HARARE — Exiled senior Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) official Roy Bennett has called for a new leadership of the troubled opposition party, suggesting that Morgan Tsvangirai’s continued stay in power did not reflect the will of the people.
Delivering a sharp assessment in an interview with Business Day, he was at odds with the rest of the MDC-T’s top brass, who have endorsed the opposition leader.
Mr Tsvangirai has had the MDC-T change its constitution, which limits the leader to only two terms, saying he would stay on as party president for as long as the rank and file wanted him to.
"Mr Tsvangirai has served two terms and is nearly completing a third," Mr Bennett said. "Deep introspection needs to be undertaken by our national collective leadership, not for purposes of looking for scapegoats, but for our party to reinvigorate its leadership with a leadership which reflects the will of our people."
Mr Bennett, who served eight months of a one-year jail sentence in Zimbabwe after coming to blows with then justice minister Patrick Chinamasa in 2004 during a parliamentary debate, has been living in exile in South Africa for the past three years.
He fled to South Africa in September 2010 before the Zanu (PF) government could arrest him on renewed charges of treason.
Efforts to have him return to Zimbabwe to take the deputy minister of agriculture position given to him by the MDC-T in the unity government, were sabotaged by President Robert Mugabe.
Mr Bennett has remained a key figure and strong fundraiser for the party, having been re-elected treasurer-general in absentia at the MDC-T’s congress in 2011.
"Regrettably some within our leadership, as in the case with many political parties, do not wish the grassroots democratic will of the people to prevail," he said.
Party insiders say Mr Bennett’s questioning of Mr Tsvangirai’s leadership has brought to the surface the "unspoken differences and disgruntlement" that has been brewing in MDC-T structures for some time.
The fissures also surfaced during the party’s election campaign, with allegations being made of imposed candidates and factionalism. The Manicaland executive absconded from Mr Tsvangirai’s "star rally" in the province in protest against his imposition of candidates there.
It remains unclear if Mr Tsvangirai will seek a fourth term as party leader. His spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka on Tuesday said the prerogative (for an extended term) was in the hands of the party and the elective congress due to take place in 2016.
"The congress will determine that, but so far it has reaffirmed the position of Mr Tsvangirai as party leader."
However, political analyst Simukai Tinhu said a further manipulation of the party constitution to cushion Mr Tsvangirai’s presidency bid would set off alarm bells and provide cannon fodder to his political opponents.
"Mr Tsvangirai has already once amended his party’s constitution to allow him to have a third term as leader.
"Hanging on to the MDC-T leadership for yet another term would no doubt provide ammunition to Zanu (PF), which could paint him as hypocritical, while western supporters would no doubt find it more difficult to back a man engaging in undemocratic practices within his own party," said Mr Tinhu.
While asking for a reinvigoration of the party, Mr Bennett pointed out that the MDC-T still enjoyed support at grassroots levels and ruled out the possibility of a fresh split in the party.
"There might be differences at leadership level, as … in most democratic political parties, but at grassroots levels the MDC-T continues to be strong and united."
Meanwhile, the MDC-T is scheduled to hold its 14th anniversary celebrations in Sakubva stadium in Mutare on Saturday.
A defiant Mr Tsvangirai intimated that he would keep his grip on power and said: "For 14 years, the MDC-T has fought a brutal dictatorship using democratic means and will not relent. We are here to stay."
Mr Tamborinyoka said the event would celebrate the founding of the MDC-T.