For prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a week in politics has proven to be too long.
Opposition party leaders after singing the MDC Alliance agreement on Saturday last week
The ink had hardly dried after the signing of the much-touted agreement to form the MDC Alliance — an electoral pact between some of Zimbabwe’s leading opposition parties to challenge the ruling Zanu-PF in the 2018 polls — when the house that Tsvangirai built was set on fire.
Top MDC-T officials, who boycotted the signing of the agreement at Harare’s Zimbabwe Grounds on August 5, were allegedly assaulted by party youths in Bulawayo a few hours after the Harare feté.
The violence was a gift to President Robert Mugabe’s propaganda machine and Tsvangirai was on the back foot the whole week.
He responded by suspending MDC-T deputy treasurer Charlton Hwende and deputy spokesperson Tabitha Khumalo as well as three youth assembly members who were linked to the violence.
Instead of basking in the glory of clinching the ticket to challenge Mugabe in next year’s polls with support from leading opposition figures such as Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti, the MDC-T leader had to shift into fire-fighting gear.
The violence in Bulawayo laid bare divisions in the party over the formation of the alliance.
Tsvangirai’s deputy Thokozani Khupe, MDC-T national chairman Lovemore Moyo and deputy secretary general Abednico Bhebhe, who were victims of the violence, are said to be against the re-union with Ncube.
The three belong to a faction that believes MDC-T does not need any alliances in Matabelaland because of the perception that the party has always performed well in the region.
As if that was not enough, Biti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) poured cold water on the agreement a few days later, saying negotiations to form a coalition were far from being concluded.
PDP’s leadership, particularly its secretary-general Gorden Moyo, is not happy with the number of seats the party has been allocated under the alliance.
Besides PDP, other parties that became part of the alliance were Transform Zimbabwe, ZimPF, Zanu Ndonga and MCD.
Meanwhile, a fresh problem is brewing in the Zanu Ndonga camp, with the leader of the party disowning the agreement.
According to a letter dated August 8, Zanu Ndonga president Denford Masiyarira claimed Aerial Sakuinje, who signed the alliance agreement, had no mandate to do so.
“Mr Sakuinje is not a member of the leadership of the party and was never given a mandate by myself as president of Zanu Ndonga to sign or act on my behalf in any capacity in relation to all matters to do with the party,” he wrote in the letter.
“As a result, the agreement signed by him on Saturday August 5th 2017, on behalf of Zanu Ndonga is null and void and as such illegal.”
“I write to inform you that the Zimbabwe National Union [Zanu Ndonga] disassociates itself from the signing of the agreement relating to the MDC Alliance purportedly on behalf of Zanu-Ndonga,” he said.
University of Witwatersrand researcher Blessing Vava said last week’s events did not bode well for the alliance, which many observers believe is the most viable option for Tsvangirai to give Mugabe a run for his money in the polls.
“It [the alliance] won’t survive, and we can’t run away from the ideological perspective and shared vision,” he said.
“It was shown from the signing ceremony; there was no hope and there was a lot of hypocrisy from the leaders.
“I would particularly want to refer to Ncube who apologised to the people, but we all know he left the MDC because of lack of internal democratic mechanism and dictatorship by Tsvangirai.”
Ncube and other senior leaders abandoned the former trade unionist in 2005 after he overruled the party’s top brass after it rejected proposals to take part in Senate elections.
The law professor, speaking at Zimbabwe Grounds after signing the alliance agreement, said he was taking responsibility for the problems that have plagued the opposition over the years and apologised to Zimbabweans.
Vava said the other threat to the MDC Alliance was the pronounced divisions in the MDC-T.
“We saw the following day [after the signing of the agreement] the bashing of Khupe, which is a reflection on the unresolved issues of internal democracy, dictatorship by Tsvangirai,” he said.
“As I observed what happened on Saturday, I realised it was more of massaging the egos of politicians, there was no politics, no inspiration, the Alliance will therefore collapse on those merits.”
University of Johannesburg media lecturer Admire Mare said the opposition leaders have to rise above individual interests if the alliance is to succeed.
“A lot will depend on the ability of the alliance partners to put aside their personal differences and work towards a common objective,” he said.
“As it stands now, there are teething problems which require serious compromises and flexibility given the jostling for political power, positions and personal gratification.”
Meanwhile, Tsvangirai’s former advisor Alex Magaisa said the MDC-T leaders from Matabeleland who were against a reunion with Ncube did not seem to have a good case against the formation of the alliance.
“While it is true that the MDC-T had a clean sweep of Bulawayo province in 2013 at parliamentary level, its presidential candidate could have done with the votes that went to rival opposition candidates,” he said.
“If the MDC led by Prof Ncube had backed Tsvangirai instead of Simba Makoni in 2008, the result might have been different. Makoni ended up with 8% of the vote when just over 3% could have given Tsvangirai an absolute majority.”
Magaisa said opposition politicians were only interested in securing their parliamentary seats and were not concerned about the bigger picture.
“The problem is that politicians are selfish and parliamentary candidates will be more concerned with their own seats and will only have partial interest in the presidential election,” he added. “If the presidential candidate loses, they will be happy as long as they retain their seats.
“For MPs, the role represents a job which brings income, benefits and status at a personal level.
“Naturally, MPs being asked to give up their seats where they believe they will win, will feel they are being asked to sacrifice their interests on the altar of the presidential election.
“This is made worse when long-standing rivals are given a free pass to contest on behalf of the coalition.”
Khupe, Moyo and Bhebhe are said to be unhappy about the coalition because they fear Ncube would eclipse them in the leadership stakes.
Tsvangirai is also pushing for an alliance with former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s National People’s Party (NPP).
NPP is a member of another opposition coalition known as the Coalition of Democrats.