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Is the Embattled MDC Leader On the Way Out?

Is the Embattled MDC Leader On the Way Out?

Published: 7 March 2014

Morgan Tsvangirai has been Zimbabwe’s main opposition figure for over a decade. But with support dwindling on many fronts, it is doubtful how much longer he can hold on.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the long-standing leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was left politically battered and bruised last summer after he was defeated in elections for the third time.

Although many cried foul and claimed there were voting irregularities, the MDC performed disappointingly and the ruling ZANU-PF party and President Robert Mugabe seemed to romp to victory fairly comfortably.

In the wake of this heavy defeat, the MDC had some soul-searching to do – starting by questioning what role Tsvangirai, who founded the party in 1999 and has led it ever since, should play going forwards. Tsvangirai had once been seen as the future saviour of Zimbabwean democracy, but this image has increasingly difficult to maintain.

The first MDC insider to show his hand was Roy Bennett, the treasurer general of the party, who made a direct call for the party leader to step down. Tsvangirai dismissed Bennett’s remarks as “irresponsible“, and Bennett backed down.

Next to step up was Elias Mudzuri MP, who in November told the papers he would be happy to take over the leadership if asked by MDC members.

Rumours also abounded that Mudzuri – who has been an MDC outsider since being removed from his ministerial position in one of Tsvangirai’s reshuffles in 2011 – was organising a campaign to challenge the party leader, but little came of it.

Then, in January, Elton Mangoma, another senior MDC official, reignited the debate by penning a detailed document explaining why Tsvangirai should relinquish his position, which he reportedly hand-delivered to the man himself.

Tsvangirai’s supporters responded to this latest threat aggressively. First party officials were banned from discussing the succession issue, and then youth groups aligned with Tsvangirai assaulted Mangoma as he was leaving the MDC headquarters in Harare with MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti and the youth assembly secretary-general Promise Mkwananzi. Mangoma alleged the violence was at the instigation of the party leader, but Tsvangirai insisted that the violence was the work of overzealous young supporters.

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