Who will succeed Tsvangirai?

HARARE - Four months after the MDC’s devastating electoral defeat, the rhythm of politics in the opposition party makes one’s head spin.

Irreconcilable social forces are on the move and tending towards a clash. The moment for clarity has arrived.

Among all the candidates vying for the MDC presidency, Tendai Biti, Nelson Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe clearly have the edge when it comes to a real shot at the top MDC job after Morgan Tsvangirai is gone.

It is trite to note right at the outset that Tsvangirai has a mandate which runs until 2016.

The MDC leader has not stifled leadership renewal debate, but called for internal MDC discourse, not in the press.

This is worrying and wrong at so many levels. There must be free and open debate on MDC succession, even in the press, without fear of opprobrium.

It seems, the MDC, just like Zanu PF, is averse to succession debate.

But it need not be this way.

Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai are not ordained to rule forever and this discourse is healthy to Zimbabwe’s democracy.

Pundits of every political stripe have commented on Engineer Elias Mudzuri’s dream to take over the leadership of the MDC while Tsvangirai — an opposition leader with star quality — is still at the helm.

If events at the MDC congress held in 2011 at Barbourfields Stadium are anything to go by, then Mudzuri’s shot at the presidency is a very, very long shot indeed.

Those familiar with events in the MDC will attest that Mudzuri does not stand a chance of a snowball in hell against Tsvangirai at the extraordinary congress being mooted.

Mudzuri will be buried by Tsvangirai, the same way the Harvard-educated engineer was vanquished by Chamisa.

At the 2011 congress, the MDC party overwhelmingly elected Chamisa as its new organising secretary, handing the veteran incumbent and  former Harare mayor a humiliating defeat.

After the loud crowd reaction that followed Chamisa’s victory and Mudzuri’s vanquishing, even the most jaded political reporters admit that the former ICT minister is something rare and special.

In each generation, a few public figures come along who have a personal magnetism that makes strangers care deeply about them. Call it star power, call it charisma, this infrequent gift is akin to the power that great actors have. And Chamisa has that magical quality.

Chamisa is able to turn a room full of strangers into a community rich in shared meaning, just as a great actor creates such a community within a theatre.

Chamisa articulates a vision for the MDC that those in the audience can quickly make their own. He has amazing power of garb.

Charismatic leaders and their followers are interdependent; they feed and energise each other.

The transformational leader gives the audience hope and makes it believe that, together, they can create a better future.

Biti, Zimbabwe’s immediate past Finance minister, also has that star quality.

Biti’s rhetoric is always suffused with optimism. He purveys not fear, but shining new possibilities.

The football-loving lawyer was the chief negotiator of the power-sharing deal with Zanu PF, which culminated in the 2009-2013 inclusive government, where he displayed unparalleled leadership.

The lawyer has been instrumental in civil society start-ups, including of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the National Constitutional Assembly, which has been campaigning for a new constitution but has been transmogrified into an opposition political party.

Just like Chamisa, Biti is a former union leader at the University of Zimbabwe, who loves shooting from the hip against opponents.

He has been credited as a steady hand on the economic till.

But critics say he is undiplomatic, bookish and lacks the chemistry to connect with the crowds with ease, a major strength of both Tsvangirai and Chamisa. 

The feisty Khupe, who was Tsvangirai’s running mate in the last general poll, is another dark horse.

As vice president, Khupe is an MDC leader who must be ready to step in and be president if anything happens to Tsvangirai. No doubt, Khupe’s working-class roots and media experience has helped Tsvangirai.

She is a holder of a degree in Information Technology from Turin College in Italy. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies.

Contrary to widely-held belief, Khupe is extremely popular in the MDC.

At the last MDC congress, she polled 3 047 votes for the MDC vice presidency, defeating Thabita Khumalo who garnered a lowly 99 votes and Norman Mabhena’s 347 votes.

Khupe has deep roots in the trade union movement. She served in the Zimbabwe Amalgamated Railway Union (Zaru) from the 80s, where she cut her teeth in trade union politics in 1987.

In 1991 she was elected secretary for the ZCTU Women’s Advisory Council and also a General Council member of the ZCTU.

