By Mugove Tafirenyika, Blessings Mashaya and Andrew Kunambura
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s latest presidential bid could run into serious trouble as he battles to steady the ship rocked by internal party strife.
This comes as the MDC leader is at loggerheads with his longest serving deputy Thokozani Khupe, who snubbed his Bulawayo rally on Saturday, along with national chairperson Lovemore Moyo and national organising secretary Abednico Bhebhe, over the formation of the MDC Alliance, without prior consultations.
Tsvangirai was launching the MDC Alliance — a union of seven opposition parties — in Bulawayo, Khupe’s home area.
Information obtained by the Daily News suggests that currently, Tsvangirai is making frantic efforts to placate the trio, who were recently attacked by alleged MDC youths after they registered their displeasure in the manner the former trade unionist has been handling coalition talks with other parties.
The trio has since been targeted for censure by some militant party members intolerant of voices against Tsvangirai.
The party hawks are also targeting secretary general Douglas Mwonzora and spokesperson Obert Gutu, in a move that could see the labour-backed opposition party split again — for the third time since its formation in 1999.
The gravity of the crisis was exposed in highly charged WhatsApp conversations from an MDC group chat seen by the Daily News in which the party’s youth assembly secretary general Lovemore Chinoputsa was involved in a jaw-jaw exchange with Gutu, whom he accused of incompetence as well as fighting Tsvangirai on behalf of Khupe.
According to the leaked chats, Gutu insisted that he was competent in his job, saying “…I am pretty sure that my boss is extremely happy with my performance”.
Chinoputsa confirmed to the Daily News that the WhatsApp exchanges did take place, adding that their tiff was emanating from disagreements over the coalition proposals.
“Yes, it happened. They are issues to do with the coalition,” he said in a terse response.
However, Gutu refused to comment on the social media exchanges, suggesting that it was the work of State security agents out to destabilise the MDC.
“I am not going to respond to leaked WhatsApp messages whose authenticity I don’t even know about,” he said, blaming it on “State agents who are not resting in their attempts to divide us and cause confusion in our ranks”.
In the WhatsApp chat, Gutu is also bombarded by other party members, mainly from the MDC youth assembly and the main body.
The most vocal members included youth assembly spokesperson, Brian Dube, treasurer Tawanda Kureva and Mashonaland East organising secretary Tapfumaneyi Muzoda.
The altercation came after Gutu shared Tsvangirai’s statement announcing that several party members, including Bhebhe, had been suspended in connection with the violence in Bulawayo that had resulted in the assault of Khupe and company.
After the statement was shared on the group, Chinoputsa accused Gutu of releasing information only when it suits his factional interests.
“You come to life only when you think that the decision is in your handlers’ favour. Pathetic communication,” Chinoputsa said.
In response, Gutu described Chinoputsa as “a miserable nonentity not worthy of my attention”.
But Chinoputsa would not be silenced, telling Gutu that “you are not anywhere close to what I’m worthy, relax. You could have ignored it if it’s not worthy your attention”.
Gutu drew the wrath of Chinoputsa and his allies when he went on to tell the party’s youth assembly secretary general that “you are not even fit to be my garden boy”.
Chinoputsa responded: “You have dismally failed as a spokesperson and we’re coming for you as the vanguard, you can’t protect the party and you shall fall. I can take you through elementary media management at no cost (sic).”
Muzoda, on his part, said “vaGutu muchirikuita mushe here (Gutu are you still okay up there) kkkkkkkkk”, while Kureva said “we have incompetent spokesperson in Mr Gutu”, adding that “Gutu you are a political novice my brother. You can be a law expert but izvi ndezvedu (this is our stuff)”.
Dube said it was baffling that Gutu would say “our SG, and NEC member and member of the finance and admin committee is a nonentity and not worthy to be the national information secretary’s garden boy, ndagwadziwa (I am hurt)”.
The youths blamed Gutu for most of the challenges the party is currently facing because of his alleged poor communication skills and inability to take the party out of any mess.
Dube wrote: “We need to take action to protect our brand vanhu (people) they don’t love mudhara (Tsvangirai) especially chi main (our main) board chedu chinemharapatsetse (which is full of sell outs).”
“Gutu and his enemies of the president mastermind the suspension of our esteemed deputy treasurer general (Charlton Hwende) and deputy information secretary (Tabitha Khumalo). We have a crisis of leadership especially in the offices of secretary general (Mwonzora) and information and publicity,” Muzoda weighed in.
While Khumalo has since been absolved of any wrongdoing following investigations by the party’s arbiter general, Hwende remains suspended over the Bulawayo violence.
Clifford Hlatshwayo, a former youth leader, said the youth assembly should “immediately summon Mr Gutu for his dishonourable utterances, he must repeat these words before leadership of the YA”.
“I saw him kudhara (long back) he is not one of us. If u (sic) see another leader as a garden boy it means you are not part of this struggle. You are there for other reasons with your colleagues. We are watching you. Time shall come and you will fall mese (in one swoop). You always fight in the wrong side. You were the one who was fighting Tsvangirai chete chete slogan, we know it. How can u (sic) call an SG of the whole YA a garden boy? (sic)”
Meanwhile, an MDC extraordinary national executive meeting has been tentatively set for next Friday to deal with the deadly rumpus, amid a fresh turf war between party vice president, Nelson Chamisa and Mwonzora.
The duo’s vast differences came out during last Friday’s national executive meeting held at the party’s Harvest House headquarters in Harare, where an investigative report over the Bulawayo violence was tabled, implicating Chamisa.
