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Tsvangirai to become a 'Mandela' of the MDC-T by stepping down?

01 Jul 2016 at 07:18hrs | Views
Morgan Tsvangirai is the man who coined the term "big tent" as he invited former allies to reconcile with him. However, Tsvangirai is largely seen as the stumbling block to any grand coalition of opposition forces.

Talk about succession in the opposition MDC-T, and the opposition movement in general whose "face" has been former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai, has come earlier than we all anticipated.

Or, let's just say, has gained more fury in recent days and can only get louder by the day.

The reason is simple but grave enough.

Tsvangirai announced early this week that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer, treatment of which has begun in earnest as he flew to South Africa for chemotherapy.

He is likely to be spending more time on such gruelling treatment and medicaments.

Many wish him well in his indisposition, and prayers are flying that he overcomes his ailment which pessimists fear could pronounce the end of his political career – and his very life.

But that is for God in Heaven to decide.

But the uncomfortable prospect latterly posited has brought some rather alien terms in the discourse within the opposition: the first is succession; the second is transition.

After the MDC-T lost the elections of July 2013 talk about succession in the party became alive couched in the philosophy of leadership renewal.

Elias Mudzuri's thesis outlining five scenarios for the opposition caught this very essence and may require a brief recall.

The first and last of the five scenarios proffered the retention of the status quo with the leadership of Tsvangirai intact and those unhappy forming their own parties.

Critically, Scenarios Two-Four are interesting, if not close to prophetic.

Mudzuri mapped them thus:

Scenario two:

There is an urgent Extraordinary Congress before 2016.

Scenario three:

Morgan Tsvangirai and the whole team are contested at the 2016 Congress and a new leadership emerges in the MDC.

Scenario four:

Morgan Tsvangirai is the godfather of the party. He steps down ceremoniously and a new leader is elected. He becomes a "Mandela" of the party. Structures are re-engineered including the party constitution which will limit the future party president to two terms only.

What intervened in the MDC-T is public knowledge that the renewal elements championed by Elton Mangoma and Tendai Biti were to leave the MDC-T and leave each other in turn to form different political outfits.

A congress was indeed held in 2014 to fill in a power vacuum and settle a crisis of legitimacy that had set in.

Mudzuri himself remained in the party – whether out of cowardice or out of some political calculation whose full import we are still to realise.

The year 2016 presents a new set of scenarios and Mudzuri could soon find himself part of new maps that are now being bandied about.

Just to illustrate the urgency and enormity the succession issue has become in the opposition, a story in one weekly newspaper yesterday is illustrative.

We are told that "several suggestions are bandied around to ensure a flawless exit strategy and preparations for a new leadership ahead the (sic) crunch 2018 polls".

"Top among these suggestions is that Tsvangirai should step down now. Some hardliners suggests (sic) Tsvangirai should move with speed to initiate the succession matrix in the MDC-T before internal fights engulf the party while he recuperates in hospital or at home…this is intended to avoid another damaging split reminiscent of the infamous October 2005 break-up with Welshman Ncube which was later followed by the Tendai Biti-led breakaway after the 2013 loss to Zanu-PF."

The article further contextualises why "succession" is going to be part of the MDC-T discourse in the short term to medium term as the party grapples with "Tsvangexit".

"Party insiders claim there is a general consensus (that) Tsvangirai has been a pale shadow of himself since his controversial loss to President Mugabe and Zanu-PF in 2013 and the latest hospitalisation had compounded the situation rendering him no longer fit to spearhead and run in 2018 despite his bravado while in bed."

The message is clear enough, like the proverbial writing on the wall and pretty soon, after denials and respectful caution in light of the current shock over Tsvangirai's health condition, war is going to explode in the party.

Those with the party at heart should be worried and be trusted to come up with strategies to avert a disaster in the opposition.

Interestingly, some things may just start even to move on their own volition.

There are three major scenarios that could take place between now and 2018 regarding the MDC-T as a party in particular and the opposition in general.

1. Handiende Scenario

Tsvangirai is known to be a strong-willed character and has long been taken as the face of "democratic struggle". He no doubt has an enormous sense of entitlement as the founding leader of MDC, an outfit that nearly wrested power from the revolutionary Zanu-PF.

His name is synonymous, nay eponymous, with the opposition and there is an observation that outside the boardrooms and plush offices, he enjoys massive grassroots support, as rallies that he addresses testify as indeed the sentiments of many ordinary folk. This image of a cult hero and the attendant politics of personalities may lead, as it has done in the past where Tsvangirai tinkered with the party's constitution to remove term limits, can embolden him into an I-am-not-going-anywhere (Handiende) position. Thus he will seek to hold on to the party, and past while he nurses his ailments.

The result of this will be the fracturing of the party where Tsvangirai will eventually lose control with the emergence of another dissenting camp. Projected to 2018, this means that the opposition will go into polls as fractured and mortally weak even with Tsvangirai, supposing he wins his battle with cancer, at the helm.

2. Mandela Scenario

In light of the growing doubts around his leadership, which has split the opposition twice in 10 years – and the possibility of another – as well as his own health which now demands that he does less and less of public life, Tsvangirai may yet consider to belatedly take the advice of Mudzuri. This will take persuasion of mainly church leaders, Western diplomats and other senior figures that can convince Tsvangirai to step down – with promises of a fairly comfortable life revolving a role in statesmanship. This will be accompanied by assurances that his health will improve and that he can still enjoy an influential (albeit ceremonial) role in the party.

This scenario paves way for an extraordinary congress in the next nine to 12 months. A fresh leader is elected just in time for the elections in 2018. He or she will be a leader with grassroots support and commands respect of the contending factions. An integral characteristic of this new leader will be the ability to appeal to a new generation of voters who have had a unique phenomenological experience – that is, well and truly apart from the Tsvangirai generation.

3. Big Tent Scenario

This sounds brutally ironic. Tsvangirai is the man who coined the term "big tent" as he invited former allies to reconcile with him. However, Tsvangirai is largely seen as the stumbling block to any grand coalition of opposition forces. Whether he agrees to step down or he naturally succumbs to his ailment, his absence will act as an impetus to the coming together of the likes of Welshman Ncube, Tendai Biti, Elton Mangoma and others who have disagreed with him over principles and especially over Tsvangairai's big ego and proclivity to violence. Already, there have been stirrings to that effect, in recent days.

The "big tent" scenario may open doors to an even broader alliance with Joice Mujuru's Zimbabwe People First.

The coming months will be interesting.

And succession in MDC-T can be as urgent as all pundits could have ever imagined.

Source - the herald
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