RIVAL factions in the MDC-T drifted further apart this week as it emerged that the group led by Secretary-General Tendai Biti was contemplating boycotting congress in protest over the purging of its members from party structures, while moves are afoot to challenge a series of suspensions of senior officials in the courts, signifying an escalation of the current infighting.
The MDC-T is now divided into two main factions, one led by former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the other by Biti, who has the backing of suspended deputy-treasurer general Elton Mangoma. Mangoma was suspended after writing two letters to Tsvangirai, urging him to step down so that a new leader can take over the party reins.
Mangoma's lawyer Jacob Mafume confirmed this week he was challenging his client's suspension in court. He said his client had to resort to the courts after realising that the party was not keen to reverse his unlawful suspension and was in fact intensifying internal purges by targeting his perceived supporters.
"The suspension was an illegality; it was a sham and was not done in good faith. It is unjustifiable in a democratic party and not justifiable in a democratic society," said Mafume. "They violated my client's rights; the procedure was not followed and we thought they would rectify the anomaly but it would appear they are moving all over the party's structures advising people that my client has been suspended, when they know the suspension was unconstitutional.
"They are even moving on to purge people in other structures who are perceived to be supporting my client, so that is why we decided to approach the court."
Tsvangirai and his allies continued purging perceived dissenters this week with the latest being members of the Harare provincial executive, among them chairperson Paul Madzore, secretary Willias Madzimure and organising secretary Tichaona Munyanyi.
The trio was forced out after Tsvangirai's loyalists passed a vote of no confidence on them on Monday but a defiant Madzore on Tuesday said his suspension was null and void.
Some provincial executive members from Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Manicaland have also been affected by the purges, even though they have vowed to stay put arguing their dismissal was unlawful.
Members of the Biti faction who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent this week said they are convinced the purging is part of a plot to intimidate them while also weeding out those perceived to be demanding leadership renewal in the party.
They said the grand plan was to ensure the party structures are packed with Tsvangirai's loyalists ahead of the elective congress which is likely to be held early next year.
The MDC-T congress is constitutionally due in 2016.
"For that reason we are not likely to participate at congress. As we speak party officials are being unconstitutionally dismissed and this is part of the rigging that is taking place even before congress," a senior MDC-T official aligned to Biti said. "It would be foolish for us to take part in a congress where there is such manipulation of the structures."
MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora however said those considering backing out of congress are "afraid of losing after realising how unpopular they are".
He also denied party officials were being systematically purged with an eye on congress, saying if the officials were popular they would bounce back during congress.
"Remember congress starts with branches, then wards, then districts and provinces. If the officials are popular they will be elected and participate in congress. But if anyone has complaints they are free to get in touch with the national standing committee which will deal with their grievances," said Mwonzora."There is no intention to victimise anyone, and the president has launched an operation to bring back those who left the movement and simultaneously he has launched an operation to cement party unity. But it should also be noted that a vote of no confidence is very democratic if it is achieved in the proper way and people are free to express themselves on the ground."
This week senior MDC-T officials said tensions which had been simmering in the party for many years are now boiling over.
They said the fight between senior party officials started ahead of the last year's general elections, controversially won by President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF by a huge margin, amid allegations of systematic rigging and disenfranchisement.
The major area of contention ahead of the polls was how the party's primary elections were handled amid allegations the organising department headed by one of Tsvangirai's key allies, national organising secretary Nelson Chamisa, imposed candidates and bent rules to favour their preferred candidates, some of whom were not necessarily popular in the constituencies they stood in.
"The primary elections were supposed to be run by the national chairman (Lovemore Moyo) who also chairs the national elections directorate but Chamisa ran the show.
"The office of the secretary- general was supposed to be the custodian of the voters list, but the organising department was reluctant to release the list and then it came to our attention that the list was being manipulated to ensure certain people took part in the primaries," said a senior MDC-T national executive official.
This, the official said, was the major reason why Chamisa came in for attacks by colleagues after the July 31 general elections in which the party suffered a heavy defeat. The party's technical committee held a meeting at Mandel Training Centre on August 22 last year where Chamisa came under fire.
"Our primary elections were marred by several irregularities; they were a mirror image of what happened at national level -- rigging."
"Candidate selection created problems, for example the Arnold Tsunga issue (Tsunga defied the party's directive not to participate in elections and stood against the MDC-T's preferred candidate, Giles Mutsekwa, whom he defeated in the July 31 elections.)"
The official said the organising department also failed to heed advice from the technical committee that the party would lose elections if it participated in polls without reforms. The technical department had urged party officials to take heed of polling surveys done by institutions such as Freedom House, but the organising department did not listen.
"After the general elections, the party's national executive met for one-and-a-half days at Mendel where they were at each other's throats. While officials were agreed the elections were rigged they also highlighted that we had also contributed a lot to our demise and most fingers pointed at Chamisa," the official said.
"The president was accused of being inaccessible in the run up to elections, and that national executive meeting really divided the party although the purpose was for people to be frank and honest with each other during the postmortem."
Chamisa could not be reached for comment as he was not answering his mobile phone.
Mwonzora however said the entire leadership should share responsibility for the loss.
The partry's shortcomings were highlighted in Biti's report to the national executive on September 26 last year.
The report, which covers topics such as organisational culture, political matters, processes and election related issues which showed that the party was reeling from its devastating defeat.
The report highlighted that:
- (The) President must be leader of the whole party and not a portion of it;
- The party is not adhering to its own constitution, party rules and procedures;
- Monopolisation of power in one office, eg the organising department where structures are under the custody of one office without involvement of provincial organising secretaries;
- Alienation of provinces in political processes;
- NSC (national standing committee) must not use its powers to victimise people;
- The party template for primary elections was not followed;
- We need self-introspection on what went wrong on July 31;
- Leadership undermined and victimised people during primary elections;
- Zanu PF rigged the election but we also have our own internal problems;
- There were many irregularities during primary elections, including losers contesting as independent candidates;
- We fielded some candidates who were not credible, and
- Elections were rigged by Nikuv because we lacked intelligence.
The national executive recommended that the leadership develops a strategy and message to take to the people in the aftermath of the electoral defeat but the divided leadership failed to do that. Instead rival officials retreated into factional camps to fight each other.
"At this point people started talking actively about leadership renewal and this culminated in Mangoma's letter which resulted in debate spilling into the public fora.
"The divisions were however there for a long time but Mangoma's letter triggered the current crisis," said another official.