Tendai Mugabe Senior Reporter
MDC-Alliance — led by Mr Nelson Chamisa — is on the brink of an imminent split fronted by one of its co-principals Mr Tendai Biti, who has the backing of several Western capitals, principally Washington, to take over the opposition’s leadership, The Herald can reveal.
The new threat posed by Mr Biti in the opposition ranks is also threatening to affect the original MDC-T structures.
Briefings by several MDC-Alliance sources and others privy to developments in the fringe coalition are that Mr Biti is the favourite of the West to lead the opposition.
To affirm their bidding for Mr Biti, Western ambassadors accredited to Zimbabwe last week sought a meeting with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo where they emphasised on his safety more than anything else following his deportation from Zambia and subsequent arrest here.
“Whilst (Mr) Chamisa thought his real challenge will come from people like Douglas Mwonzora (MDC-T secretary-general) and (Engineer Elias Mudzuri — MDC-T vice president), indications are that the real man to watch is Tendai Biti who has not disguised his glee at the fact that Chamisa is not in Parliament alongside many other alliance leaders except himself and five other MPs from PDP,” said an MDC-Alliance insider.
“For that reason, he (Mr Biti) claims that he is the natural leader of the opposition in Parliament – a platform which he hopes to use to rebuild his stature post (Morgan) Tsvangirai and MDC-T break away. Even more worrisome is the political windfall which he thinks he got from his border jumping, subsequent denial of asylum by the Zambians and the ongoing trial which he wants to consider as political persecution.
“The ambitious Biti is relishing every moment of it even loudly bragging that the two days of his border jumping and subsequent deportation drew more publicity and sympathy for him than the alliance was ever able to attract since its launch. Biti also enjoys “religious” support of the American establishment and interest groups.”
Mr Biti’s bidding for the opposition throne was further buttressed by some Western ambassadors who fought from his corner during a meeting with Ambassador Moyo on August 08, 2018.
The ambassadors, who attended the meeting were US ambassador Brian Nichols, Catriona Laing (Britain), Sofia Calltorp (Sweden), René Cremonese (Canada) and head of the European Union in Zimbabwe Phillippe Van Damme.
A Government source privy to the meeting said: “Their concern was very clear even though they sought to cloth it as a concern for the country and its interest. They worried about Biti as an individual more than they worried about legal processes or even diplomatic propriety. They made it clear that eventually all the Western capitals were concerned about the safety of Tendai Biti and were hugely interested to see if his rights were respected.
“Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs Minister (Dr Moyo) not only reassured them that the due processes will be respected but expressed surprise that the Western ambassadors sought to put (Mr) Biti above the law and above the general citizenry of Zimbabwe. What this whole development did was to clearly show that Tendai Biti was in a league of his own in the eyes of the West and especially when it comes to American attitude towards Zimbabwe. In any event, Mr Biti had been instrumental in the re-framing of Zidera which has since been signed into law by Donald Trump.
“The revised Zidera may as well be called TB Bill.”
A concerned MDC-T member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reinforced the point that Mr Biti was now Mr Chamisa’s real threat saying: “Whilst this (Biti’s US links) is of concern to Government, it is proving of greater concern to young Chamisa and his party who fear that with such resolute support especially from the Americans, the ambitious Biti will break the leash and seek to bolt away with the MDC party. After all, when Mr Chamisa went to the US before the elections, he leaned heavily on Tendai Biti to access both the American establishment as well as key levers of the American society.
“It was basically a Biti show which whilst benefiting Chamisa as the new leader left Chamisa over-awed by the extent of Biti’s contacts and influence. This is why the young politician then tried to countermand Biti by the disastrous appearance in the British media.”
It is understood that even before the death of Mr Tsvangirai, the Americans and the British differed on the leadership issue with the Americans favouring Biti to Tsvangirai.
Now with Tsvangirai out of the equation, the Americans are of the view that was a Biti moment and the fact of sheer immaturity of Chamisa had not helped his case.
An MDC-Alliance source said there was a growing feeling that Mr Chamisa disastrously failed to manage the alliance though they viewed it as a good concept to challenge Zanu-PF.
MPs both from alliance partners and MDC-T are blaming Mr Chamisa for doing them down whilst he sought comfort and support from make shift structures which the alliance brought into being.
“We let go of our organic structures for make shift structures that operated in the name of the alliance,” said a senior MDC-T member.
“Our people, our supporters were demoralised and demobilised because the operating structures were unfamiliar to them. Even when one looks at the campaign strategy, everything revolved around (Mr) Chamisa and his co-principles and not on organic structures of the MDC-T which had served us well in 2008. Much worse, his rough leadership style fractured our old structures in a very bad way especially when we lost key members of the old MDC-T and when we were forced to throw our lot behind candidates we didn’t know all in the name of the alliance.
“As if that was not bad enough, we then had terrible intrusion by way of MDC-T dissidents like Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti and their people on the one hand as well as Mugabe and his NPF on the other. The whole thing was a political pizza with so many discordant elements and that disoriented our support.”
Now his blanket court action which we thought will be limited to the presidential result is threatening the few of our MPs who won. MDC-Alliance cannot afford a fresh election if the court so decide.”
As it stands, Mr Chamisa’s only closest ally in the Western diplomatic circles was EU’s Van Damme who unfortunately is coming to the end of his term.
It is however not clear if Mr Chamisa could still use Van Damme to mobilise EU support from wherever he will be.
A political analyst who assessed recent political developments especially in the opposition circles said: “There is a complication though in that presently the EU and Britain are in competition when it comes to Zimbabwe. Post Brexit, Britain is reasserting her place in Zimbabwe and has been encouraged by the new dispensation’s commitment to join the Common Wealth which Britain thinks is a good instrument for outflanking the EU on the African continent.
“In a way Zimbabwe faces a unique cold war moment only one involving the West. We have US on the one side, the EU on the other and Britain slowly receding back to splendid isolation politics reminiscent of the post First World War. All these forces are competing in Zimbabwe only agreeing on overarching issues like free and fair elections as well as absence of political violence. Beyond these its dog and this before you even factor in the Russian and Chinese factor. Really it’s a conflict which is playing out at various levels, except the first important issue is that of resolving the leadership question within MDC in order to re-launch the opposition as a good minder and protector of Western interests.”
Commenting on Mr Biti’s political theatrics, the analyst said: “The fact of (Mr) Biti who fool hardly takes on Zambia on grounds of denied asylum status has had a dual effect. At one level, it has consolidated his image as America’s favourite son in Southern Africa and therefore a source of concern for Sadc. Secondly, it has alienated a key member of the old Frontline States in Sadc namely Zambia which cannot understand how Zimbabwe’s opposition personality stands between it and its relations with America. It would have been understandable if this was inter-State conflict pitting Zambia against Zimbabwe, thus forcing a choice for the Americans. But to put the life and prospects of a nation on line because of some small opposition figure who is not even in Government is something that the Zambians cannot understand. It’s not helped by the fact that in two days-time, Sadc will be convening in Namibia.”