Khupe, 49, a single mother of three — twins aged 28 and a teen daughter aged 18 — is known for her plain-spoken approach and penchant for speaking from the cuff, and she has taken the traditional vice presidential candidate’s role of political attack dog with amazing gusto.

She is a loyal deputy to Tsvangirai and has wormed her way into the hearts of MDC supporters because of the powerful personal story she shares, for her deep knowledge of women affairs, and for her long record of exemplary service in the trade union movement.

In October of 2010, she was elected president for the United Nations Aids/Global Women Power Network for Africa — an arm of the powerful world body responsible for creating a new and sustainable network of female legislators and ministers from Africa to fight HIV/Aids and implement the agenda for accelerated country action at national and regional levels.

A leader in the 8th Zimbabwe House of Assembly, she cuts a figure of a proud person to those who do not know her. But she is in fact a very decent, caring and humble mother.

Khupe’s overwhelming endorsement with little effort that left her challengers languishing way down in the polls, was an endorsement that really matters.

Although politicians cultivate and covet such endorsements for their value as publicity and evidence of momentum, Khupe’s actual power is real.

She did not need to do hours of blabber to win casual uncommitted voters.

Critics say she owes her position to gender and her tribe. Like Zanu PF, the MDC has maintained a delicate tribal balancing act in its presidium, ensuring the vice president is Ndebele.

But besides this requirement, Khupe is actually very popular if the last MDC congress is anything to go by.

But in the current campaign, the  favourite in the succession race is clearly Chamisa.

The camera loves him. His supporters love him. He has a special chemistry with the rank-and-file, especially in the rural areas. Chamisa has a strong rural background, which he has used to his advantage.

It is the cacophony that greets him whenever he is introduced that  always fazes reporters.

There is a feeling that Chamisa — a natural leader — stands a good chance to be the next MDC leader.

He has bided for time, staunchly rallying behind Tsvangirai even at his lowest. The MDC leader also has a soft spot for him and there is talk he would love to relinquish power to him if the former trade unionist feels his time is nigh.

Chamisa’s unique capacity to inspire should not be undervalued.

Before the MDC picks its next leader at congress in three years time, voters should give great weight to what a candidate with charisma would bring to the table.

Just like Tsvangirai himself, his charisma is infectious.

But doesn’t history caution against putting faith in a charismatic leader?

True, some of history’s worst villains — Adolf Hitler, of course, springs to mind — have been dangerous demagogues with a stranglehold on their public’s fears and aspirations, which they have abused for their own wicked, self-aggrandising schemes.

A far more mundane disappointment in charismatic individuals is that they sometimes reveal themselves to have been smooth-tongued empty suits without the capacity to deliver results.

But not Chamisa. He has done exceptionally well as the party spokesperson and minister of ICT.

He has amassed a string of degrees, with the latest being a masters degree in international relations.

He already has  a degree in political science and has one semester left to complete his Law degree.

There is a sense that he is too young, but one has to look at the new breed of leaders in emerging democracies the world over. At the next congress, Chamisa will be 37.

Some say Biti will have to square-off with Chamisa for the big prize at the next congress where Tsvangirai is expected to step down after serving 17 years as president.

That will be a battle of the titans. But even if Chamisa loses that next MDC presidential vote, he has age on his side.

In Chamisa, it seems there is an unusually strong character and good temperament — thus negligible risk of demagoguery.

But yes, even voters who find him spellbinding are well advised to satisfy themselves about his and any candidate’s character.

Moreover, the capacity to deliver results is essential.

And in his capacity as organising secretary, particularly in these times of great challenge; it is precisely in this regard that many believe his extraordinary capacity to inspire would empower him to lay the groundwork for his final bid for the presidency.

His ability to deliver solutions for the extraordinary range of problems the MDC faces, including getting over the July 31 disaster and proving the attendant ballot fraud claims, intra-party violence, sliding popularity ratings, will define his future.

An inspirational leader could restore a sense of agency to the MDC, imbuing it with the confidence it so desperately needs as it goes into the decisive phase of the struggle against Zanu PF.

Not to say Tsvangirai has failed, far from it.

Chamisa no doubt has the star quality if the audience reaction at several MDC rallies is anything to go by.

