery but when he successfully steals the bread you decide to share it with him.

Ndebele deputies

Unless if the critics of MDC want a special provision that elevates Ndebeles to certain posts I put forward that the status quo is not a result of tribal segregation but a crisis of leadership from Matabeleland. The split in 2005 resulted in the cream of leadership hailing from Matabeleland leaving MDC. High-ranking leaders who left include Gibson Sibanda, Welshman Ncube, Fletcher Dulini Ncube, Paul Themba Nyathi and many others in the National Standing Committee.

When the split occurred Tsvangirai was left with few high-profile leaders from Matabeleland. To back my point, Thokozani Khupe who is the highest-ranking leader in MDC from Matabeleland was only a National Executive member responsible for Transport, Logistics and Welfare before the split.

Lovemore Moyo was only elected as Chairman of Matabeleland South a few months before the 2006 congress. Thamsanqa Mahlangu was Deputy National Youth Chairman. Gertrude Mtombeni was in the national executive.

Thus in 2006 in a bid to maintain tribal balance MDC elevated a number of people who were far down the ladder to positions of authority. The question we ought to ask is whether Lovemore Moyo feels ripe enough to challenge Tsvangirai who plucked him from Matabeleland South? Is Thokozani Khupe politically ready to challenge Tsvangirai? Is Mahlangu politically ready to challenge Biti?

These people are not fools, they also know their chances. They know their journey. Eventually if they work hard they will develop political clout that would allow them to challenge for higher positions of authority. So will people like Obert Gutu and Dennis Murira.

Would Tsvangirai force Biti out?

The reason why Tendai Biti was elevated to the position of Secretary General in 2006 was to maintain sectarian balance in MDC.  When MDC was formed it comprised mainly of workers, students and to a lesser extent commercial farmers.

After the death of Learnmore Jongwe, the flight of Tafadzwa Musekiwa and the departure of Job Sikhala the only notable figure from the former student leader’s fraternity was Nelson Chamisa. Thus for MDC to retain the support of students, there was need to elevate one of theirs to a higher post.

There is a difference between an academic and a former student leader. Those who have been to tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe can attest to the fact that there is a certain camaraderie that exists amongst students.

So even if Prof Mukonoweshuro may be a better leader it is hard for him to be able to identify with the struggles of the student union; thus for the health of the party it remains important that a balance with the students be maintained. Tsvangirai knows this fact.

Had he really felt that Biti was making uncomfortable moves to remove him, then he would have propped up another former student leader to be nominated and challenge Biti. The decision on Secretary General lies with congress though and should Prof Mukonoweshuro win then that would be the will of people not that it would be a product of Tsvangirai’s machinations.

In the event that Biti retains his post then he should be wise enough to address the issues that have caused some people not to have confidence in his leadership. That way he will mature into a leader capable of going the heights.

Parting Shot

I know that despite my blatant support for the party this article is a clear admission that MDC is far from being as democratic as it should be. People shouldn’t be stabbing each other for positions. It is also my hope that this will be the last term for Mr. Tsvangirai as party president so that we open up to leadership renewal.

I also hope that at the congress we will have only good winners and good losers so that we quickly refocus our eyes on the broader goal.

Freeman Chari is a former student leader