“It should be a democratic process and not an autocratic change of power. If Tsvangirai takes that route it will tear the party asunder. It will be a sad day if Tsvangirai’s departure means the death of the MDC.”
The MDC has weakened progressively since 2008, when Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round of voting.
After opting out of the run-off alleging violence by the army against its supporters, the MDC formed a unity government with ZANU-PF that helped stabilise the economy until Tsvangirai was defeated in a 2013 presidential election by Mugabe.
A senior MDC official said Tsvangirai was still considering whether to call for a special leadership congress or have the party appoint a new presidential candidate who he could help campaign ahead of elections.
“The MDC is at a very critical moment and the issue of transitioning to a new leader has been weighing heavily on president Tsvangirai,” the MDC executive told Reuters, asking for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Tsvangirai, 65, the self-taught son of a bricklayer who worked in a rural mine to support his family, cut his political teeth in the labour movement as a mine foreman, later becoming a top trade unionist.
In 1999 he was elected founding MDC president and built his political career as a one of the only people willing to stand up to Mugabe, making him difficult to replace.
He will have to juggle regional, tribal and gender considerations in looking for a successor.
“Those are salient issues that the MDC cannot run away from,” said Masunungure.