Zimbabwe’s Welshman Ncube, who has taken over the leadership of the Movement for Democratic Change (Mutambara faction), faces the task of steering the party from the shadows of his bitter rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, and achieving at least some national appeal.
Ncube, who has always controlled the party, faced no real resistance in toppling Arthur Mutambara. Ncube himself head-hunted Mutambara from the United States in 2005 to lead the splinter movement.
Ncube, who is Ndebele, had calculated that a Shona leader would give his party wider appeal. But at the end of his reign Mutambara appeared little more than a front for the real head honcho.
As his election was announced at the party’s congress, from the sound system in the sports arena came a new song recorded by supporters in his praise, Liberate us, Welshman!
He wasted little time in taking well aimed shots at both Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC. Robert Mugabe still lords it over his party, while Tsvangirai has removed term limits from his party’s constitution to remain leader. Ncube sought to exploit this.
“To those who refuse to hand over power to a new generation of leaders, those who think that they are born to lead, we say we are going to organise against you and we tell you that the people of Zimbabwe will reject you in the next election,” Ncube said in his speech.
He led a breakaway from the MDC in 2005 after Tsvangirai reversed a vote by his senior council in favour of participating in a senate election. The split was the culmination of years of division, some of them marked by violence. In Tsvangirai’s party Ncube remains a much-reviled figure — for some he is even more hateful than Mugabe himself.
Reacting to Ncube’s jibe about Tsvangirai clinging to power Nelson Chamisa, the spokesperson for the larger MDC, said that “he [Ncube] is a champion in boardroom coups, [but it] does not make him a democrat”. Obert Gutu, the deputy justice minister and a Tsvangirai ally, said the power handover was “a one-man show in which a proxy hands power back to his principal”.
Ncube has begun the tough task of moving out of the larger MDC’s shadow. Gone are the red colours of the MDC, replaced by light green branding. He also wants the party renamed the Congress for the Movement for Democratic Change.
His biggest task is to achieve national appeal for his party, which draws virtually all its support from Matabeleland. He also faces an electorate that is divided almost in half, with little space for a third party.
Mutambara will not be replaced immediately, leaving him a lame duck that neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe will take seriously.
The animosity between Ncube and Tsvangirai may also start new quarrels, further stalling progress in the unity government. Ncube’s son is married to Jacob Zuma’s daughter and some say this gives him some leverage.