Tsvangirai's moment of truth
The fate of Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is under pressure from some of his lieutenants to resign, lies with the party's national council, which is expected to sit in February to determine whether the party should bring forward its congress due in 2016.
Tsvangirai has been facing growing pressure to resign from the MDC-T presidency since losing his third straight election to President Robert Mugabe in July last year.
He has led the MDC since its inception in 1999, but some of his lieutenants accuse him of failing to steer the party to victory while tarnishing the party's image with his personal indiscretions.
The party's deputy treasurer general, Elton Mangoma, dropped a bombshell last week by writing a letter to Tsvangirai asking him to step down from the party's leadership. The letter easily found its way into the hands of journalists.
The Mail & Guardian also understands from senior party officials that Mangoma, party vice-president Thokozani Khuphe and secretary general Tendai Biti had a meeting with Tsvangirai last week, where the former prime minister was asked to resign and hand over the reins to Khuphe until an extraordinary congress could be held.
Tsvangirai, however, turned down the offer, which reportedly had been sweetened with a $3-million retirement package. Mangoma's letter was also discussed at a recent standing committee meeting.
'The only avenue to restoring the credibility'
"It is my unbending resolve that leadership renewal at this juncture could be the only avenue to restoring the credibility of the party, [otherwise] it risks being confined to history," wrote Mangoma.
"[This year] marks 15 years of Morgan Tsvangirai as president of the party. You have done the best that you could and continuing will result in diminishing returns and eating into your legacy. The party is in dire need of new ideas, new thinking, a new trajectory and new stimulus."
Top party insiders this week said that the party's national executive is to meet in Harare to prepare for the party's restructuring exercise.
Officials said the executive will prepare for the possibility of the national council meeting in February, which is likely to call for an early congress. Restructuring will be done at branch, ward, district, provincial and national level, they said.
All members of the national executive also sit on the national council that is expected to meet next month to decide whether the party should call for a special congress and set the congress agenda. The national council is the party's highest decision-making body.
The national executive exercises all functions of the national council. It also recommends party policy and programmes and resolutions to the national council.
Strong chance of an early congress
MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora confirmed that a national executive meeting will be held, but said it will not be an extraordinary one.
He said Tsvangirai's fate will be decided by the national council and that there is a strong chance an early congress will be called. According to the MDC's Constitution, members of the national council can call for an extraordinary congress through a majority vote.
"The national council made a resolution in September 2013 that the MDC would have its congress in 2016, and that resolution still stands. The national council has no power to force a president to resign during his currency, but it can call for an early congress where the president can be contested," Mwonzora said.
"As things stand, the congress will be held in 2016, but in the MDC we subject everything to the views of the majority, including Mangoma's views, which were examined during a standing committee meeting.
"His proposals were rejected, but should the national council vary its resolution, we will have an early congress."
Mwonzora said the national executive meeting is being held to ensure the MDC is structurally strong.
Keeping options open
"We want to keep our options open. If the national council decides that we should have an early congress, we should be ready and our structures should be intact."
But insiders backing Tsvangirai believe the council meeting is a chance for him to prove how popular he remains in the party. Officials close to Tsvangirai said they are confident he would beat any challenger at the congress because of the grassroots support he enjoys.
The former premier has received support from the party's youth and women's leagues.
Some members of the youth league demonstrated against Mangoma on Monday, and the women's league, led by Theresa Makone, a key Tsvangirai ally, said it is standing firmly behind its leader.
Those who want Tsvangirai to step down have acknowledged that he still commands grassroots support, and should therefore not leave the party altogether.
"That is the reason why one of the suggestions made by Elias Mudzuri [a former Harare mayor] was that he steps down ceremoniously and becomes a ‘Mandela' of the party," said an official.
Amending the constitution
"Mangoma also suggested amending the constitution to create the position of founding president. This is because we understand his importance to the movement. He commands a lot of support, but at the same time, he is a liability because of his lack of strategic thinking and indiscretions, especially involving women. We are hoping he will see reason and act in the interest of the party."
Party officials said that renewed calls for Tsvangirai to step down came as a result of his continued failure to manage his personal life, as well as traditional donors ditching the party because of Tsvangirai's image, which they say is tarnishing the party.
In the run-up to last year's elections, details of Tsvangirai's multiple sexual dalliances spilled into the public domain, causing embarrassment to the party.
In recent weeks, the media have been awash with reports of his messy separation from his wife, Elizabeth.