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Is the Makone dynasty splitting MDC-T?

By Caiphas Chimhete

The power struggles in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have re-ignited debate on who really pulls the strings in the former opposition party. Party president Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti, the secretary-general, were always seen as the main protagonists. But Ian Makone’s name continues to pop up in the fray. In political circles he has always been touted as a financier, king-maker and eminence grise behind the MDC-T but he has not been popular among the rank and file of the party.

Makone, a permanent secretary and adviser to Tsvangirai, is widely considered a “Johnny-come-lately” in the party who landed the top post from “nowhere” and is accused of destabilising MDC-T. His close relationship with Tsvangirai has also become a source of discomfort among some senior members of the party. Senior MDC officials say their advice and even access to the PM has been curtailed by Makone.

“Makone has ring-fenced Tsvangirai and it is now difficult to have access to him,'” said one MDC-T official who requested anonymity.

“This is why there is factionalism as some members feel Makone is getting too powerful and yet he only came in much later.”

They claimed that Makone came close to Tsvangirai at a time when the party was facing serious financial problems. Makone and his wife Theresa, the sources said, bailed out the party by paying salaries for MDC-T staff as well as pumping out money for the day-to-day operations.

“He came in as a donor because he has good connections in the white community and the corporate world where he worked for a long time,” said another a senior MDC-T official who requested anonymity.

“So this is now pay-back time for Tsvangirai.”

The current factionalism and violence has been linked to a power struggle between Biti and Makone. The two are reportedly jostling for the position of secretary-general which Biti holds, ahead of the party’s national congress next year. When the MDC split into two factions in 2005, Makone was outvoted by Biti but sources said the permanent secretary, an astute businessman and political schemer, is still determined to take up that post to consolidate his position in the popular movement.

Makone joined the party a few years after its formation through Professor Welshman Ncube’s office. Ncube was then secretary-general but Makone managed to manoeuvre his way into Tsvangirai’s inner circle. But he rose to prominence when he was appointed as one of the first political negotiators between MDC and Zanu PF after the disputed 2002 Presidential elections. He was later appointed director of elections.

Makone after he was tortured

It was during this tenure that he was arrested, detained and tortured by security forces in the aftermath of the March 2007 police brutalities. He was accused of training MDC activists to bomb police stations across the country. Before joining politics, Makone ran several businesses and sat on many boards of parastatals. He was also a chairman of First Mutual Life Society (FMLS), the country’s second largest life assurance company, where he worked with Norman Sachikonye, who is now a principal director in the Prime Minister’s Office.

In 2002, there was a campaign to have Makone placed on the European Union sanctions list imposed on President Robert Mugabe and his cronies because FMLS relied heavily on companies with government links such as Olivine and Zisco.

“Some have wondered why he has not been included on the list of persons barred from visiting America if his company benefits from government-owned company pensions,” wrote The Herald then.

Makone, the first black general manager of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), also worked for Manica Freight Services, where he was responsible for the southern Africa region including countries such as Tanzania and Kenya. Sources said Makone is close to the Minister of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Elton Mangoma after they worked together at the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) now Agribank. Then he was the
chairman of the corporation.

Those close to Makone said he accumulated his vast wealth as a consultant for Mugabe’s administration through his businesses and the several companies he chaired before venturing into politics. Repeated efforts to get a comment from Makone were fruitless last week. His office said he was in meetings for the greater part of the week. On Saturday, he refused to talk to The Standard on party spokesperson Nelson Chamisa’s mobile phone. Chamisa however denied that Makone was preventing party officials and supporters from accessing Tsvangirai.

“The president is accessible at all levels,” said Chamisa. “Our challenge is actually that he is too much accessible which however is not even a problem considering that we are a broad-based party.”

He also refuted allegations that Makone at one point financed the party saying the allegations are malicious.

“There is no basis for such kind of malicious and dishonest allegations,” Chamisa said.

“Makone is a loyal and dedicated cadre of the party and his credentials are beyond scrutinising and questioning.”

Chamisa could not confirm whether Makone was once a government consultant.

Apart from owning several properties in Harare, his towering two-storey house in rural Domboshava, just outside Harare, is a spectacle. The house is guarded by armed state security details. However, in politics the name Makone has become synonymous with factionalism in the MDC-T over the past few years. His wife, Theresa, has also been entangled in factionalism after she allegedly elbowed Lucia Matibenga out of the race to lead the MDC-T’s women’s assembly in 2007, nearly splitting the party again into two camps.

In that conflict Tsvangirai supported Theresa to the chagrin of many of his supporters. But what further baffles those in the MDC-T is that while Makone appears to be very close to Tsvangirai, Theresa is a confidante of Jocelyn Chiwenga, the wife of Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander Constantine Chiwenga. The Public Works minister confirmed to the Zimbabwe Independent in 2007 that Jocelyn was her “long-standing friend”.

Ironically, Jocelyn’s husband is one of the service chiefs who have vowed not to salute Tsvangirai even if he wins an election to become the president of the country. http://www.thestandard.co.zw/