Senior MDC officials who attended the meeting told the Daily News that the report, which cleared deputy spokesperson Tabitha Khumalo and nailed Bhebhe, opened a can of worms after it quoted Mwonzora on record exposing Chamisa’s alleged role in opposing the planned MDC Alliance, which Tsvangirai forged with former top lieutenants — Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube.
Mwonzora is quoted in the report as having told the tribunal set up to investigate the violence that Chamisa was the architect of the boycott of the Alliance launch by Khupe, Bhebhe and Moyo.
Contacted for a comment, Chamisa said “there is no such report and nothing of that sort ever happened” while Mwonzora promised to respond later, but his phone was unreachable afterwards.
But sources said discussions which followed the tabling of the tribunal’s 18-page report exposed the bad blood between Mwonzora and Chamisa.
“The report exonerated Khumalo and implicated Chamisa in the whole crisis. In the report, Mwonzora openly accuses Chamisa of engineering the fight against the Alliance. He told the tribunal that Chamisa was the instigator as he was in constant communication with the Matabeleland leadership before, during and after the meeting.
“Mwonzora accused Chamisa of using Khupe, Moyo and Bhebhe to do the dirty work while he operates from behind the scenes,” said senior MDC official who attended the meeting.
Mwonzora is said to have further told the tribunal that Chamisa was not happy with the fact that Tsvangirai had courted Biti and Ncube without the approval of the MDC leadership.
At the launch of the MDC Alliance at Zimbabwe Grounds on August 5, Tsvangirai said he had personally invited Biti and Ncube to his house to ink the deal.
Chamisa and Biti have a well-publicised acrimonious relationship.
After the presentation of the report, the sources said Chamisa was put to his defence and strongly denied opposing the Alliance and playing any part in the violence that saw Khupe and company being bashed.
He is said to have pledged “undying loyalty to Tsvangirai”.
An insider said Chamisa then turned his guns on Mwonzora whom he reportedly said was accusing him of fomenting trouble in the party when it was actually him who was behind the opposition of the Alliance.
He reportedly told the meeting that he was ready to expose Mwonzora’s underhand dealings, but said he would only do so in his presence.
“Chamisa said he preferred to expose how Mwonzora has been working with Khupe, Moyo and Bhebhe to fight the Alliance in their presence. He therefore, asked that further deliberations be moved to a later date when the quartet would be in the meeting,” added the source.
The tide turned on women’s assembly chairperson, Lynette Karenyi Kore, who was also being implicated of opposing the Alliance.
Unlike Chamisa, who put up a spirited defence, Kore reportedly got overwhelmed by the tension and burst into a Christian hymn: “Ndoda Mwari Muyamuri wangu, Munoziva kusasimba kwangu (I need you Oh Lord my saviour, you know my weaknesses)” in an attempt to soothe the atmosphere.
At the same time, Tsvangirai’s cause has not been helped by reports that former vice president Joice Mujuru is sponsoring rebellion in the two parties signatory to the MDC Alliance.
Highly-placed sources both in Biti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Mujuru’s National People’s Party (NPP) told the Daily News that Mugabe’s former second-in command was holding secret talks with Khupe and Biti’s secretary general Gorden Moyo promising them positions in a separate coalition deal.
Both Moyo and Khupe’s phones were not reachable yesterday.
Mujuru’s spokesperson Gift Nyandoro, who also doubles as the NPP secretary general and chief coalition negotiator, said while they last had formal talks with Biti two months ago, informal meetings were still being held.
“We are not at liberty to discuss in the media who we are discussing with either informally or formally but being a big organisation we have diversity and some people could be involved in informal talks but the thing with such talks is that they do not reflect a party position,” Nyandoro said.
He further described suggestions that Mujuru was out to destabilise the MDC Alliance as “mischievous”.
“Any suggestion that NPP is clandestinely approaching some of the PDP members and Khupe is mischievous to say the least…”
But sources close to the NPP coalition talks said Mujuru — who recently said that she will not be part of the Alliance — was seeing an opportunity to “fish from Biti and Tsvangirai’s ponds” in officials that have openly opposed the alliance.
“Mujuru’s emissaries have been meeting with top officials in our party behind Biti’s back encouraging them to refuse to be part of the coalition,” said a senior official who preferred anonymity.
The sources also revealed that Mujuru had told a meeting of her party’s national executive last week that she had rejected Tsvangirai’s offer of 60 seats during their negotiations.
“She said the party’s negotiating team had taken Tsvangirai’s team to task over the proposal asking them where they will get the seats when they have already shared amongst themselves in the MDC Alliance to which they promised to repossess those that had been given to other parties” said an NPP national executive member.
“It was then revealed that talks were going on with the PDP and Zapu with a view to coming up with a strong coalition that will not be bullied by the MDC Alliance.”
Contacted for comment Biti encouraged Mujuru to join the MDC Alliance.
“…we know that the need for convergence is not negotiable, we know that what is negotiable are conditions for coming up with a coalition which we will sign very soon,” Biti said.
“I want to urge the NPP to become part of it. I know they have their reservations and they raise very valid points on issues about name and stuff like that but that can be discussed on the table because nothing is cast in stone. What is important to realise though is that only one idea will win the day at the end of it all”.
On the other hand, Mujuru has also been fingered in the turbulence that is currently obtaining in the MDC.
In response to that, Nyandoro said: “These allegations are a figment of their own imagination, as a party we have made resolutions concerning the coalition where we have said we will not be part to a coalition that seeks to use another party’s name but a common logo and slogan which is no way related to political party as well as that seats be allocated in consultation with the membership of political parties involved.”
“We are, however, continuously engaging others but we have no intention to destabilise anyone. We will not disclose those we are negotiating. It is not our desire to negotiate in the newspaper,” he said. Daily News