/ 2 May 2014

Endgame looms for Tsvangirai

Red alert: The scene outside the Movement for Democratic Change headquarters before Morgan Tsvangirai's press conference announcing Tendai Biti's expulsion on Tuesday.
Red alert: The scene outside the Movement for Democratic Change headquarters before Morgan Tsvangirai's press conference announcing Tendai Biti's expulsion on Tuesday.

A grand coalition of opposition parties that hopes to alienate MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai is likely to be sealed before the end of this month, the Mail & Guardian has learnt.

Although it is not yet clear if the coalition will result in one single new opposition party, officials in different parties confirmed that a conference dubbed “a Convention of Democrats” is set to be held in Gweru on May 25. Both Tendai Biti’s renewal team and Welshman Ncube’s MDC are pushing for the convention to take place before the end of May.

Biti, who is the MDC-T’s ­secretary general, is leading a faction that last week suspended Tsvangirai from the party. Tsvangirai in turn expelled Biti, saying he had violated the party’s constitution by presiding over the national council meeting that suspended Tsvangirai.

An official in Biti’s camp said they are attempting to enlist the services of a number of churches to act as conveners of the conference.

‘The train is moving’
Biti and Ncube are said to also want the broad alliance to include other political leaders such as Dumiso Dabengwa of Zapu, Mutumwa Mawere of the United Movement for Democracy Party and Simba Makoni of Mavambo/Dawn/Kusile.

Dabengwa confirmed that he has discussed the grand coalition with Biti and Ncube, but said the talks are still informal. He said the discussions are a continuation of the failed 2012 unification idea.

Dabengwa said it is important that the alliance is a broad one because there is a need to unite Zimbabweans, whom he said are divided. He said the people would choose the best candidate to lead the coalition.

Makoni could not be reached for comment.

“The officials will tell you that official talks have not yet begun, but I can assure you that the train is ­moving,” said an MDC-T national executive member who is among those calling for leadership renewal.

“We are looking at May 25 or thereabouts and people are already putting their heads together to decide who to invite, what the agenda will be, who will convene the meeting and so on.

“We would have wanted to hold the convention earlier, but we are aware that we are dealing with different political parties and ­institutions who need time to inform and consult their membership. But there is no moving back on this one.

“The idea is to invoke the spirit of the National Working People’s Convention of 1999, where more than 700 people gathered in Hillside to form the MDC. We are hoping the convention will result in the democratic forces having a common goal and ultimately lead to a strong alliance that will be able to dislodge Zanu-PF from power.”

Divergent views
The sources said the stakeholders who had so far been consulted had different ideas on how the grand coalition would work, with some wanting a single political party to be formed and others preferring that the various parties keep their identities and form a coalition.

“It may not be time to form a political party now, because that will mean a lot of time will be spent collapsing the structures and coming up with a single structure and so on. Such negotiations would obviously take a long time,” said the official.

Jacob Mafume, the spokesperson for the MDC-T renewal faction, confirmed the convention would take place, although he said the date and venue could change.

“We are hoping to meet before the end of May, but we are still holding consultations. We have covered a lot of ground but because we are looking to bring in a variety of stakeholders, ranging from political ­parties and church leaders to trade unions, students, civil society and so on, we expect to take a bit of time.”

Mafume said because the stakeholders hold divergent views there are many proposals on the way forward, but these will be discussed at the convention.

“Naturally, there are people who feel we should form one party, but we also have others who feel we should come together and agree on one candidate in elections and one strategy of dealing with Zanu-PF and the government. Right now we have a ceremonial opposition, but we would want a more vibrant and more co-ordinated opposition that will take the government to task,” said Mafume.

He confirmed that church leaders are being engaged in the hope that they will convene the convention.

MDC-Ncube spokesperson Nhlanhla Dube also confirmed the developments, although he said talks are still informal.

“We are still at the stage of finding a consensus but yes, people are talking and our position, as expressed by our president, [Welshman] Ncube, is that people should come together and chart a way forward. We are working towards that.”

Expulsion, suspension
Meanwhile, the Tsvangirai camp is planning to hold its congress in October to choose a new leadership, which will effectively push those aligned to the Biti camp out of the party. Tsvangirai on Tuesday announced the expulsion of Biti and his backers, who include some parliamentarians and councillors, ­following a national council meeting at Harvest House.

The national council meeting was held after Biti and his group had announced Tsvangirai’s suspension as well as the suspension of key members such as deputy president Thokhozani Khuphe, national chairperson Lovemore Moyo, organising secretary Nelson Chamisa and party spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora.

The battle for the control of the party and assets is set is to spill into the courts.

The MDC-T’s Mwonzora said Biti and those calling for leadership renewal would not be able to participate in the party congress as they are no longer recognised as members. He said all posts would be up for grabs and that nominations would start in August.

Problems in the MDC-T erupted after a letter written to Tsvangirai by deputy treasurer general Elton Mangoma was leaked to the press in February. Mangoma asked Tsvangirai to step down for failing to provide proper leadership.