MY TURN WITH TICHAONA ZINDOGA
We take the risk of being accused of wishing someone dead, which is unAfrican. Well, fair enough!
We cannot, however, choose to ignore what is happening with one of Zimbabwe’s aspiring leaders, Morgan Tsvangirai. He is bedridden in a South African hospital as we speak, having fallen ill last Friday, sending all manner of speculation and permutations.
The truth is — and it may be hard to swallow for some compatriots — Morgan Tsvangirai is a sick man and his state of health disqualifies him to be leader of both his party and the country. The latter prospect, that of leading the country, has been growing unlikely by each passing day due to the opposition’s waning appeal and organisational chaos.
So, conversations have begun for a life after Tsvangirai. It is a conversation that the people of that party, first and foremost, are seized with and they have been talking about it more openly. This is not because they do not like Tsvangirai.
They do, and many believe that he is the so-called best foot forward. And the face of democracy, whatever that means. But there has to be life after him — and people are already positioning themselves for that. Or try to imagine another person taking Tsvangirai’s place: which must be very hard and painful.
Before we go to these possibilities, let us say a prayer for both Tsvangirai and his spokesman called Luke Tamborinyoka. Luke is in a state of panic. He may not have a boss soon, at worst, or he simply may not be a “presidential” spokesperson for long. When the news broke that his master had been taken ill, he was defensive, irascible.
“Why should I be dignifying morbid speculation with a comment?” he retorted to a reporter. And when another paper asked for an update, Luke flew at the reporter’s choice of words.
“There is a lot of morbid speculation around Tsvangirai . . . but he did a first by publicly announcing that he was suffering from colon cancer. Suppose that he went to South Africa for his routine medical check-up, why are you not saying he was flown to South Africa and not airlifted? Did you want him to go to South Africa by donkey? Maybe you could say when he went to Bulawayo for the MDC Alliance rally he had been airlifted?” he fumed.
There have been a couple of statements from him since then. All is not well in the kingdom and succession is likely to come to the opposition party earlier than we expected. Much more interesting, it is likely to come earlier than it is across the floor at Zanu-PF.
We all had budgeted for that. Even Tsvangirai, in the best of times, had expected to spar with anyone other than President Mugabe, possibly to enhance chances. It’s unlikely now.
The most pressing question at the moment, whether expressed freely or secretly considered is, who takes over? There is an added complication that Tsvangirai has just set in motion a process of coalition politics where at the moment about six other parties have agreed in principle to work under the banner of the MDC Alliance. It means there are some Welshman Ncubes, Tendai Bitis and even Jacob Ngarivhumes waiting to be part of any MDC leadership that will issue from here.
There are three broad possibilities that are likely to take place:
a) Nelson Chamisa
b) Thokozani Khupe
c) Welshman Ncube or Tendai Biti
Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri were co-opted as second vice presidents of the MDC-T last year. Chamisa is widely believed to be the shoo-in for successor. Tsvangirai has apparently been grooming him to take over and has been with him in on some diplomatic forays in places like Ghana and Kenya. Chamisa is young, energetic and charismatic.
He has a fresh face, too. The lawyer will be 40 years early next year, just in time to be eligible for national presidency. Chamisa commands a lot of respect in and out of the party and he is no doubt the front runner. But that does not mean he is not immune to shenanigans within the party that may derail his ambitions.
A few years ago, he was reduced to an ordinary card-carrying member after losing the contest for the post of secretary-general to Douglas Mwonzora. There are many in the top echelons that may feel threatened by him or feel jealous of his rise that they can have no scruples arranging a train-wreck of his ambitions.
For him, complacency will be his downfall. Khupe has been raising her profile of late. She has stood up to Tsvangirai over his decisions regarding the coalition. She is seeing herself as the top dog, especially of the Matabeleland provinces where she commands respect.
If she whips out the gender card, she may add a few tonnes to her political weight. However, that may not be enough as both her regionalism and gender cards may actually boomerang as attributes for a national leader. Both Khupe and Chamisa appear to have the advantages of incumbency.
It has been reported that the coalition deal has a clause that says in the event of Tsvangirai’s death or incapacitation, the candidate to replace him will come from the MDC-T.
That means both Biti and Ncube, who are coming into the fold as prodigal sons, are rank outsiders. It may take a lot of effort, a miracle even, for any one of them to lead a post-Tsvangirai MDC. But their role can be that of kingmakers. Ncube may likely back Chamisa for president, for the obvious reason of spiting Khupe. It will give him a good shot — even for national presidency. Biti will have to choose as well between Khupe and Chamisa. It will all be interesting.
And this is all assuming that Tsvangirai, rather too late into this game, finally agrees to step aside and become the Mandela of the party. Which he should have done back in 2013, with a lot of rewards to go with it.