Tsvangirai dissenter's wings clipped
For the first time since Welshman Ncube split from the Movement for Democratic Change in 2005, the party's tolerance of dissenting views about its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been publicly tested. And it didn't do too well.
MDC deputy treasurer general Elton Mangoma recently wrote to Tsvangirai asking him to step down. But Mangoma's wings were quickly clipped and the recent demonstrations against him that have bordered on violence seem to have been carefully choreographed.
Tsvangirai and Mangoma had a heart-to-heart talk last Sunday to iron out their differences following the leaking of Mangoma's letter, but that has not stopped daggers being drawn against the former energy minister.
Party insiders said a hate campaign had been instigated against Mangoma by Tsvangirai's supporters, including those who see their support for the leader as a way to secure senior positions at the party's next congress.
"Mangoma's letter has widened cracks in the party," said an MDC official. "There are many people who respect him for being honest with Tsvangirai and telling him what many officials, including some who are supposedly close to him, are whispering in corridors and bars.
"But the letter has also angered a lot of people, and the demonstrations against him are testimony to that."
Sources close to Mangoma said he has had to upgrade his security following the demonstrations against him because he fears for his safety.
"It appears that some youths where sponsored to demonstrate against Mangoma, including during the national executive meeting last Friday. They were rowdy and wanted to assault Mangoma," the party source said.
Tsvangirai intervened at that demonstration, for the second time in a week. He addressed the youth, who were singing and hurling abuse at Mangoma, and explained that Mangoma had a right to criticise his leadership.
Mangoma left the meeting under tight security, but not before the rowdy crowd heckled him.
On Monday last week, another group of party youths demonstrated against Mangoma at the party's Harvest House headquarters, making fun of his physical appearance. They dispersed only after being addressed by Tsvangirai.
Those demonstrating against Mangoma accuse him of being either a Zanu-PF mole or a Central Intelligence Organisation agent who is working with foreign donors to oust Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai not ready to let go
Media reports last week said that, at a meeting attended by the party's deputy president, Thokozani Khuphe, and secretary general, Tendai Biti, Mangoma had offered Tsvangirai a $3-million retirement package.
But those reports were denied at last Friday's national executive meeting, at which Tsvangirai made it clear he was not ready to relinquish his post.
MDC spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora confirmed that the party's national executive had established that "there was no cash inducement to the president, nor was there any cash demand from him".
Questions have arisen about who leaked Mangoma's letter to the media.
"Mangoma and Tsvangirai explained that the letter was given directly to Tsvangirai," said a national executive member. "Tsvangirai, however, made copies and gave them to standing committee members."
The party has prohibited its members from speaking to the media. Mwonzora is the only official mandated to speak to the press by the national executive.
National executive to decide on early congress
The Mail & Guardian understands that, although Mangoma has received support from some national executive members, who respect his right to express himself, it is clear that Tsvangirai is still considered to be the party boss.
The national executive said the national council, the MDC's highest decision-making body outside of congress, would decide whether to call an early congress.
Tsvangirai could also call for an early congress. Officials said the national executive had agreed that there was a need to rebuild the party, which has lost support in the country, as well as from regional and African Union leaders.
The national executive resolved to hold a policy conference in March before holding an all-stakeholders conference later for various groups, including trade union organisations, students and civil society, among others, to get their input on how the party should move forward.
The policy conference will aim to come up with policies that will make the party marketable to the electorate. The national executive urged all party departments to support the reform agenda and come up with ways to strengthen the party.
"We agreed to embark on a restructuring and renewal exercise," said Mwonzora. "This is meant to strengthen our structures, starting with the grassroots and ending up at national level.
"The decision to bring forward our congress, if need be, will lie with the national council of the party and not an individual.
"In that regard, the content of honourable Mangoma's letter was a nonissue because it represents the opinion of an individual.
"He will not be punished for holding that opinion, but the national executive emphasises that only the national council or the president can call for an early congress."
The MDC has added Tsvangirai and Khuphe as signatories to the party's accounts, together with the director general and chief accountant.
"This is because those aligned to Tsvangirai felt that Mangoma could not be given a free hand over the finances, considering that both he and [treasurer general Roy] Bennett had urged the party leader to resign," said the MDC source.