AS the drama of recalls of MPs and councillors continues to unravel within the strife-torn opposition MDC, we trace the roots of the crisis back to May 2014 when the party was deeply divided before and after its watershed congress. The party had previously been split in 2005. The splits have continued and seem never-ending.
March 2014: A crisis engulfs the party soon after it lost heavily to Zanu PF in the 2013 general election as the heavyweights blame each other for the loss. At the centre of it all is 33-year-old Nelson Chamisa.
The accusations were that the loss, especially in the parliamentary poll, was a result of imposition of candidates for which he was blamed in his capacity as the party’s national organising secretary.
Blame is also heaped on party leader Morgan Tsvangirai (pictured) who was accused of overstaying in power and had leadership qualities questioned. Secretary-general Tendai Biti and treasurer-general Elton Mangoma emerge as leading figures opposed to Tsvangirai. Running battles are frequently fought at Harvest House, the party’s national headquarters in Harare, with the Biti faction, as it came to be known, mostly on the receiving end. Biti was on the verge of splintering as his predecessor Welshman Ncube and his group had done in 2005.
April 2014: An emergency national council is called and everyone hobnobbing with Biti is expelled from the party along with eight other senior officials, including Mangoma, Samual Sipepa Nkomo, Gorden Moyo, and Lucia Matibenga, among others. Tsvangirai brands Biti an “opportunist” who was being manipulated by Zanu PF; just like Ncube was described when he left.
May 2014: Biti and his allies announce they had formed their own party called MDC Renewal, with Mangoma as interim president. Biti and Mangoma are soon to clash and go separate ways. Biti goes on to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), while Mangoma slightly changed the name to Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe.
Post-Biti: The departure of Biti and his colleagues leaves the party crippled and needing restructuring.
The party’s key decision-making organ, the national council, meets again and decides to bring its congress forward. Subsequently, the congress is confirmed for October.
Serious competition for leadership positions then ensues in the run-up to the congress.
Tsvangirai, his deputy Thokozani Khupe and national chairperson Lovemore Moyo retain their positions unopposed, but there is fierce competition to fill the position vacated by Biti, pitting Chamisa against party spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora.
Chamisa, banking on his grassroots connections as organising secretary, sweeps through the nomination process, winning all but one province, Mwonzora’s home province Manicaland — which nominates him for the position.
October 2014: Chamisa comes to congress as an overwhelming favourite to win the secretary-general’s post, boasting of the nomination of 12 of the party’s 13 provinces against Mwonzora’s one.
Tables are, however, turned dramatically as Mwonzora wins the poll, getting 2 464 votes against Chamisa’s 1 756. Chamisa is reduced to an ordinary member of the party. Most party members say Mwonzora’s win was mainly because of Tsvangirai’s influence.
March 2015: Mwonzora, in his new capacity as secretary-general, writes to Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda, notifying him that the party was recalling 21 MPs who had crossed the floor to PDP. The recall is effected.
15 June 2016: Tsvangirai, acting in defiance of his party’s national council, unilaterally appoints Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri as co-vice presidents along with Khupe.
The decision, announced at Tsvangirai’s private residence instead of the party’s offices, torches a storm in the party as some claim the appointment is ultra viresthe party’s constitution and will sow the seeds for fresh divisions. The appointment effectively means Chamisa is now senior to Mwonzora and perfectly sets him up against Thokozani Khupe. Divisions between them ensue and Khupe subsequently stops attending party meetings in Harare in protest.
28 June 2016: Tsvangirai calls a press conference, again at his house, to announce he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and had undergone a surgical operation in South Africa. With his chances of survival limited, an intense jostling for his position erupts. A lawsuit is filed at the High Court challenging the appointments by two party members, Patson Murimoga and George Rice. The case is subsequently dismissed on account of the two members lacking the necessary locus standi.
6 August 2017: Tsvangirai reaches out to Biti and six other opposition political party leaders to form a coalition which came be known as the MDC Alliance. The formation is launched at the iconic Zimbabwe Grounds in Harare’s Highfield suburb with less than a year to go before general elections.
