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Flawed but courageous Tsvangirai remembered



AS Zimbabweans mark the sixth anniversary of the death of the fiery opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, political analysts have said Tsvangirai was no superman but had his flaws which directly contributed to the implosion of the MDC into factions from 2005.  


They say if “Save”, as Tsvangirai was affectionately referred to by multitudes of his supporters, were to wake up today from the grave, he would not be able to recognize the opposition due to its fragmentation over the years on the watch of his lieutenants, including successor Nelson Chamisa.

Crucially also, Tsvangirai would have been shocked that the MDC brand is all but dead. MDC-T leader Douglas Mwonzora has proved unpopular while Nelson Chamisa dumped the MDC-Alliance before forming the Citizens’ Coalition for Change ahead of the 2023 elections. He has also dumped the CCC and is consulting on a new movement.

Tsvangirai died of colon cancer in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 14 February, 2018, and Zimbabweans marked the sixth anniversary of his death on Wednesday.

University of Zimbabwe political scientist Professor Eldred Masunungure said as the country marks Tsvangirai’s death, it is important to also note his errors of judgment that contributed to the opposition MDC’s major problems.

“The first indisputable fact, which many may be uncomfortable with, is that Morgan Richard Tsvangirai was not a flawless person. He was as fallible as all human animals and made several errors of judgment, some of which were highly consequential for the health and vitality of his party,” Masunungure said.

“A towering example is the unilateral decision to veto the decision of the MDC’s National Council — the party’s highest policymaking organ between congresses — which had voted (albeit by a wafer-thin majority) to participate in the 2005 Senate elections. This led to the first split of the party, setting the trend for future factionalism and splinterisation.”

Masunungure said despite this, Tsvangirai was, however, the biggest face of resistance in independent Zimbabwe.

“Beyond this, no one can take from him the key attribute that he had, courage in the face of extreme adversity and against a regime determined to decimate both the opposition party and its leader. He was in this sense, a resilient leader who fervently believed in the power of non-violent resistance and political action,” he said.

“The general peace (some would say ‘negative peace’) that the country is enjoying is in large part a result of the salutary and humble role that Tsvangirai played in the governance of the country.”

Since Tsvangirai’s death, the MDC-T he left has evolved from being MDC-Alliance to Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) which Chamisa recently quit and there are already manoeuvres for a new formation of the opposition which currently is going by the moniker “the blue revolution”.

Meanwhile, Tsvangirai’s former secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora, who wrested the party’s name, ( MDC-T), its headquarters and a handful of supporters, is holding on to an empty shell.

Unhappy with Mwonzora’s leadership style, Tsvangirai’s former deputy, Elias Mudzuri and another former close lieutenant, Morgen Komichi announced the formation of a factional MDC-T party, which however, quickly fizzled into oblivion.

Masunungure said due to all these developments, Tsvangirai would not be able to recognise the opposition if he woke up today.

“His legacy of a peaceful democratic struggle continues and has been carried forward by his successors. At the time of his death, he had managed to reunite the quarrelsome MDC factions and had crafted the MDC-Alliance as a broad, inclusive platform to push the democratisation agenda,” Masunungure said.

“Regrettably, that unity did not last too far beyond the 2018 elections and, were he to reincarnate from where he is, he would hardly recognise the state of the opposition which is now tattered, torn and degraded.” 

Professor Stephen Chan, who teaches world politics at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, spent several days in conversations with Tsvangirai before he died and in 2020 he published a book titled “Citizen of Zimbabwe: Conversations with Tsvangirai.”

Contacted this week to reflect on the late opposition leader, he echoed Masunungure’s sentiments.

“I had a high opinion of Morgan Tsvangirai and worked closely with him to project him as a thoughtful as well as visionary person. He, however, could be given to impetuosity and did not always consult his senior people closely. That fault has been amplified by his successor, Nelson Chamisa. After Tsvangirai’s death the opposition fragmented,” Chan said.

“The successor, CCC, has now fragmented even further. The best tribute to the late Tsvangirai would be to develop a legacy in his name as one of a united and coherent opposition. That’s what he started in 1999. The bitter divisions of 2024 are a very poor tribute to his memory.”

Political analyst Vivid Gwede told The NewsHawks that for a man who was committed to democracy, Tsvangirai would be disappointed to see where Zimbabweans are today.

“But more heartbreaking would be the disunity within the opposition. The opposition would need to continue with his vision of a democratic Zimbabwe to vindicate his legacy,” Gwede said.

Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said Tsvangirai remains one of the leading opposition icons and a leading politician who dared to challenge Zanu PF when it was at the peak of its power.

Mukundu noted that the opposition has faced more attacks and repression far beyond what Morgan Tsvangirai faced.

