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Confusion Surrounds MDC Reunification Plans

Resistance in rival camps seems to be holding up unity talks.
Talk is rife in Zimbabwe about the reunification of the two factions of Zimbabwe's splintered main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change MDC, with some media predicting a Christmas or a New Year re-marriage.

The main thrust for reunification is coming from veteran MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and rival faction head Arthur Mutambara, who was appointed leader of the younger breakaway faction when the MDC imploded in November 2005.

However, both men have top officials who are resolutely opposed to unity, citing "irreconcilable differences".

After a passionate plea from Morgan Tsvangirai, his MDC faction appointed a five-member committee to negotiate unity. The Mutambara faction also set up a committee led by its secretary General Welshman Ncube. Ncube, however, is unenthusiastic about reunification.

Unity talks between both MDCs, with both claiming to be the legitimate core of the party, were supposed to have started in late November. But as yet nothing substantive has happened, with both sides competing for advantage through media contacts.

The split was triggered by a dispute over whether to contest elections in January this year to a new upper house of parliament, or Senate. The faction loyal to Tsvangirai dismissed the Senate as a useless institution, a kind of retirement home for failed politicians loyal to President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai also said it was useless to contest the election because Mugabe would rig it as he had done earlier presidential and parliamentary elections.

No one has yet satisfactorily explained why Zimbabwe needs a Senate or what its limited powers are. "For most people, the senators will do more dozing than debating," mocked veteran Zimbabwean nationalist and journalist Bill Saidi.

A source close to Mutambara, 40, confirmed to IWPR that the leader has been talking with Tsvangirai, 54, about possible reunification.

However, Gabriel Chaibva, spokesman for the Mutambara faction, issued a statement denying that reunification talks are underway. It said, "The MDC advises that, contrary to assertions that have been made in the media and also peddled by the [Morgan] Tsvangirai grouping about reunification talks, there are no such talks.

"The MDC has not set up any reunification committee and there has not been any contact with us from the Tsvangirai grouping. However, we are not opposed to any talks aimed at bringing about reunification of all democratic forces but emphasise that such discussion should be premised on the founding principles and values of the MDC."

However, the source close to Mutambara said he has told his top officials to stop issuing statements that might derail the reunification negotiations. "The person who wants this reunification more than anyone else is Mutambara," the source told IWPR. "He is pushing hard for it and he has the support of Tsvangirai. They are both working hard to convince those that are anti-reunification to put aside their personal differences and put the interests of the people first.

"They are telling them that they should focus on their common enemy and common goal which is to dislodge Mugabe and that as a united front they have a better chance of beating Mugabe. The only problem is that people are more concerned with protecting their current positions, which will be threatened by elections to a newly reunited MDC."

Among those opposed to reunification in the Tsvangirai MDC camp are national organising secretary Elias Mudzuri; youth assembly chairperson Thamsanga Mahlangu; national chairman Isaac Matongo; deputy secretary-general Tapiwa Mashakada; committee member Cephas Makuyana; deputy secretary of international affairs Grace Kwinje; and women's assembly leader Lucia Matibenga.

In the Mutambara faction, parliamentary deputies Job Sikhala and Abednigo Bhebhe and deputy secretary-general Priscilla Misiharabwi-Mushonga have argued vociferously against unity.

A businessman close to Tsvangirai, who is also one of his advisers, told IWPR that, despite resistance by some members of the executive,

reunification was inevitable. He said, "It is just a question of when.

"A lot is happening underground. I don't see Tsvangirai and Mutambara not getting what they want. They both feel passionate about


"I see Mutambara jumping ship if his top guys like Welshman [Ncube] totally disagree with reunification. Reuniting will most likely mean Mutambara becomes vice president and the next in line to succeed Tsvangirai. He is already dealing with succession: Mutambara is very shrewd."

Mutambara, who had not worked or lived in Zimbabwe for fifteen years, was elected president of the pro-Senate splinter group on February 25 this year. Tsvangirai, the MDC's president since its formation more than seven years ago, has continued to lead the anti-Senate MDC.

Eighteen years ago Mutambara was a militant University of Zimbabwe student leader and Tsvangirai a radical national trades union leader who both openly criticised the way the country was being run by Mugabe and his ZANU PF government.

The two were among the first Zimbabweans to experience the wrath of Mugabe against his critics as popular discontent began to stir. They were arrested in October 1989 following a series of anti-corruption demonstrations which led to the first-ever closure of the Harare-based University of Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai was detained for supporting the striking students and condemning the shutdown of the university.

The two shared a cell, held under emergency powers retained by Mugabe from the era of white minority government. Mutambara was charged under the draconian pre-independence Law and Order Maintenance Act with publishing a subversive document that branded Mugabe's administration as worse than the white minority apartheid government in South Africa.

Tsvangirai was accused of attempting to bring the downfall of the government by unconstitutional means.

While Tsvangirai stayed in Zimbabwe and helped found the MDC, Mutambara went abroad, studied advanced computer engineering, robotics and mechatronics at Britain's Oxford University before working with the Oxford Robotics Research Group and with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Before returning to Zimbabwe, he had been working in South Africa for the Standard Bank and running a scientific and engineering consultancy.

Those opposed to unity in the Mutambara-led faction have already set conditions for a possible reunification. These include respect by Tsvangirai and his supporters for the breakaway party's constitution and collective decision-making processes; acceptance of culpability for events leading to the split; and putting national interests over personal interests.

Political analyst and constitutional lawyer Lovemore Madhuku told IWPR he is deeply sceptical about the possibility of reunification. "What would be the motivation for the unity? There is nothing pushing them to unite. The grassroots are already used to having the two political parties," he said.

But a veteran journalist based in Harare said, "Unity talks or negotiations are done secretly and announced at press conferences. A good example is the 1987 Unity Accord between the then ruling ZANU and opposition PF-ZAPU, which if it had been played out in the media might have dragged on or might not even have been signed. I do believe there is something happening in terms of talks and negotiations between the two MDC factions," he said.

Tsvangirai has been calling for all opposition parties to unite behind a single candidate for presidential elections scheduled for 2008. He told an MDC executive meeting that supporters had been making impassioned pleas to him to make sure all Zimbabwe's democratic forces are reunited to confront a common enemy.

Tsvangirai pointed out that unity would be a big prize for the suffering people of Zimbabwe.

The weekly Zimbabwe Independent newspaper said in a recent editorial, "Tsvangirai knows that today he is a much weaker Tsvangirai than the one who lost narrowly to Mugabe in the contentious 2002 [presidential] election.

"The party requires serious rehabilitation if it is to regain the strength it had built up five years ago. Part of the rehabilitation is unity and a visionary leadership."

Dzikamai Chidyausike is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.