Just as ZANU-PF told us there was “no vacancy” in the presidency, MDC-T secretary general Douglas Mwonzora used those exact same words on Monday. “I now that there is no vacancy for president in my party because Tsvangirai is still there,” he said.
Then you get to the stage where the party leader is compared to royalty, in order to silence talk of succession.
“In my Ndebele culture, it is wrong for a king’s two sons to discuss succession when the king is still alive,” MDC-T organising secretary Abednico Bhebhe was quoted as saying this week.
Shades of Johannes Ndanga, a pro-Mugabe apostolic church leader, who last year declared: “Mugabe is our king, and kings are not elected, they are installed by God”. Or Didymus Mutasa, who once told the BBC, “You have your queen, we have our king”.
There is also the stage when the family gets involved.
For Mugabe, it was his wife Grace taking over as women’s league leader, before angling to be Vice President. For Tsvangirai, it has not yet come to that. So far, his wife, Elizabeth, has steered clear of the limelight. However, a rival faction is whispering to journalists and in the party structures that she too is pulling levers behind the scenes, prodding her husband to retire and leave power in the hands of Nelson Chamisa.
We have even seen the stage where the leader’s spokesman is accused of being captured by a faction. MDC-T’s Bhebhe criticised Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, for a statement in which Tsvangirai hinted at retirement.
“We all know that any sick person does not think straight hence we suspect that the statement did not originate from him,” Bhebhe said, casting his own leader in bad light.
One group in the MDC-T claims Tamborinyoka is not speaking for his boss, but for a faction. Nothing new there. A flashback to Sarah Mahoka, who openly challenged Mugabe in public to say whether or not his spokesman George Charamba was speaking for him when he criticised G40 politicians. Jonathan Moyo whined at the time: “Charamba must not abuse his civil servant role as Information Perm Sec to serve successionists.”
It has not been as dramatic as when Grace put down Charamba in Chinhoyi, but we have again seen a spokesman being silenced by a leader’s family. Last week, Tsvangirai’s two brothers, Collins and Manase, publicly muted Tamborinyoka and made Elias Mudzuri Tsvangirai’s sole spokesman. Bizarrely, Collins later told the media that Tsvangirai had not authorised that decision. It was a family decision to silence a party employee.
There is now talk of the family being used to get to Tsvangirai. We’ve seen this before, when Charamba complained about people “who think by sheer proximity, they can build messages around the First Family”.
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