Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Bennett out of order on Tsvangirai

By William Muchayi

Recent utterances attributed to Roy Bennett, the MDC Treasurer General and former Chimanimani legislator, suggesting that now is the most opportune time for Morgan Tsvangirai to step down as leader of the opposition party has generated more controversy than helping the party.

Roy Bennett
Roy Bennett

While it is acknowledged that it is within the parameters of an individual’s democratic right to express their opinions, it is the context in which the views are raised that is problematic if not counterproductive on the part of the opposition, just months after the heavily rigged poll.

Not only that, what makes the utterances even more distasteful beside their timing is the choice of media when established party protocols and channels exist through which such grievances could have been aired behind closed doors.

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Tsvangirai’s term of office runs up to 2016 before Congress selects new leadership. The idea of pushing him out of office unconstitutionally without being guided by the party constitution is problematic as its destabilising effects will definitely tear the party to pieces.

Why not be patient and wait for 2016 when Congress decides the new leadership in a free and fair contest in which Tsvangirai’s post is to be contested as well?

What the MDC needs to do from now is to establish mechanisms whereby all those vying for the post and other junior positions prepare the ground for the contest in 2016 but not to use the back door as suggested by the idea to force the party president to resign.

Even Roy Bennett himself is welcome to contest for the post and as I know him, he is a credible asset for the party. Didn’t we admire the maturity of the ANC party down South when the sitting incumbent Jacob Zuma was challenged by his deputy for the leadership post in a free and fair election and it is the will of the people that prevailed at the end and the loser had to accept defeat, leaving the ANC intact?

Pushing Tsvangirai out of office unconstitutionally will not only fragment the party, but, it will create legitimacy problems for whoever is to succeed him who is not a product of Congress.

Tsvangirai’s critics seem to underestimate his charisma which lack in most of the front runners who may succeed him. He is flawed as a human being just like each one of us, but, one thing that distinguishes him from the rest is that in spite of his moderate education, he bonds well with grass root supporters. The Tsvangirai brand defines the MDC and without him, there is a vacuum which is difficult to fill.

Even Zanu PF is well aware of this fact. While it is a noble idea to reform the opposition party, the process has to be managed carefully, wisely and gradually without creating the opposite effect. Haven’t we seen professors before being outmanoeuvred by the MDC leader? In politics, it is not only education that makes one a good leader, but, the extent to which one bonds with supporters.

Tsvangirai still carries with him the brand that resonates with the electorate and removing him unceremonially will surely cost the party dearly. It is time for the MDC party to restrategise and rise from the ground but, without taking drastic measures that can destabilise it.

Instead of the opposition media machinery to be on the offensive following the rigged election, Bennett’s utterances are hijacked by enemy parrots, putting the opposition on the defensive which is unproductive for the party.

At best, the opposition must make a synopsis of how, where and when the election was stolen and come up with strategies of how to avoid that from happening tomorrow than overthrowing the leader which is too drastic a measure.

There is indeed the need to restructure the opposition party more so following the mayoral and council elections which saw MDC councillors colluding with Zanu PF, thus defying party orders.

Through hindsight, it can be argued that the best the MDC could have done after realising that Zanu PF was reluctant to honour their part of the bargain was to quit the inclusive government.

That being said, it is a fact that not all of us are blessed with the power to foresee the future although leaders are expected to be a mile ahead of their followers but not too far. None of the MDC legislators resigned from government after realising that Mugabe was never going to honour the GPA and even Roy Bennett himself never stepped down from his post.

From this premise, it can be safely argued that Tsvangirai stayed in the inclusive government since he had the backing of the party. Blaming him now for being short sighted by staying in this marriage of convenience while he had the backing of the party is at worst misleading if not hypocritical.

Who among the MDC top brass was not of the view that the party was to benefit more by influencing government decisions from inside than from outside? If all agreed that the first option was better, then they should all share the blame including Roy Bennett himself.

In any case, it is extremely difficult to judge Tsvangirai’s performance during his tenure in the inclusive government. The question that is difficult to answer is whether the election was lost due to poor leadership in the MDC or through rigging by Mugabe.

It is not easy to come up with answers but what is certain is that incumbents in Africa thrive on uneven political playing field. Tsvangirai can resign from his post as a goodwill gesture but is not obliged to do so as he still has the mandate enshrined on him by congress.

In any case, that does not in any way solve the bigger hurdle in front of the MDC party that is, Mugabe’s newly discovered secret, which is Nikiv. In the past, the incumbent relied on violence, but now with diamond money, he can afford to finance his rigging.

Of all the mistakes Morgan Tsvangirai made, the worst was his naivety in his dealings with Robert Mugabe. There was no need for him to travel throughout the globe while giving the impression that Mugabe was a reformed man hence the need to lift sanctions without all the agreed reforms implemented. There was no need on his part to sanitise Mugabe’s image which was already soiled for it was supposed to be Zanu PF’s task to do so.

In as much as no one needs sanctions for they end up hurting the unintended targets that is the one weapon the international community has to punish the rogue regime which hurts it most. Even Tendai Biti himself, the former finance minister is on record advocating for the lifting of these targeted sanctions.

Now that Mugabe hasn’t changed his spots, what will the MDC tell the international community after having advocated for the scrapping of the punitive measures? Whether it was and is still the MDC policy with regard to sanctions, no one knows and that give party members and supporters as well as the international community mixed signals which is not healthy for the party.

In light of these blunders, Tsvangirai has to shoulder some of the blame for the party’s poor performance at the ballot box, but, his lieutenants can’t be spared the blame either including Roy Bennett himself. MDC leadership renewal has to be guided by the genuine desire to rejuvenate the party and strengthens it but not by opportunistic machinations, anger and frustration on the part of its members.

William Muchayi is a pro-democracy and political analyst who can be contacted on [email protected]