Nelson Chamisa close to victory in MDC poll
Eight of 13 provinces back him to succeed the late Tsvangirai
Nelson Chamisa has inched closer to taking control of the Movement for Democratic Change for the next five years.
If he secures the leadership of the biggest opposition party, Chamisa will square off for the second time against Zanu-PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa in the 2023 elections.
Out of 13 provincial MDC committees, eight have nominated 41-year-old Chamisa as their presidential candidate to succeed the founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who died in February last year.
But Chamisa's campaign has stoked fresh divisions in the 20-year-old opposition party. Insiders fear that allegations of candidates being barred, ballot stuffing, violence and a hostile takeover by the G40 faction of Zanu-PF at provincial congresses could lead to another split in the party.
The MDC has already split three times. The first was in 2005 when the breakaway was led by Welshman Ncube. Two more breakaways happened, led by Tendai Biti in 2014 and by Thokozani Khupe last year.
BIGWIGS TAKE A FALL
Several party bigwigs have fallen in the race for the party presidency, to be decided at the elective congress next month. Among them was secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora, who was Chamisa's strongest rival.
Elias Mudzuri, one of the three vice-presidents, has not been nominated but on Thursday he received his first nomination to retain his current post. He is still tipped to be a challenger to Chamisa.
Last weekend, Mwonzora stood down from the race. He told the Sunday Times he would not retire from party politics, even if he was relegated to being an ordinary member.
"I still have a lot to offer. I definitely am going ahead in my political career. Why should I retire at just 50 years?" he said.
"I will remain in the MDC and fight for what is right. I stood aside to avoid a split. Just like the verse in the Bible which talks of the women fighting for a child before King Solomon, I decided that I shall not allow the child to be cut in half. I am avoiding a split."
In 2014, Mwonzora beat Chamisa for the secretary-general's job, and he has been nominated to retain it. He will vie for the position with Charlton Hwende, widely seen as a Chamisa ally. Mwonzora said he was "reviewing" the nomination before deciding whether to accept.
An MDC official from Bulawayo said Mwonzora was probably headed for the political wilderness.
"It won't be easy to face off with Hwende, he's a favourite," said the official. "Mwonzora did not stand a chance against Chamisa. So with the majority of [Mwonzora's] backers powerless now, like him, it's game over."
Provincial congresses have been marred by reports of violence and images on social media of Chamisa allegedly presiding over voting. The nomination process has also been hit by concerns that voting took place mostly at night and early in the morning, that nominations were done in the absence of candidates and their representatives, and that some candidates had been replaced with unknowns.
"In some of the MDC structures there was substitution with people we did not know. In some cases there are people from the G40 faction from Zanu-PF also contesting for party positions," said a party insider.
"There has been disqualification of people such as Tongai Matutu for not serving five years in the party. But there are the likes of Ncube, Biti, Jacob Mafume and Settlement Chikwinya who left the party and only came back in 2018 and are now being nominated for positions."
Matutu was barred from contesting the post of Masvingo chair.
The biggest question has been who will oversee voting. Mafume, who is also the MDC spokesperson, said the party had appointed the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to run the elections. But the congress's secretary-general, Japhet Moyo, denied this.
DEFEAT IN COURT
"Mafume should prove when I was appointed and how I was advised of the appointment," said Moyo. "He should shed light on which district or province he saw me in attendance, or whether he facilitated the organisation to supervise any of their elections. He might have been misled or improperly advised."
An attempt by disgruntled party members to have the elective congress blocked suffered a blow this week when the high court refused to give a judgment.
- Additional reporting by James Thompson