16 September 2017: Tsvangirai is airlifted to South Africa for medical treatment as his health deteriorates, leaving Mudzuri to act as president. Khupe is reportedly unhappy with the decision as Mudzuri was not elected.
5 February 2018: President Emmerson Mnangagwa visits Tsvangirai’s Highlands home and shocking pictures of a frail Tsvangirai reveal the extent of his illness. The following day, he is airlifted again to South Africa, leaving his three deputies in a serious dogfight for his position as they each claim to be his preferred successor. A few days later, both Khupe and Mudzuri follow Tsvangirai to South Africa. Chamisa is declared acting MDC president.
14 February 2018: Tsvangirai succumbs to colon cancer at a private hospital in South Africa.
15 February 2018: Wasting no time, Chamisa convenes an emergency MDC national executive where he is confirmed as the party’s interim president. Khupe and Mudzuri boycott the meeting despite being also executive members.
20 February 2018: Khupe is assaulted by a group of youths aligned to Chamisa during the burial of Tsvangirai at his rural home in Humanikwa village, Buhera. She is forced to leave under police guard after some youths attempt to set a hut she has taken refuge in on fire. A series of violent clashes subsequently rock the party.
4 March 2018: MDC provinces nominate Chamisa as the party’s presidential candidate in the upcoming general election after he turns 40 and becomes legally eligible to stand for the presidency at national level. Principals in the MDC Alliance immediately follow suit.
May 2018: Khupe announces she will contest the election with her own party known as the MDC-T. Mwonzora, however, sticks with Chamisa for the time being.
30 July 2018: Zanu PF presidential candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa narrowly and controversially edges Chamisa in the election. Factions in the MDC Alliance become more and more pronounced as calls grow louder for the party to convene an extraordinary congress to elect new leaders. Chamisa finally yields to pressure and agrees to call a congress following a High Court ruling which declares his appointment by Tsvangirai illegal and that his rise was illegitimate. Once again, Chamisa squares up against Mwonzora.
27 May 2019: Chamisa merges from the conference triumphant. In his subsequent appointments to key positions, Chamisa relegates Mwonzora to the position of deputy secretary for external relations, a decision largely seen as aimed at neutralising him. Morgen Komichi also loses the national chairmanship.
31 March 2020: The Supreme Court rules that Chamisa is not the legitimate MDC leader, a judgement that reignites the leadership battle between him and Khupe. The court orders the party to return to 2014 structures, with Khupe as interim leader, in preparation for an extraordinary congress. Chamisa and his colleagues reject the ruling, saying it affected an entity called the MDC-T and not the MDC Alliance. They call the ruling academic. Mwonzora and Khupe emerge from their shell and openly condemn Chamisa, pledging their allegiance to Khupe. Most senior MDC MPs, however, side with Chamisa, as well as mayors and councillors.
May 2020: Havingreverted to his MDC-T position of secretary-general, Mwonzora once again instigates the recall of MDC Alliance MPs, starting with Kuwadzana West MP Chalton Hwende, Thabitha Khumalo and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Prosper Mutseyami. The three oppose their recall in court and lose. Incrementally, more MPs are recalled.
The decision is also extended to councillors and mayors who pledge allegiance to MP Chamisa. Khupe, with the help of the army and police, evict Chamisa and his colleagues from the party’s national headquarters, now renamed Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House in the heart of Harare.
7 October 2020:Khupe and others are sworn in as MP on proportional representation, despite protestations from some sections of her party who argue she imposed himself. Fissures emerge between Khupe and Mwonzora as the party prepares for an extraordinary congress set for 31 October 2020. Both are reportedly vying for the MDC T presidency.
The congress is then postponed following the outbreak of Covid-19. Khupe, Mwonzora and Mudzuri prepare to battle it out for the leaders, while organising secretary Abednico Bhebhe, another candidate, is expelled. Bhebhe challenges that expulsion in the courts.
29 October 2020: Khupe suspends Bhebhe.
4 November 2020: Bhebhe writes to Khupe asking for the lifting of his suspension, but the decision is not reversed.
15 December 2020: Subsequently, Bhebhe files an urgent High Court application seeking to stop the MDC-T congress slated for 19 December,
19 December 2020: Elective congress.