Comments (19)

Chamisa will be a great leader n i belive a lot of pple will vote fo him and he seems not to be tainted at the moment and zanu will have to be on their feet if they are win post mugabe era, good luck Chamisa n m impressed with your educational qualifications.

leeroy - 13 November 2013

I think it would be proper if we have Chamisa as president, Khupe as Vice president, Tendai Biti as the Treasurer. With Biti as treasurer we are asured that the finance of not only the party and of the country are in safe hands and we know that investors will pour into the country like hailstorm. I am not saying that Chamisa is better than Biti but what we would like is someone who can give investors the confidence as far as monetory policies are concerned and Biti would be the right person. He has proved himself beyong reasonable doubt that he has got the qualities. Maybe we can after 10 years have Biti as the President.

Asekuru - 13 November 2013

Strive Masiyiwa is the next M D C-T leader

Colonel - 13 November 2013

Chamisa's undoing is his naivety. Those who have attended MDC-T rallies have observed that the youngster gets carried away with his trademark jokes to the extent that he wastes precious time on petty matters which are only of an entertainment value rather than in charting the way forward by enunciating party programs for the future. His age will also make him not eligible for the national presidency in 2018 as he will be only 39. Nelson Chamisa performed dismally as organizing secretary. It was under his watch that the 2013 MDC-T primary elections were tainted with massive rigging and vote-buying. Strangers with the financial wherewithal ended up winning the primary elections ahead of authentic and hard-boiled foot soldiers who had worked faithfully for the party from its inception. Chamisa needs to grow up. It's no use just growing old without any proper maturity.

Boorangoma - 13 November 2013

Nonsense, Sambiri fore ever

Madhunduru vepagatsi - 13 November 2013

well observed boorongoma, chamisa is immature

pops - 13 November 2013

so did jona msorobanga moyo cut the daily news a check too? when this paper splashes this much ink on the succession of a party that is not in power but is mum on the voters roll, the massive rigging. mugarbage is president of zambabwe, a national issue. his continued thievery is what needs media attention. what the mdc does as a private party is the business of the party members. everyone gets a say on this at party election or national election time

galante1 - 13 November 2013

Boorangoma has clearly articulated where Chamisa fell shot. Maturity inodiwa, imvi dzechembere kwete dzenzara kana dzinza.

imvidzechembere walaz - 13 November 2013

the writer has failed to realsie that zims body politic no longer has avenues for dissent,July 31 ushered in a new era,for zimbos.WE ARE NOW A ONE PARTY STATE.ONE WOULD NEED TO IMBIBE GALLONS AND GALLONS OF WHISKY TO ENVISAGE A zANU-PF-LESS GOVERNMENT.

roka fella - 13 November 2013

All those people who think Tsvangirayi should step down as MDC T leader because of 31st July elections apparent failure , should keep in mind that ZANU PF cheated in the elections and stole the votes from MDC T. The elections were massively rigged and the election results were soooo exagerated that Mugabe won resoundingly much to the surprise of the whole of Zimbabwe. The election results are a big fraud and every Zimbabwean knows this. Tsvangirayi must not be blamed for losing elections, and also the whole top leadership of MDC T should also not be blamed for losing elections because votes were stollen from them by ZANU PF because ZANU PF wants to destroy MDC T. The big mistake that MDC T did in 2008 was to join the GNU and they allowed themselves to be used by ZANU PF to rescue Zimbabwe's economy which had nose dived to the ground. ZANU PF knew that the economy was so damaged because of their misrule and massive corruption for 33 years that is why they invited MDC T to join them in the GNU. So when ZANU PF had used MDC T to revive the economy , they then dumped MDC T on 31st July when ZANU PF decided to cheat in elections , win the elections and then dump the MDC T on the way side. If MDC T had not joined the GNU , the economy would not have been rescued , ZANU PF would have been very unpopular with Zimbabweans .

Rhino Horn - 13 November 2013

Your analysis seems biased to favor charisma etc , Isnt that the reason why we fail. We vote clowns instead of thinkers.Africa is in need of people with ideas that can give us some competitive advantage on the world stage and not just funny jokes etc. I admit charisma is a key part of electability but surely to base a vote on that is dangerous. America and other countries can afford to have charismatic leaders as their systems are well established to protect them from abuse of power and leaders dont wield too much power to make their decisions fatal unlike in Zw where our leaders are the law..we need to proceed with caution.

