Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai. File picture: Philimon Bulawayo

Harare - Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is on the verge of splitting again, with the likely emergence of a new political party which will include most of those who recently came into the open in asking party leader Morgan Tsvangirai to stand down.

Tsvangirai has firmly rejected the calls for him to retire and has said he will remain in office at least until the party’s next congress in 2016.

The most public face of the anti-Tsvangirai group is former deputy treasurer general Elton Mangoma, who was attacked outside the MDC’s Harare headquarters last month after calling for Tsvangirai to stand down.

He has since been sacked from his job, which another Tsvangirai dissenter, party secretary-general Tendai Biti, said was unconstitutional.

Biti is also expected to join the new party, sources said.

Tsvangirai was in Bulawayo, the country’s second capital city, this weekend to drum up support for him and his supporters against Biti and Mangoma and their group. Before his arrival in the city, some vehicles and an office used by his MDC were daubed with red paint.

The MDC has had years of internal squabbling which led to the party splitting in 2005.

The latest upheaval was sparked by Mangoma’s memorandum to Tsvangirai earlier this year which landed up in the media and in essence criticised his behaviour with women, finances, and his lack of political acumen ahead of the disputed elections last year in which the MDC lost heavily.

Mangoma and Biti are calling for leadership renewal and have, according to well-placed political sources in Harare, decided to quit the MDC and launch a broad alliance of “democrats” to take on both Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC.

Party insiders, who asked not to be identified, said ideally all the existing democratic parties should be conflated into one strong opposition. “Given the number of prima donnas around, it’s unlikely we can do that,” said one of those who has long disagreed with Tsvangirai’s leadership.

“We need an entity which is firmly rooted in policy and principle rather than personality, and we need an entity made up of shadow leadership of say 10 to 15 people from a broad spectrum and a leader will emerge from that closer to the next elections.

“The central problem in the MDC is that we relied on individuals. A party defined by an individual is also a very useful target for Zanu-PF.”

Violence within the MDC was one of the main reasons for the party splitting in two in 2005 and when Mangoma was attacked, critics slammed Tsvangirai for having allowed low-level physical intimidation to continue within the party, almost from its launch in 1999.

Veteran political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said the troubles in the MDC, especially the violence, were a “sad reflection on Zimbabwe’s political culture”.

“There is a dilemma for any new group which emerges in that it looks as if Morgan still has massive support at grassroots level. But Zimbabweans need political renewal and younger political leaders.”

Other parties which might consider their options if the MDC splits again are the smaller MDC led by Welshman Ncube, which protested strongly years ago at violence in the party; Muvango/Kusile/Dawn, led by former Zanu-PF finance minister Simba Makoni; and the old liberation party Zapu, lead by Dumiso Dabengwa.

Calls to Tsvangirai’s spokesman went unanswered this weekend. And neither Mangoma nor Biti could be reached for comment.

Independent Foreign Service