By Ray Ndlovu and Shylet Shumba:
WHEN Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) president Morgan Tsvangirai sits down to take stock of what went wrong during the just-ended elections, a significant portion of the blame could be found at his own doorstep.
Those in the know say Mr Tsvangirai, apart from his sexual escapades, which the ruling Zanu-PF harped on during its campaign, was increasingly becoming dictatorial and surrounded himself with a “kitchen cabinet” that hardly said “no” to him.
The party, they say, has been on a downward slope ever since it joined the unity government. He is said to have largely contributed to the “Zanufication” of the MDC-T when he amended the party’s constitution to allow him to stand for a third term.
In addition, he failed to deal with the growing factionalism in the party and spent more time fighting court battles he knew he would never win because of a partisan judiciary.
Instead of taking advantage of the party’s significant role in improving the Zimbabwean economy and canvassing more support in the countryside, Mr Tsvangirai spent a great deal of time outside the country lobbying the region, the European Union and the US to help him. He looked more like a junior partner in a coalition that he was supposed to drive as prime minister.
Even junior Zanu-PF ministers, their deputies, police, intelligence and army generals defied him at every opportunity.
“Zanu-PF leaders spent their energy electioneering rather than governing and were more effective at mobilising their supporters,” said Prof Michael Bratton of the University of Michigan. “This was especially true in the rural areas, where two-thirds of the population live, and where the election was decided.”
Another MDC source, who declined to be named, said Mr Mugabe’s tactic was to push Mr Tsvangirai to deal with “inconsequential” issues while his party recovered and started regaining credibility among the voters. “He (Mr Tsvangirai) had run out of ideas,” the MDC-T source said.
“Those close to him didn’t help. They were busy cementing their positions and accumulating wealth, just like their Zanu-PF counterparts. They kept telling him everything was fine when it was not.”
The result was that Mr Tsvangirai became aloof and dictatorial, and he shunned key allies with whom he had begun the struggle to remove Mr Mugabe.
Although this might sound like an exaggerated description of a man largely credited with being Mr Mugabe’s first real opposition, a brief look at the politics in the Manicaland province of Zimbabwe, could absolve his critics. In 2008 the MDC-T won all seats in a province that bore the brunt of the liberation struggle because of its proximity to Zanu bases in Mozambique. The MDC-T also won all urban local authorities.
But soon after that victory, the MDC-T leadership in the province became embroiled in factional fights that seemed to have the hidden blessings of factions in Harvest House, the party’s head office in the capital Harare. The MDC-T sources talk passionately about pro-Tsvangirai and pro-Biti factions. (Tendai Biti is the party’s general secretary.)
Although both leaders refused to acknowledge the existence of these factions, this division is said to have filtered down to the provinces and was quite evident during the elections. Addressing a campaign rally in Mutare, women’s assembly leader Theresa Makone, a key ally of Mr Tsvangirai and reported to be part of the “kitchen cabinet” together with her husband Ian, lashed out at the MDC-T’s South African-based treasurer, Roy Bennett, for most of the problems rocking their party.
She accused him of “paying” some party members. “I put the whole blame on Roy Bennett who paid these people money to come back to the party after joining Welshman Ncube,” she said.
“Bennett should have let them go. They are just like leopards and have not changed their spots. They are at it again. They want to destroy our party and we will not allow that.”
Ms Makone said the party had one leader and that was Mr Tsvangirai. ” You do not fight him in public even if he is wrong. You cannot take your leader head-on in public like what some of you are doing. There is gross indiscipline in Manicaland, and we will deal with that after the elections.
“We have some elements with an agenda to scuttle the struggle for change. They have an agenda to split the MDC-T again. They want to repeat what they did in 2005 when Welshman Ncube split the party.
“These people are working with some people at the top who are dreaming of taking over from Tsvangirai. They must forget that, we will not salute anyone other than Tsvangirai. He will serve two more terms .”
Mr Bennett laughed off the accusations, but Ms Makone’s rants are quite scary coming from a party wanting Mr Mugabe to go for having overstayed his welcome. For his part, Mr Tsvangirai imposed Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn leader and former finance minister Simba Makoni and his close ally Giles Mutsekwa as parliamentary candidates in Manicaland, crudely removing provincial executive committee members who had already registered as candidates. The move that sparked a conflict with the province’s leadership.
“Is there any wonder why we lost almost all the seats in Manicaland?” the source said.
It is true Mr Tsvangirai faced monumental external hurdles in his third quest to dislodge Mr Mugabe. The playing field was not level. But in mature democracies, real democrats usually call it quits when they fail to deliver three times in a row. Even once. Never mind the circumstances.
Mr Tsvangirai says he will stay on as party president. ” So far, I have the full backing of the national council, I have the full backing of the people of Zimbabwe .”