TENDAI Biti, secretary-general of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), has warned that the opposition must get its house in order urgently, as violence erupted over the weekend at its headquarters in Harare after national executives met to tackle leadership-renewal calls flung at Morgan Tsvangirai.
The warning from Mr Biti is a pointer to the infighting and instability that engulfed the party since it lost to President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) last year.
Infighting within the party has also taken the pressure off Mr Mugabe’s government, which is tarnished by corruption scandals at parastatals and which has its hands full in its attempt to revive the economy. Meanwhile, the opposition remains in disarray.
Mr Biti and Elton Mangoma, the party’s deputy treasurer-general, were the main targets of the attack from party youths sympathetic to Mr Tsvangirai’s retaining his post.
Mr Mangoma is understood to have sustained nose and head injuries, torn clothes and broken eyeglasses during the attack.
Mr Tsvangirai has maintained a hardened stance, despite growing calls for him to vacate the leadership of Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party.
On Monday Mr Biti admitted that the shine had come off the party, which in its 15-year history has been the only party to put up a sustained challenge against Mr Mugabe’s rule.
“Zimbabwe needs a very strong opposition; the MDC-T must get its house in order urgently. There must be dialogue with other political parties as on our own we cannot deal with Zanu (PF),” said Mr Biti.
Of the weekend violence, about which critics accused Mr Tsvangirai of responding with a heavy hand against “ideas”, Mr Biti said the culture of violence was alien to the founding principles of the party. “Violence is not our own thing. We formed the MDC-T because Zanu (PF) was violent and we cannot now be seen condoning the same violence perpetrated by Zanu (PF),” he said.
The weekend attacks against Mr Tsvangirai’s top lieutenants have intensified speculation over whether there had been a behind-the-scenes fallout between Mr Tsvangirai and Mr Biti, who has for long been regarded a member of Mr Tsvangirai’s inner circle and a de facto right hand man.
Mr Biti has kept a stony silence since the first questions over Mr Tsvangirai’s suitability for the leadership of the party emerged last year.
“I will not issue a statement on the issue, because people are expecting me to take one side versus another side,” Mr Biti said.
Treasurer-general Roy Bennett, exiled in South Africa, was at the forefront of calls for Mr Tsvangirai to step down.
But Mr Tsvangirai dared his opponents at a rally on Sunday to stop plotting his ousting. “Why are you trying to remove me in a hostile way? If you want power, wait and we go for congress so that you stand here and I stand there and say to the people choose a leader you want. I will step down if I lose, but not this way of forcing me out,” said Mr Tsvangirai.
His third term in office ends in 2016 and he will likely seek a fourth term at the party’s elective congress to stand again in the 2018 national elections.