Tsvangirai’s death could lead to damaging split within MDC

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai reacts after arriving at a rally in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 5, 2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulwayo

Any hope of unity within Zimbabwe’s main opposition party appears to be fading following the death of its leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has a history of internal fighting, could see divisions grow even deeper as Tsvangirai’s top deputies quarrel over who will succeed him.

The power struggle could not come at a worse time for the MDC. Tsvangirai’s death comes a few months prior to elections in Zimbabwe. Voters will go to the polls for the first time since Robert Mugabe was ousted in November.  However, fresh divisions within the MDC could result in an easy win for Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, now led by current president Emerson Mnangagwa.

Tsvangirai spent much of his political life fighting Mugabe and the ZANU-PF.

“We are going to see a major split in the MDC now that Tsvangirai, who was the glue that held the party together, is gone,” Harare-based political analyst Alexander Rusero told AFP.

The latest bickering came to a head when one of the deputy leaders, Nelson Chamisa, called a meeting at MDC headquarters in Harare the day after Tsvangirai’s death.

Chamisa had supposedly been named as the interim MDC leader by Tsvangirai as he underwent cancer treatment in South Africa.

Hundreds of party activists gathered outside the building to honour Tsvangirai – but without the party’s other deputies, Thokozani Khupe and Elias Mudzuri.

Ms. Khupe accused Chamisa of using the meeting to stage a power grab.

“Tsvangirai dies and you go on with a meeting to appoint yourself as leader. How shameful!” she told the local press. “You are power-hungry. You can’t even wait for two days to have Tsvangirai buried.”

Shortly before Tsvangirai’s death, Mudzuri visited him in hospital in Johannesburg to establish his own claim to be the rightful heir.

“It is myself and no one else,” Mudzuri told South African television. “People must respect authority as given by my president and make sure they work towards… winning the 2018 elections.”

Chamisa is thought to have the largest number of supporters. Many analysts tip him to emerge as the MDC’s next leader and say he could manage to head off a permanent split. He’s calling for party unity.

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