MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. File picture: Jekesai Njikizana

Harare - Rivals of Morgan Tsvangirai, founding leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, said on Saturday they had suspended him as leader.

They said this was because he had resisted attempts to call an early party congress to review its leadership after its huge defeat in elections last year.

But Tsvangirai's faction rejected the legitimacy of the decision by the MDC's national council at a meeting in Harare on Saturday.

They said the national council meeting had been unconstitutional because it had been attended by members of Welshman Ncube's smaller MDC.

The anti-Tsvangirai faction said it had also suspended the party's deputy president Thoko Khupe, party chairman Lovemore Moyo, spokesman Douglas Mwonzora and prominint Matabeleland member, Abdenico Bhebe and Nelson Chamisa who was the election organiser last year when the MDC was thorughly beaten in disputed presidential and parliamentary elections.

Elton Mangoma, who was expelled from the MDC recently by Tsvangirai, said on Saturday: “We met and had nine provincial chairs and members from all 12 provinces.

“There were 138 of us, and we voted. So they (Tsvangirai and his supporters) have been suspended. This was all in accordance with the party constititution.

“Secretary-general Tendai Biti was there, of course.” So far Biti has only given support behind the scenes to this group within the divided MDC.

“We will now go back to our work, fighting against dictatorship of ZanuPF rule, and to bring prosperity to Zimbabwe,” Mangoma said.

“We are the MDC. We are not rebels.”

However Douglas Mwonzora, MDC spokesman who was ostensibly suspended with Tsvangirai on Saturday, said the national coucnil meeting had not been legitimate because he said it had been attended by members of the small MDC party, lead by Welshman Ncube which split from the main MDC in 2005.

“This was not a meeting of the national council of the MDC because it was made up of members of other political parties, including Welshman Ncube's party.

“This meeting is a culmination of an elaborate, sustained and covert operation by state security, Zanu PF, Mugabe, Welshman and a few MDC malcontents, to destabilise the MDC.”

Mangoma said the MDC had not yet moved to take over the party headquarters, Harvest House in central Harare.

“We have to be careful about security as there are some hoodlums there, at present.”

Mangoma was attacked outside Harvest House earlier this year after he addressed a meeting of party leaders in which he called for an early congress so that Tsvangirai could stand down, before his present term expires in 2016.

Mangoma's group claim to have a dossier of allegations about Tsvangirai's misuse of party funds over many years.

The MDC emerged from civil society groups in late 1999 and by consent Tsvangirai, a trade unionist, was appointed as the first president.

He beat President Robert Mugabe in the first round of the presidentialpoll in 2008 but withdrew before the run-off election because many of hissupporters were killed.

The party split in 2005, mostly about internal violence and allegations of corruption in 2005.

Independent Foreign Service