Squabbles keep opposition busy… as MDC Alliance curbs its officials’ social media chatter

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THE desperate state of affairs within the country’s unravelling opposition has once again been thrust into the spotlight after the MDC Alliance ordered its feuding officials this week to stop discussing party issues on WhatsApp and other social media platforms, the Daily News reports.

While the alliance argued that social media platforms were toxic, and that it was thus in the best interests of its members to stay away from such platforms when it came to its affairs, critics said yesterday that this betrayed both the hypocrisy and growing intolerance of opposition leaders to internal dissent.

The MDC Alliance’s social media edict comes a few months after the pact’s embattled leadership also issued another gag order on its senior officials with regards to speaking to the media. It also comes a few weeks after its leader Nelson Chamisa apparently angered his key associates — including MPs and councillors who he ordered to go through primaries for by-elections, despite them having been ejected from their positions for siding with him in his futile war with MDC interim leader Thokozani Khupe.

This week, MDC Alliance secretary general Chalton Hwende issued a “universal gag” against discussing the pact’s affairs on social media.

“After noting the corrosive and toxic nature of the WhatsApp groups that were created in the name of the party, the national standing committee met on the 2nd of December and resolved that no member of the MDC Alliance regardless of the position he holds shall be allowed or permitted to discuss, debate or converse about party issues or business on WhatsApp groups.

“WhatsApp administrators who allow their groups to discuss party business and issues will be disciplined, including the members who would have participated in the discussion.

Thokozani Khupe

“Online activities that violate the above-mentioned resolution will subject a member of the party (from national to the branch) to disciplinary action,” Hwende said in the letter which has since gone viral. MDC Alliance deputy spokesperson, Clifford Hlatywayo, confirmed the development to the Daily News yesterday — but added that members were still free to use the party’s official platforms to discuss issues of concern.

“We held our national standing committee meeting … where it was resolved that members are not allowed to hold party meetings and comment on social media for our protection because social media can be hacked so easily, hence no safety can be guaranteed on such platforms.

“Formal meetings are conducted where some of our party issues are discussed as stated by the constitution,” he said. Interestingly, most MDC Alliance bigwigs — including Chamisa — have a strong presence on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

All this comes after the alliance barred MDC bigwigs such as Tendai Biti, Lynette Karenyi-Kore and Job “Wiwa” Sikhala — from speaking to the media. At the time, Hwende confirmed the development, saying the gag order was consistent with the MDC Alliance’s constitution.

“Regarding communication, the correct position is that we are coming up with a social media protocol for the party because we cannot regulate individuals’ social media accounts.

“We can only manage the party’s and the constitution is clear that only the president, the secretary-general, his deputy and the spokesperson speak on behalf of the party,” Hwende told the Daily News then.

The surprise gag order came after Biti and Sikhala had featured prominently in the independent press, including the Daily News that month — and at a time that Chamisa was beginning to look increasingly out of his depth in terms
of giving direction to the party.

“Chamisa has gone completely bonkers. How else can anyone explain the sudden gagging of senior members such as Biti and Sikhala?

“At a time when he needs more voices fighting in his corner to expose Zanu PF’s games and machinations in the current chaos, he is doing the opposite, muzzling his allies.

“His friends say he is threatened by these (Alliance) heavyweights and also feels that the media is raising the profiles of his senior officials at his expense.

“This is ridiculous … It’s rank madness akin to cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face,” a senior MDC Alliance official told the Daily News at the time.

Last month, Chamisa also peeved some of his key associates — among them several MPs and councillors — after he ordered them to go through primaries for the by-elections which were necessitated by their expulsion from Parliament and councils for siding with him in his vicious war with Khupe. This came after Khupe had recalled 31 legislators and dozens of councillors as she flexed her muscles in the zero-sum game fight she has been having with Chamisa over control of the MDC.

The MDC Alliance insiders told the Daily News that the recalled MPs and councillors were seething with anger after Chamisa told members of the national standing committee that they would have to contest in primary elections if they intended to run in the by-elections.

The insiders said Chamisa had argued that some of the MPs and  councillors had allegedly lost popularity in their constituencies even before their recall by Khupe.

They also claimed that organising secretary Amos Chibaya had attempted to challenge Chamisa’s order, but the Alliance leader would have none of it.

“The president (Chamisa) suggested during a standing committee meeting that primary elections be held in all constituencies where MPs and councillors were recalled, to choose candidates to represent the party when by-elections are held.

“The suggestion came as a shock to all of us because the party made a resolution that the concerned MPs and councillors would be our candidates again as a reward for their loyalty — given that some were bullied by Khupe into selling out.

“Soon after the suggestion was made, Chibaya raised his objection, but Nero would have none of it and told him in no uncertain terms that he could as well chair the standing committee meeting if he so desired.

“The call for Chibaya to chair the meeting was met with dead silence as Chamisa sternly warned that he did not countenance leaders who dared challenge him,” one of the insiders told the Daily News.

“The president said this suggestion was premised on the fact that some former legislators were no longer popular in their constituencies — citing Harare Central and Epworth, as cases in point,” another insider told the Daily News.

Harare Central constituency was held by Murisi Zwizwai — national executive member and traditionally a key ally of both the late MDC founding father Morgan Tsvangirai and Chamisa — before he was recalled by Khupe. Chamisa and Khupe have been brawling for control of the party since Tsvangirai’s death from colon cancer on Valentine’s Day in 2018.

The party’s infighting escalated after the Supreme Court’s judgment in March upheld last year’s ruling by the High Court that nullified Chamisa’s ascendancy to the leadership of the country’s biggest opposition party.

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