Political succession: MDC-T’s turn to roast By Lulu Brenda Harris

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SUCCESSION is emerging as a key problem in almost all political orders, whose ripple effects on the distribution of power in political parties is quite enormous.

Now that opposition MDC- T leader, 65 year old Morgan Tsvangirai, has hinted at retirement, the bone of contention is who will succeed him seeing that his illness seems to be taking its toll on him.

Due to the severity of his condition coupled with the fact that Tsvangirai needs to rest in order to recuperate well, he might be unable to stand as a presidential candidate in the forthcoming 2018 elections.

Tsvangirai was previously touted as the presidential candidate to stand on behalf of MDC Alliance, a coalition between eight political parties that was formed in August 2017, against the ruling Zanu PF, which seems to have been emboldened by the coming in of new leader Emmerson Mnangagwa last year in November.

What complicates the succession issue in MDC-T is that the oppositional party has three vice presidents, Dr Thokozani Khupe, Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri who serve under Tsvangirai.

Due to these triple line of authority, MDC-T party has been divided into two factions allegedly led by Dr Khupe and Chamisa.

Dr Khupe has served as Tsvangirai’s deputy for more than 11 years, leading to her re-election to the same position at the 2014 MDC-T elective congress.

Chamisa was appointed to be vice president, alongside Muzduri in July 2016 by Tsvangirai, in a move that was seen as solving his succession plan just after announcing his medical condition the previous month.

A month before, in June 2016, Tsvangirai revealed he was diagnosed with cancer of the colon by doctors in South Africa. He announced then that he had taken such a decision to reveal his cancer because the health of national leaders or politicians should not remain as a subject of speculation and uncertainty.

Since then, the MDC-T leader has been in and out of the country travelling to South Africa for medical check-ups. Of late, Tsvangirai’s health seems to be deteriorating, more so when recent pictures of him at his Highfields home emerged with President Mnangagwa who had paid him a visit.

The pictures circulated widely on social media with some indicating Tsvangirai will not mount a strong challenge to Zanu PF’s Mnangagwa.

The question that needs to be answered now is how will MDC-T resolve its succession battle. Will the oppositional party be able to demonstrate it can rise above ethnicity and patriarchy in national politics seeing that Dr Khupe, who is female, is from Matabeleland and is the only elected party vice president appears to be side-lined for the party’s top seat?

In a typical African patriarchal society that often tends to be tribalist as well, Dr Khupe has the burden of facing off against patriarchy, sexism and tribalism. A traditional patriarchal system that is dominated by men will still favour segregation against women and that will fight the participation or advancement of women in political processes.

Dr Khupe having served for more than a decade as MDC- T vice president is in a strategic position to occupy the presidency and possibly the highest office in the land, if the opposition were to prevail in the elections but it is no secret she faces numerous obstacles, especially those poised from her own party space.

Some may argue, femininity or ethnicity has no space in MDC-T’s succession debate but the pith of the argument centres on capability.

If capability is the line of argument, do not people have to know that due to their nature and being, women are very much capable to hold their own in political structures? Starting from one’s domestic space, women are able to make sure their home and family is catered for, that caring aspect is automatic – so is their gene for responsibility, therefore what can stop a female politician from making sure the needs of the greater community are met.

It is sad to note that women regardless of political affiliation, whether in ruling (think Grace Mugabe, former first lady) or in the opposition (think Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga or some upcoming young females – Advocate Fadzai Mahere) are repeatedly subjected to sexist remarks and misogyny during their careers in politics, attacks that come from both ‘educated’ progressive national leaders and the masses alike.

Initially when Tsvangirai made those vice presidential appointments in 2016 without party elections after disclosing the state of his health, he stressed there was no “vacancy” in MDC-T leadership but what he did was as “a party is working on a process to say should a vacancy arise how we go about it.”

He said Chamisa and Mudzuri would join Khupe in assisting him in the execution of his responsibilities and preparing the party for the 2018 elections.

Prior their appointments, Chamisa had been subsequently appointed by Tsvangirai to serve in the MDC national executive as secretary for policy formulation. Mudzuri served as a former mayor of Harare and is a senior party official.

In coming up with the names of Chamisa and Mudzuri, Tsvangirai said he had taken into consideration “seniority and demography.”

This year, in his new year’s message, the MDC-T leader hinted he would likely step down and leave the baton to a “younger generation.”

At a personal level, I am using this New Year not only to reflect on the onerous journey that we have travelled together but also to peer with renewed hope into a bright future. I am looking at the imminent prospects of us as the older generation leaving the levers of leadership to allow the younger generation to take forward this huge task that we started together so many years ago with our full blessing and support. 

“It was therefore not by accident but by design that when I disclosed to you my health status, I also took a bold step to appoint an additional two Vice Presidents to assist me. As I have said before, while politicians only think about the next election, true statesmen think about the next generation, for current leaders are only but caretakers for future generations. We do not have any entitlement to lead but we have a duty to serve,” Tsvangirai said.

Analysts said it was clear that by referring to the “younger generation” Tsvangirai was favouring the young Chamisa to be his successor, assumptions buttressed by fact that he has been assigned with some important tasks both in the party and in the MDC Alliance to oversee.

Chamisa is set to turn 40 this February and according to Zimbabwe’s constitution will be eligible to run for presidency as stipulated in Section 91 Article 1(b) of Chapter 5, Part 2, which sets the age limit for any aspiring presidential candidate at 40 years and above.

According to reports, Tsvangirai has already chosen Chamisa to represent him and handle the party’s business with the MDC alliance and he has the task of leading the party’s selection process of parliamentary and council candidates for this year’s elections.

It also seems unlikely that MDC-T will go for an extra ordinary congress to choose a successor given that the party is now racing for time in order to prepare for the 2018 elections, which may be announced at any time.

Earlier this week, MDC alliance spokesperson, Professor Welshman Ncube, confirmed to the media Chamisa would lead Tsvangirai’s campaign rallies ahead of the elections.

Prof Ncube was quoted saying, “If we are going to have a MDC Alliance rallies, Chamisa is going to represent Tsvangirai,” adding that was not a new development because “in the last three months Chamisa was representing Tsvangirai at MDC Alliance principal meetings.”

Ncube who is also leader of the other MDC party, said before Tsvangirai departed for a medical check-up in South Africa he insisted that Chamisa be present for their meeting, a move that shows he has taken the latter to his confidence.

It is at that meeting Tsvangirai then told him, he had assigned Chamisa as his representative in the MDC Alliance.

According to some, Chamisa represents a ‘young transformative leadership’ that will steer the country in the right track, an attribute that others argue, a 54 year old Dr Khupe does not necessarily have.

Chamisa’s backers claim besides his youth being an advantage, he is energetic, whose ideas are innovative and he can also mobilise masses to make up the much needed numbers that are crucial for elections.

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