Skirmishes broke out between rival factions of Zimbabwe's MDC-T party during the funeral of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Observers fear that the disarray within the MDC will weaken the opposition.
Morgan Tsvangirai,who died in South Africa after a long battle with colon cancer, was laid to rest on Tuesday (February 20, 2018) at his rural home in Humanikwa Village in Buhera, 200km (124 miles) southeast of the capital Harare. Thousands of people from all walks of life, including his long time rivals, came to pay homage to the opposition icon.
However, the funeral ceremony was earlier interrupted after scuffles broke out between supporters of different factions of Tsvangirai's MDC-T party. According to the online site of the Zimbabwean Times, senior party officials were chased away by angry youths.
Immediately after Tsvangirai's death, Nelson Chamisa, one of the party's vice presidents, took control of the MDC-T. While endorsed by the late leader's son, Morgan Tsvangirai Jr., Chamisa's attempt to succeed the late leader is contested by two other deputies, Thokozani Khupe and Elias Mudzuri.
Friends and foes pay homage
The weather was somber at the funeral. But the rain could not keep out thousands of supporters and friends, as well as some longtime rivals in politics and government.
Leaders from several opposition parties, the ruling party (ZANU PF) and labor movements from across Africa attended the funeral. Among them were Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga and South Africa's Moeletsi Mbeki
Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU PF, which Tsvangirai fought all his life, also paid homage to the late opposition leader's central role in strengthening democracy. Parliamentary speaker Jacob Mudenda called Tsvangirai a "titan of democracy. Nobody will take away from him this status. He earned it through his public commitment to the complete liberation of all the people of Zimbabwe." Perhaps alluding to the war of succession in the making, Mudenda also called on the MDC-T to stay united.
The MDC in disarray
Tsvangirai's death leaves his party in a difficult situation five months from the next presidential election. The present infighting does not bode well for the party's chances against President Emerson Mnangagwa. Political analyst Alexander Rusero says the conflicts are a result of the failure by African leaders to groom successors. According to Rusero, Tsvangirai's death will impact negatively on any "meaningful opposition politics" of the MDC-T in the near future. "The departure of Tsvangirai, especially at the time when there were attempts by the opposition to form an alliance, is a big blow," Rusero told DW.
Rusero believes that, with Tsvangirai gone, "there is no comparable personality even close to what he stood for in terms of principles, consistency and charisma."
Zimbabwe crisis -- 6 things you need to know
The military intervention
Led by General Constantino Chiwenga , Zimbabwe's military placed President Robert Mugabe under house arrest early Wednesday. It also surrounded government offices and the parliament and took control of the state broadcaster. An army spokesman said it was "not a military takeover," but an attempt to bring "justice" to Mugabe's aides who were "causing social and economic suffering."
Grace Mugabe's ambition for power
The army reportedly also placed President Mugabe's wife, Grace , under house arrest. The First Lady had been positioning herself to succeed her husband before the intervention. She angered military leaders in early November after calling for the dismissal of former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. President Mugabe fired Mnangagwa shortly thereafter.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, often referred to by his nickname "the Crocodile," had been seen as President Mugabe's likely successor before he was ousted as vice president. Mnangagwa is a veteran of the country's independence struggle in the 1970s and popular with the military. Some have speculated that the 75-year-old may return from his self-imposed exile in South Africa to replace Mugabe as President.
Zimbabwe's economic woes
Zimbabwe's economy has collapsed under President Mugabe's rule. Extreme hyperinflation destroyed the Zimbabwe dollar in the late 2000s. The economy is half the size it was in 2000 and the country has struggled to service its $7 billion in international debt. Once a "bread basket," government land reforms have ruined the agricultural sector and left millions facing food shortages.
The country's economic breakdown had shaken President Mugabe's grip on power once before. A disputed and violent 2008 presidential vote almost resulted in the election of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai (pictured). The outcome forced Mugabe into a power-sharing agreement with Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The pact ended in 2013, but political opposition to Mugabe remained.
Zimbabwe's colonial past
President Mugabe's initial popularity stemmed from his involvement in the fight against white-minority rule in Zimbabwe in the 1960s and 1970s. Mugabe became prime minister in 1980 after the last white-minority government gave up power. Many of his political peers, including General Constantino Chiwenga and Emmerson Mnangagwa, were also involved in the struggle.
Author: Alexander Pearson