Zim's 'other' MDC finds more ears
"A year ago people could not distinguish between the two Movement for Democratic Change parties, but we have rebranded our party and adopted the green colour as our symbol. Now everyone in Zimbabwe knows who we are and what we are about," said Welshman Ncube, president of the breakaway MDC faction.
At the party's office in Bulawayo, it is evident that the MDC is keen to distinguish itself through its green emblem. It is visible everywhere, from the high precast wall and the curtains in the office to the coffee mugs in which tea is served.
Ncube assumed the leadership of the MDC faction in January last year when he beat Arthur Mutambara at a party congress.
Before the victory Ncube's political career had been on the rocks, because he was widely viewed as having orchestrated the 2005 MDC split, after which Morgan Tsvangirai continued to lead the other faction. He refused to be drawn into talking about the "petty details" around the split, which he said were nothing more than a distraction as elections loom next year.
As the polls near, Ncube's profile appears to be growing stronger. In August the Southern African Development Community (SADC) resolved to recognise him as one of the principal players in Zimbabwe's political arena and President Jacob Zuma also appeared to give tacit endorsement of Ncube's importance when he met the MDC leader during his trip to Harare, snubbing Mutambara in the process.
Nhlanhla Dube, the party's spokesperson, said the swelling interest in the party attested that Ncube was now being recognised as "the alternative voice" in the political landscape, which for the past decade has been dominated by President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the Tsvangirai-led MDC.
Mugabe has indicated that elections will be held in March, a prospect Ncube rejected. "Elections will never be held in March next year, because we have missed several deadlines already," he said. "As it is, the second stakeholders' conference has been postponed to the end of October, which means we are unlikely to have a referendum until mid-December.
"It is not possible that straight after the referendum we go into an election in March. Mugabe's statements are no different to the wishes expressed by Zanu-PF to hold elections in 2011 and even this year. Elections in March are unrealistic until the necessary political reforms have taken place."
Ncube scoffed at what he called Tsvangirai's lack of sound policies and his "bed-hopping antics". At the party's 13th anniversary celebrations in Bulawayo over the weekend, Tsvangirai enjoined his troops to persevere in their quest to remove Mugabe from power.
"The anyone-but-Mugabe mantra is no longer appealing to the people," said Ncube. "The voters have become more discerning and want to distinguish political parties based on what their policies are. We have come out as the more energetic and focused MDC that has capable leadership, rather than the others who are tainted by scandal."
His MDC has, however, been on the receiving end of violence. Two weeks ago a rally in Mutoko was disturbed by Zanu-PF-linked youths, who beat up supporters. Ncube conceded that tough decisions would have to be taken if violence took place.
"It would be foolish of us not to anticipate that violence will break out in the next elections. In the heat of the political moment and given the genetic make-up of a Zanu-PF supporter, certainly we all must expect them to resort to violence. SADC must deploy a strong observer mission so that Zanu-PF does not have its way in the election," he said.