MDC MPs Saga – When Strangers cry more than the Bereaved


Alex T. Magaisa

Itsitsi dzei tsvimborume kubvisa mwana wemvana madzihwa? This is the question they ask back in the village, when they observe unusual acts of generosity. They look at it and question the motives.

Loosely translated, this chiShona piece of wisdom questions the true motives of an unmarried man when he offers to clean the nose of an unmarried mother’s child. The elders looked at this scenario and asked whether this was merely an act of kindness, or if it was, in fact, driven by self-interest, the thinking being that in doing so, the man would be interested in attracting the attention and heart of the boy’s mother.

I was reminded of this piece of ancestral wisdom when I read today that Oliver Mandipaka, a Zanu PF MP for a Buhera constituency, had implored the Speaker of Parliament to settle the saga involving the MDC-T MPs who are now plying their trade under the banner of the MDC Renewal Team, which also appears in another guise, as the UMDC having formed a union with an earlier splinter group of the original MDC. (The MDC family is fast-resembling the scenario of FORD, the Kenyan party that started with great promise after the end of one-party rule, but then broke into several entities, before sense prevailed in 2002, when they formed the Rainbow Coalition)

“It is also public knowledge that certain MPs came to Parliament through an MDC-T ticket, but they betrayed Morgan Tsvangirai and formed the MDC Renewal, which later merged with MDC to form UMDC,” said Mandipaka, quoted in today’s edition of Newsday.

“We are alive to the fact that several MPs originally in MDC-T are now in a new political outfit, the UMDC, and what we want to know is their political fate as well as their fate as MPs, and whether their existence in Parliament is legal,” continued Mandipaka.

The report said that when stand-in Speaker Reuben Marumahoko, tried to avoid the issue, Zanu PF MPs shouted that the MDC-T had notified the Speaker that the MDC Renewal MPs had ceased to be its members. Talk of the neighbours crying more than the bereaved!

Here is a classic case of a situation in which the single man offers to wipe the wet nose of the child while his mother is watching. Is it out of the goodness of his heart or is he eyeing the mother?

Where were Mandipaka and his fellow Zanu PF MPs in 2014, when the MDC-T tried, without success, to expel the MDC Renewal MPs? Back then, when the MDC-T effectively split, the MDC-T wrote to the Speaker declaring that those MPs who had defected had ceased to be its members and should therefore vacate their seats in terms of s. 129(1)(k) of the Constitution.

At the time, the Speaker refused to entertain the request, claiming that he had no power to make a determination over the membership of the affected MPs, who had also written to argue that they were still members of the legitimate MDC-T. The Speaker said this was a matter for the courts to settle. But in doing so, the Speaker had placed himself in a difficult position.

A year later, he has had to deal with a similar case, after Zanu PF expelled Didymus Mutasa and Temba Mliswa. Didymus Mutasa contested his expulsion but, taking a completely different attitude and approach to the one he had taken toward the MDC-T case, the Speaker proceeded to make a determination in respect of Mutasa’s case and decided that it had no merit. This is the very same thing that he had refused to do in the MDC-T case, saying he did not have the competence to deal with a dispute over membership.

Now the Speaker faces questions over the manner in which he has applied the rules. He has been accused of lacking in consistency and fairness. The news is that the MDC-T has re-launched its bid to get the MPs expelled, using the precedent in the Mutasa case. However, this is opposed by the MDC Renewal group, on the basis that they are the legitimate party.

It is in this context that Zanu PF has waded into the debate and asked the Speaker to deal with the matter and get the MDC Renewal group’s MPs expelled in terms of s. 129(1)(k). They are even using the language of sympathy towards the MDC-T and its leader, describing the MDC Renewal MPs as having betrayed Tsvangirai. This is very unusual on the Zimbabwean political landscape, to see Zanu PF sympathising with Tsvangirai.

But this is vintage Zanu PF, exploiting the free gift of division in the opposition. They have obviously calculated that it is in their interests to get the MDC Renewal MPs expelled. Given that the MDC parties have vowed not to participate in future elections unless there are reforms, Zanu PF will have a very good chance of winning most of the affected seats, thereby not only increasing their super-majority but also getting more seats on the Gravy Train and rewarding loyalists and cementing plans for the 2018 election.

And the more the opposition forces are divided, the better it is for Zanu PF. Rather than sit back and watch, Mandipaka and colleagues have decided to add fuel to the burning fire. In village parlance this type is called ana tinha dzirwe – those whose sole purpose is to urge others to fight against each other.

But you can’t blame Mandipaka and his Zanu PF colleagues. They are only doing what politicians must do in their trade – exploit the weaknesses of your opponent and raise your advantage. If your opponents leave themselves vulnerable, you would be stupid if you did not take advantage of it. Zanu PF are exploiting the fault-line in their main opponents’ edifice.

On the issue between the two MDC formations, at the end of the day, if all else has failed, political questions must be solved by political means.

Rather than perpetuate a long circus over who is legitimate and who is not, perhaps the one true and definitive way to determine legitimacy of representation in those affected constituencies is the old standard of political measurement, namely the election.

Indeed, if either side is so confident that they are the true and legitimate MDC-T and that they command the support of the people in the constituencies, should they not simply submit themselves to this oldest of political tests? Surely, whoever wins will earn the bragging rights and silence the other side for good?