HARARE – Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday brushed-off calls for him to step down, saying he has the mandate to remain at the helm of the MDC until 2016.
The former prime minister also poured cold water on calls for an extraordinary congress to decide leadership changes amid a feigned confidence crisis being created by officials calling for the MDC leader’s ouster.
Tsvangirai, who has been the leader of the MDC since its formation in 1999, said there was a sinister plot by Zanu PF to destabilise his party and divert the country’s attention from key issues confronting the nation.
Zanu PF has strenuously rejected the claims.
The MDC leader spoke after the party’s national executive directed party officials to discuss the succession issue through appropriate internal party structures, not the press.
But the calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears as former organising secretary and Warren Park MP Elias Mudzuri on Monday declared his ambition to be the president of the MDC.
Tsvangirai yesterday sought to downplay the levels of disquiet in the opposition camp.
“The president is a democratic person and Mr Mudzuri is a golfer; the two play together often and they will continue to play,” Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai’s official spokesperson told the Daily News.
“This just shows that it is not criminal to be ambitious in the MDC.
“However, there now seems to be an agenda to divert the national attention from the crisis we are facing. So the danger now is, we are running away from critical issues. It should be known that the platform for discussing the succession issue is the congress.”
He said Tsvangirai will remain the president of the MDC until the 2016 congress when the party selects a new leadership.
“We are going to have a congress in 2016 and only the people, not individuals, will decide who they want to lead them,” Tamborinyoka said.
He said there were forces that wanted to divide the MDC, but said all members needed each other.
Insiders say there was an escalating push to topple Tsvangirai by an ambitious clique in the party, and officials warned the situation may explode before the next crucial congress, which is three years away.
Names which have been bandied as possible Tsvangirai successors include the party’s vice president Thokozani Khupe, secretary general Tendai Biti and organising secretary Nelson Chamisa.
While Mudzuri publicly declared that he is also eying the hot seat, observers say he lacks a critical mass to mount a serious challenge against the MDC leader.
Mudzuri’s “ubridled amibition” has angered Tsvangirai loyalists who are now baying for the ex-Energy minister’s head.
But Tamborinyoka said there will be no witch-hunt.
“What Mudzuri is saying shows that we are a democratic party,” Tamborinyoka said.
“Leadership renewal is not the issue, but the challenges that the country is facing. There are however, right platforms where such issues can be discussed.”
Since elections, the MDC has been bedevilled by mounting restlessness and there is apparently no end in sight as factions now stand at loggerheads.
Tsvangirai, boasting widespread grassroots apeal, appears impervious to pressure.
His steely bravery in the face of the worst that has been throw at him has earned the hero worship of many Zimbabweans who see his challenge against the veteran Zanu PF leader President Robert Mugabe as their country’s last chance to escape from its spiral of decline.
Critics say there is another side to Tsvangirai. The tough, populist leader who carries the hopes of an entire nation is sometimes prone to errors of judgement one of which was agreeing to participate in the July 31 controversial polls.
Those who want to oust him from the MDC are pinpointing his weaknesses to try and make him unpopular with the masses.