MDC-T leader, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai issued a statement on Monday which has been widely interpreted as a signal that he is preparing to step down.
He was diagnosed with cancer of the colon in June 2016 and has been unwell since then. He is undergoing regular chemotherapy sessions in South Africa.
Soon after he disclosed his illness, he picked two more deputy presidents — Messers Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri — to help him and his long-time deputy, Dr Thokozani Khupe to run the party.
Mr Tsvangirai rose to national prominence in 1988 when he was elected as secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. He left trade unionism to lead MDC when it was formed in 1999. Riding on the people’s discontent due to economic challenges largely triggered by Western economic sanctions he campaigned for, his party posed the biggest challenge to Zanu-PF since 1980.
In the March 2008 harmonised elections, he polled 1 195 562 votes or 48 percent of the valid vote substantially more than Zanu-PF candidate, former President Robert Mugabe’s 1 079 730. Dr Simba Makoni got 207 470 votes. Were it not for a clause in the electoral law that says a presidential candidate must poll 50 percent plus one vote to be declared a winner, Mr Tsvangirai could have been republican president in that year. He withdrew from the subsequent presidential election run-off which Cde Mugabe won.
Since we had a hung parliament, an inclusive government had to be formed and Mr Tsvangirai was appointed prime minister in February 2009.
However, his political fortunes dropped from then on, the lowest point being his crushing loss to Cde Mugabe in the 2013 election when he got 1 172 349 against Cde Mugabe’s 2 110 434 ballots. This was compounded by his positive diagnosis to colon cancer three years later.
As his health continues to deteriorate the MDC-T leader hinted on Monday that he was considering the possibility of handing over “the levers of leadership” to the “younger generation”.
“At a personal level, I feel an air of satisfaction as I reflect on the great journey we have travelled together even as I seriously ponder about the future,” he said.
“I am looking at the imminent prospects of us as the older generation leaving the levers of leadership to allow the younger generation to take forward this huge task that we started together so many years ago with our full blessing and support. It was therefore not by accident, but by design that when I disclosed to you my health status, I also took a bold step to appoint an additional two Vice Presidents to assist me.”
Although his party has sought to explain that the statement does not indicate his imminent resignation, observers argue that his failing health will not allow him to continue in active politics.
The big question now is will his party survive his departure? Who will take over from him? Will his successor be able unite the party to present a credible political challenge to Zanu-PF?
Judging from the obvious fact that Mr Tsvangirai was MDC-T and MDC-T was him, the answer to the first question is it is unlikely that the party will survive his leaving. For now, no one knows who will take over and lead the party as effectively as he did. Also, whoever will take over from him is not likely to unite the party as he largely did over the past 18 years. Yes there were splits along the way — the 2005 one that led to the formation of MDC, the 2010 one that led to the formation of MDC 99 — but there is no denying that Mr Tsvangirai still controlled the largest chunk of the opposition element in the country.
We don’t see any of his deputies choosing to subordinate their personal ambitions for the other’s. Also we don’t see an obvious compromise candidate in the party, one who has the appeal to bring together the three deputy presidents — Dr Khupe and Messers Chamisa and Mudzuri — to be able to work together. Already, reports are awash of factional fights between the three protagonists as they position themselves for a possible takeover. That is why we argue that it is improbable that MDC-T will survive Mr Tsvangirai’s departure.
In fact, we forecast yet another damaging split of the party in the post-Tsvangirai era. That split will further weaken the party, probably making it unrecognisable from what we know it today.
With the unifying politics and forward-looking economic policies that Zanu-PF under President Emmerson Mnangagwa is implementing as opposed to the old, polarising and regressive standpoints, we don’t see a bright future for MDC-T.