HARARE – Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has reached out to his disaffected deputy, Thokozani Khupe — meeting her in Harare on Monday to resolve differences related to key strategies ahead of the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections.
Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka, told the Daily News yesterday that the two MDC leaders had met at the Highlands home of the former prime minister in the government of national unity — confounding political opponents who were hoping to see another potentially damaging split within the ranks of the country’s main opposition.
At the same time, and immediately after the two heavyweights had smoked the peace pipe, the MDC moved swiftly to lift the suspensions of treasurer Chalton Hwende and organising secretary Abednico Bhebhe — who had been put on gardening leave over the violence which erupted at the party’s provincial offices in Bulawayo on August 6.
The violence had threatened to irreparably damage relations within the party, after Khupe and others disagreed with Tsvangirai’s over the formation of the MDC Alliance ahead of next year’s make-or-break elections — a grouping of all, and other forces, who were part of the original labour-backed MDC.
“Yes, I can confirm that vice president Khupe and president Tsvangirai met yesterday (Monday), although he (Tsvangirai) is still resting at home and will be back at work soon,” Tamborinyoka said.
Khupe’s personal assistant, Witness Dube, also later released a statement saying the two leaders had “mended” their relations.
“The lengthy and fruitful meeting was both a courtesy visit to the president, following his stay in South Africa on medical leave, as well as a routine working meeting between the president and his deputy of 11 years in the party.
“Leading the discussions was the ‘purported’ suspensions of Bhebhe and Hwende. It emerged, and was agreed, that the suspensions had neither been sufficiently constructed nor formally communicated to the affected parties to warrant sustenance,” Dube said.
“In any case, the leadership mutually struck a reconciliatory tone of letting by-gones be by-gones regarding the incidents of violence which happened at the Bulawayo provincial office.
“Khupe will in the coming days be taking the rest of the leadership and the constitutional organs of the MDC into confidence on the expectations and charges of the president in the interim,” he added.
Until this week, there had been real fears that the MDC could be headed for another split owing to the serious differences within its leadership over opposition unity ahead of the 2018 polls.
This was after Tsvangirai had signed into life the MDC Alliance together with various other opposition parties at the Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield, Harare, on August 5.
Among the signatories to the pact are the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by Tendai Biti; the MDC led by Welshman Ncube; Transform Zimbabwe headed by Jacob Ngarivhume; Zanu Ndonga headed by Denford Masiyarira; and the Multi-Racial Christian Democrats led by Mathias Guchutu.
Both Biti and Ncube are former secretaries-general of the main MDC formation led by Tsvangirai.
Khupe, Bhebe and the party’s national chairperson Lovemore Moyo boycotted the launch of the MDC Alliance — instead holding their own meeting the following day in Bulawayo, and which gathering was cut short by violence by suspected party thugs.
The Matabeleland leadership, although not opposed to an opposition alliance per se, were not happy about the allocation of seats to other parties in the region — arguing that the MDC had been doing well in their provinces in previous elections without an alliance with other parties.
Matters were further complicated when Khupe and her colleagues in Bulawayo boycotted the second launch of the MDC Alliance which was later held in the second city — heightening fears of another damaging party split.
The MDC initially split in 2005 when Ncube walked out of the party, accusing Tsvangirai of taking unilateral decisions.
In 2014, the party split again, this time with Biti packing his bags after he also accused the popular Tsvangirai of allegedly having dictatorial tendencies.
Tsvangirai, who has just returned to the country after spending three weeks in neighbouring South Africa where he was receiving treatment, was always said to be keen to mend the rift with Khupe.
The Daily News understands that it was in this light that he affirmed Khupe and placated her when he made her the acting president while he was indisposed by illness. And she will continue to take charge of the MDC’s affairs while Tsvangirai takes more time out on medical advice.
The MDC Alliance did not only cause fissures within Tsvangirai’s party, it has also caused the split of Biti’s fledgling PDP outfit.
Some PDP leaders led by the party’s secretary-general, Gorden Moyo, recently announced that they had “fired” Biti over his participation in the MDC Alliance without “their blessings” — in a development which threatened the formation of a united opposition to challenge President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF in next year’s elections.
But Biti has said he is still in charge of the PDP and has also declared Moyo’s move null and void.
Analysts have also repeatedly said a coalition involving Tsvangirai and former vice president Joice Mujuru will present a formidable challenge to Mugabe and his quarrelling colleagues next year, considering that the widow of the late decorated liberation icon, Solomon, possesses strong liberation credentials and intimate know-how of Zanu PF’s election mischief.
But Mujuru is looking to ink her own alliance agreement with Dumiso Dabengwa and a splinter group from the PDP.
On his part, Tsvangirai has continued to express the hope that Mujuru, Simba Makoni and others will soon be joining his “big tent” despite the fact that the MDC Alliance is already apportioning constituencies among its current constituent parties.
Tsvangirai and Mujuru signed a memorandum of agreement (MOU) in May this year, which lifted the mood of thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans looking for an alternative to Zanu PF.