HARARE – Morgan Tsvangirai’s long absence due to ill-health has thrown the MDC into disarray amid rising concerns that with polls only less than five months away, the country’s largest opposition party could be missing an opportunity to deal with the former trade unionist’s succession, the Daily News can report.
Tsvangirai left for South Africa on January 5 for his routine check-up.
His party has not indicated when the MDC leader is expected back in the country.
It has been his longest absence ever since he was diagnosed with cancer of the colon in 2016.
Since 2016, Tsvangirai has been in-and-out of neighbouring South Africa to receive treatment.
His visits are becoming more frequent and prolonged, causing prickly debates in the MDC Alliance which is fielding Tsvangirai as its presidential candidate in the forthcoming harmonised polls.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zanu PF has already indicated that the country would go to polls before July 31.
His resurgent Zanu PF is aiming to capitalise on Tsvangirai’s ill-health, the absence of key reforms to level the uneven political playing field and the fact that the opposition in its entirety is in disarray.
While there is no doubt that Mnangagwa will be the face of Zanu PF at the polls — having been confirmed the party’s presidential candidate at a special congress held last month — the MDC is struggling to sell Tsvangirai to the public as his health crisis continues mounting.
MDC secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora, confirmed to the Daily News yesterday that Tsvangirai’s sickness has indeed left the party weaker and almost desperate.
He said: “The MDC of today is greatly affected by the health of president Tsvangirai. The MDC has not recovered from that; we hope that he recovers soon”.
This week, Tsvangirai took the unprecedented step of taking to social media to dispel reports that he has been given only three months to live by his doctors in order to manage anxieties in his party where his three deputies — Thokozani Khupe, Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri — are already at each other’s throats over his succession.
“It is all speculation. No deadline has been given to me and my family. I am getting routine attention like any other cancer patient and I will be back in Zimbabwe shortly. Meanwhile, let’s all register to vote and those who can attend the Alliance rallies do not mind the madness,” read his post.
The MDC leader also indicated that there has been progress not only in terms of his health but also the party’s preparations for the synchronised polls.
“While we are not progressing at a preferred speed, we are neither stationary nor marching backwards. We are staggering ahead for complete . . . and in unity for the next generation,” he said.
His family also weighed in last week, announcing on Friday that his health was improving.
While Tsvangirai’s past medical trips were brief, this time around he has stayed longer in South Africa.
Although MDC Alliance, which he heads, is doing all it can to canvass for support ahead of the polls, it is apparent that it lacks the pulling power of the ailing former prime minister.
The bickering in the Alliance and the MDC party is also getting out of hand amid indications that the ructions have left party structures in turmoil.
Serious divisions have emerged in the Alliance over the allocation of seats to parties that are signatories to its agreement of August 5, 2017.
Khupe, Tsvangirai’s longest serving deputy, is going against the agreement by encouraging members of her faction to stand in constituencies reserved for smaller parties that are part of the MDC Alliance.
She is also boycotting meetings convened by Mudzuri, the acting party president, raising fears that the MDC could split for the third time in 13 years.
It is also quite apparent that the party is poorly funded, with its traditional sponsors in the west preferring to assess the situation in Zimbabwe from the sidelines in the wake of former president Robert Mugabe’s ouster engineered by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
This is at a time when its major rival Zanu PF is oiling its machinery ahead of the keenly-anticipated elections.
Next month, Zanu PF will be reorganising its structures to make sure that there are no contradictions in its rank and file ahead of the polls.
Soon, the party will be going to primary elections to select those who will stand on the party’s ticket in both National Assembly and local government polls.
The ruling party’s national political commissar, Engelbert Rugeje, announced that the party would have district and provincial elections next month which will be followed by primary elections.
“Next month on the 28th, we are going to have our district elections. These will be followed by the provincial elections. As the president has mentioned that the elections will be held soon this year, we are also going to hold our primary elections,” said Rugeje.
Party leader, Mnangagwa has been on a charm offensive since taking power from Mugabe in November last year.
He is bristling with confidence and has since declared that his party will win the forthcoming elections.
“So, we will make sure that in a few months’ time, we proclaim a general election. The country is very peaceful and is expecting these elections and I have no doubt I will sweep the elections,” said Mnangagwa.
Political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, told the Daily News yesterday that the cash-strapped MDC is already behind in terms of planning and Tsvangirai’s health only worsens the situation.
“Yes, time is running out for the MDC. What is true is that currently with confusion in MDC, Mnangagwa’s main opposition is from the economy. I think there are people in the MDC who are occupying key positions and are working undercover for Mnangagwa,” opined Saungweme.
“They want Mnangagwa to win; which he will given the confusion and divisions in opposition, military fear factor in Zanu PF and an uneven playfield. Whatever the case, the opposition went or died with Mugabe’s demise. Now it’s time for opposition to reorganise — do away with patronage politics and prepare for 2023. 2018 is taken by Mnangagwa and he may co-opt other opposition members after the elections to help resuscitate economy,” he added.
Pedzisai Ruhanya, a political analyst, said the MDC has to rope in the party’s founding members such as Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube to re-energise its 2018 poll campaign.
Biti now leads People’s Democratic Party (PDP) while Ncube is president of the smaller formation of the MDC.
“If the criminal elements in the power struggles in the MDC are allowed to have their way, there is a huge possibility that the party after Morgan may be history.
“In order to stop this, the party — guided by Morgan — should bring back solid founding members of the party like Ncube, Tendai Biti and others to bring rigour and solidity in how the party confronts the military-led regime of Mnangagwa.
“Tsvangirai’s undoubted leadership and legacy will be cemented if he leaves behind a united party with its founding leaders not the crooks and tomfoolery infighting characterised by his current lieutenants,” said Ruhanya.
Ruhanya said as it stands today, there is no evident thought leadership in the party as evidenced by the glaring policy shortcomings in the MDC.
He said the quarrels taking place in the party were not policy-based but content-free and bankrupt of any ideological contestation.
“There is no contestation of ideas but power. It looks like the Grace Mugabe-driven group; very content-free but hugely power hungry. That is disastrous,” said Ruhanya.