Zuze - 13 November 2013

I agree totally with Rhino Horn. Those that are calling for leadership renewal of the MDC-T are just bent on destroying the party. You dont have to be a rocket scientist to know that the MDC be it T,N or Q or whatever is synonymous with Morgan Tsvangirai. The Ncubes, the Bitis, Chamisas ride on the back of Tsvangirai. None of them has the popular appeal of Save. The masses recognise Tsvangirai that is why opposition forces within the opposition party itself and their handlers in the ruling party are calling for Tsvangirai to go. No opposition leader since Independence has ever given ZPF a run for their money and won hands down bar the rigging that denied him the office. Instead of focusing on useless succession issues, the opposition should be mobilising resources for the masses and helping to feed Zimbabwe and consolidating their appeal to the rural masses. They should be out there on the ground making their presence known even in the areas they supposedly "lost" in the elections. They have to be part of the rescue efforts for the economy whilst at the same time pushing for political reforms an civil governance reforms that will give them a chance at a fair election (if the country survives that long) in 2016.

Blessing - 13 November 2013

Please tell me you are joking kana kuti watambidzwa brown envelope. Is this the Nelson Chamisa that we all know or it's another one? The same Chamisa that went to UZ through mature entry after failing to cut the grade and ending up studying for a Marketing Diploma at Harare Polytechnic? And now you say he has amassed a string of degrees as if to say he is brainy fella or as if to say degrees matter in leadership. The same Chamisa who has failed to build the MDC support base as the party's Organisinf Secretary. Now please tell me Mr Journalist, how many active supporters does the MDC have in it's data base today? And how many were there in 2008? And since you talk about the trend of young leaders emerging the world over, have you ever checked the records of achievement of those young leaders before they seek political leadership? And what has Chamisa ever done? President of ZINASU and that's his claim to fame? Oh please! Chamisa's record as Organising Secretary is atrocious and I personally blame him for the party's poor showing at the election. Listen to the party's real supporters on the ground and you will hear horrifying stories of how he manipulated the party primary elections to push through his 2016 agenda. Don't take us for fools because we know how divisive that boy is. have you ever asked yourself why he is called Wamba or Cobra?

yemurai manunure - 13 November 2013

Guys don't be distracted.The question should be WHO WILL SUCCED MUGABBAGE?

Guest 001 - 13 November 2013

ladies and gentlemen, this is politics. let us not forget that there is nothing called permanent friendship and neither are they permanent enemies. simple. So this could be one of those cases in which the inner circle in the M.D.C party is fueling all the unnecessary succession wars. This leads nowhere but to factionalism and i would wish to think that when the party is at weakest in terms of political will its therefore pointless to be fault-finding. I am no M.D.C fan but with all the media reports of Tsvangirai's succession, its no secret that the party is crumbling.

Mafi - 13 November 2013

From the outset I should state, this is a well articulated article. Your bias towards Charisma a word which you have made synonomos with Chamisa is understandable. However I believe that Chamisa's limitations have been rightly put forward. He did oversee a shambolic primary process and has demonostated some undemocratic tendencies. Meanwhile Biti to those of us who have had the privildege of working with him can tell you he is uncompromising, saying he is not diplomatic is a euphamisism for saying he can be at the best time difficult to deal with. However he only expects people around him to work as hard as he does. In a leader for a country that is facing a tough economic environment we do not need a pretty face. We need a leader that can steer us through the tough times. I belive that if we had Biti at the helm with Chamisa as Sec General and a techoncrat such as Tawanda Nyambirai at tresurer we would be better off.

Knowledge Manyika - 13 November 2013

While discussions such as this are inevitable lets not lose sight of the real issue here. The real issue is that change is healthy, very healthy. When we get obsessed with individuals we risk creating monsters.

Jose - 14 November 2013

The article does not appear balanced. It seems like a media ploy to tilt the scales in favour of Chamisa. Does the number of degrees make one a good leader.

Kudz - 14 November 2013

I tend to go along with Knowledge Manyika. President Tsvangirai should be an advisor.

Reality Chengetai - 14 November 2013

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