Tsvangirai suspension weakens main Zimbabwean opposition party

Movement for Democratic Change in disarray following move against leader

The Movement for Democratic Change vote to oust Morgan Tsvangirai  as leader prompted political analysts to say it was impossible to see how a split in the opposition could be averted. Photograph: Reuters/Howard Burditt

The Movement for Democratic Change vote to oust Morgan Tsvangirai as leader prompted political analysts to say it was impossible to see how a split in the opposition could be averted. Photograph: Reuters/Howard Burditt

Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 01:00

Zimbabwe’s main opposition party is in disarray after a faction in the Movement for Democratic Change said at the weekend it had suspended the party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in a move that could herald a split in the opposition.

The crisis at the MDC comes at a pivotal moment for Zimbabwe, where factions in the ruling Zanu-PF party are fighting to succeed Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980.

Mr Tsvangirai’s MDC lost its third presidential election last July, prompting critics within the opposition movement to ask the 70 year old to hand power to a younger generation. But the announcement on Saturday of his suspension is the strongest sign yet of crisis within the party.

Mr Tsvangirai, a former unionist, also challenged Mr Mugabe at elections in 2002 and 2008, both of which were marred by violence and allegations of vote rigging. After the 2008 vote, the MDC joined Zanu-PF in a unity government, with Mr Tsvangirai taking the post of prime minister.


Split in opposition
The MDC vote to oust him as leader prompted political analysts to say that, given the depth of mistrust and mutual hostility within rival factions in the movement, it was impossible to see how a split in the opposition could be averted.

While the main beneficiary of a split would be Zanu-PF, after last year’s crushing electoral defeat the MDC no longer represents a serious threat to the government. Mr Mugabe’s Achilles heel is not the political opposition, but Zimbabwe’s poor economic outlook and infighting in the Zanu-PF over his successor.

The president and his party have been pushing a contentious indigenisation policy under which they say all foreign companies operating in the southern Africa nation should be at least 51 per cent owned by black Zimbabweans.

Mr Tsvangirai has opposed the policy, which in theory will affect miners, including Impala Platinum, a South Africa-based group and the biggest foreign investor in Zimbabwe, and manufacturers Nestlé and British American Tobacco.

The suspension of Mr Tsvangirai was announced following a meeting of the party’s national council in Harare. Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, secretary of the MDC guardians council, said it had voted overwhelmingly for Mr Tsvangirai’s suspension.

The council said: “The MDC as we know it has abandoned its original founding values and principles. The party has been hijacked by a dangerous fascist clique bent on destroying the same and totally working against the people of Zimbabwe.”

But a spokesman for Mr Tsvangirai said the meeting was illegal and “improperly constituted”. Douglas Mwonzora, MDC information secretary and a Tsvangirai loyalist, said the meeting was “clearly the work” of state security agents, the Zanu-PF, Mr Mugabe, Welshman Ncube, the leader of a rival MDC faction, and “a few malcontents in our ranks who are trying to destroy the MDC”. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014)