“The courts and Parliament during Morgan Tsvangirai’s time at least attempted to act in a more just manner, which we are not seeing right now. So I have the confidence that regardless of its errors of omission or commission, the opposition is giving Zanu PF a run for its money against the high levels of repression that we are seeing in the country at this moment,” Mukundu said.

“So the legacy of Morgan Tsvangirai, which is to maintain integrity and focus and drive the opposition cause, is still alive in many other opposition leaders in Zimbabwe. Others have faltered, but my sense is that there are still a few who are continuing to keep the opposition fire burning in line with the legacy of Morgan Tsvangirai.”

Mukundu pointed out that what needs to be done by the opposition is to remain focused and create leadership that can move Tsvangirai’s legacy forward.

“The disentanglement, the fragmentation that we are seeing within the opposition ranks is of course sponsored by Zanu PF but also needs people who are strong on their mission.  My take is that there is a need to continue going back to the core values of the struggle, which is to entrench democracy and arrest in the first place the collapse of Zimbabwe in terms of the economy, in terms of public services,” he said.

“And if the opposition does not have this vision and does not resonate with the ordinary person, then the chances of it remaining in opposition in the long term are very slim. This, of course, noting the high levels of repression against the opposition that Zanu PF exerts.”

History of opposition problems

In 2005, the decision on whether or not to participate in senatorial elections led to a split of the MDC after Tsvangirai tried to impose a boycott of the polls.

The MDC had announced in mid-2004 that it would not participate in any further elections in Zimbabwe, until it believed a free and fair vote could take place.

However, on 3 February 2005, the then spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi told a news conference: “It is with a heavy heart that the MDC has decided to participate in the elections … This is a decision based primarily on the demands of our people”. 

The MDC’s top six were unable to agree on the issue, and so the debate went to the MDC national council on 12 October.

They voted 33-31 in favour of contesting the election (with two spoilt papers).

However, Tsvangirai told the media that the debate was tied at 50-50, which included proxies sent by Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh, alleging that these were not recognised by then secretary-general Welshman Ncube, giving him different inaccurate figures.

Tsvangirai overruled the vote, arguing that it was no use contesting an election where the electoral field “breeds illegitimate outcomes and provides for predetermined results.” He argued that the Senate of Zimbabwe was part of the 17th amendment which the MDC had opposed in Parliament.

The opposition party subsequently split into two groups: one led by
Tsvangirai, and another by his deputy Gibson Sibanda with the support of Ncube, Gift Chimanikire and spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi.

However, senior members of the pro-Senate faction subsequently defected to MDC-T led by Tsvangirai, including its chairperson Gift Chimanikire, Blessing Chebundo, the member of Parliament for Kwekwe, the environmental secretary and Binga member of Parliament Joel Gabuza, and Senate candidate for Tsholotsho Sam Sipepa Nkomo.

The pro-senate faction had the bulk of its support in Matabeleland. The party chose academic Arthur Mutambara as leader.

Tsvangira’s MDC, however, remained dominant and continued to trouble Zanu PF.

In July 2016, the then MDC-T Tsvangirai was accused of failing to properly handle his succession and violated the party constitution by appointing Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri as vice-presidents outside congress which had been held in November 2014 at City Sports Centre in Harare.

Tsvangirai was dragged to court by party activists seeking the nullification of his appointments.

The plaintiffs, Patson Murimoga and George Rice, argued that by picking Chamisa and Mudzuri as his deputies, Tsvangirai violated the party constitution.

The MDC-T leader resultantly had three deputies, including his long-running second-in-command Khupe, who felt betrayed and sidelined by his boss.

Lawyer Zivanai Macharaga for the litigants said the MDC-T leader breached the party constitution which says his deputies must be elected at congress.

When Tsvangirai died on 14 February 2018, a vicious power struggle which pitted Chamisa, Khupe and Mudziri with all of them claiming entitlement to the party presidency albert in an acting capacity.

In May 2019, the High Court ruled that Chamisa was illegitimately acting as the MDC leader, declaring his appointment as vice-president and subsequent appointment as president null and void.

This followed a High Court application by a Gokwe-based party member, Elias Mashavire, who challenged Chamisa’s ascendency in the party, saying there was no extraordinary congress following the death of party leader, Tsvangirai.

The state went on to support Khupe and she got the mandate to grab the party’s Harvest House headquarters and funds allocated by the government through the Political Parties (Finance) Act.

Khupe was subsequently elbowed out by Mwonzora.

Chamisa later decided to form the CCC but, again, blundered by not convening a general consultative meeting, congress and crafting a constitution. This resulted in the CCC being hijacked by impostors who began recalling the party’s newly elected MPs from Parliament and local authorities.

By-elections resulting from the controversial recalls have now handed Zanu PF a two-thirds majority in the lower House.

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