ZIMBABWE’S political landscape has for years been characterised by violence.
Most of the violence is cross party, but in recent times, infighting linked to succession wars in political parties has been taking centre stage.
President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF and its biggest opposition, the MDC-T led by Morgan Tsvangirai, have recorded the highest cases.
In Zanu PF, fights between factions reportedly led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa have been rampant, while in the MDC-T, violence has also occurred between Tsvangirai loyalists and those linked to a faction allegedly led by party secretary general and former Finance minister Tendai Biti.
Observers, although they did not condone the violence from Zanu PF that has left Zimbabwe a paranoid society, thought the emergence of the MDC-T with emphasis on democratic change would help the situation. But the hope is dying faster than it was conceived.
In last year’s elections, both Zanu PF and MDC-T experienced ugly scenes of intra-party violence due to jostling by aspiring legislators to represent the parties in the July 31 general elections that were won by Zanu PF.
Zanu PF supporters clashed across the country, notably in Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo’s constituency as he battled to shake off stiff challenge from his ex-wife Marian and Mugabe’s nephew, Edwin Matibiri.
This led to demonstrations at party headquarters as the infighting turned nasty. The same was happening in the MDC-T, tempers flared as a result of alleged imposition of candidates.
Still, the selection of candidates to represent the parties in the general elections by the parties was enshrouded by leadership fights between factions angling themselves to succeed Mugabe (Zanu PF) and Tsvangirai of the MDC-T.
Observers say the violence has the blessings of the party leaders, who want to keep a stranglehold on power and could only be stemmed by political will from these leaders.
Most people think dealing with intra-party violence is the first step in dealing with cross-party violence that has been crippling the body politic in Zimbabwe.
In 2008, over 300 people died, according to the MDC-T, while thousands where displaced due to violence unleashed by Zanu PF on its longtime rival.
But at a time when it was thought the people should bury their differences and focus on the economy, the ugly face of violence has resurfaced. Zimbabwe remains a politically polarised society.
While Zanu PF officials are in a housing war in Chitungwiza that has left some of its supporters homeless, the MDC-T is embroiled in a bitter succession war that has seen a lot of party bigwigs publicly calling for Tsvangirai’s ouster.
First to come out in the open was exiled party treasurer Roy Bennet. He has received support from Marondera Central losing parliamentary candidate Ian Kay, and a lot of others who think it is time up for Tsvangirai after a poor electoral show in last year’s general elections.
But party deputy treasure Elton Mangoma could not get away with it after he wrote a letter calling for Tsvangirai’s resignation. He was bashed by party youths at the party’s Harvest House headquarters in Harare on Saturday. Biti was also targeted for attack.
This flies in the face of claims by the party that it is democratic and tolerates divergent views; the reason why the labour backed party was formed to fight Zanu PF, which had for years been accused of dictatorial tendencies.
Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire, who was Zanu PF Masvingo provincial chairman, spent more than a decade in the political wilderness for publicly saying Mugabe should go.
A similar plot, now known as the Tsholotsho debacle set up to fight Mugabe’s leadership also claimed several scalps. Similarly, the MDC’s split into three parties could be traced to succession battles. Several provincial chairpersons had to pay the price.
But the MDC-T seems to have been borrowing notes from Zanu PF in building a personality cult out of the party leader. It is capital offence to challenge the party leader.
The MDC-T has, however, said it will investigate the assault of Mangoma, but analysts say the party leadership condones violence and does not have the capacity to stem the scourge.
Analysts say the party failed to investigate and bring to book perpetrators of past violence and there was no guarantee it would bring to book the culprits of the weekend violence.
Charity Manyeruke, University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, said the weekend violence was a leadership fight that was sanctioned by the party’s leadership and dealing with it would be a mammoth task.
“It will be like the leaders fighting against themselves,” Manyeruke said.
“The MDC-T at the moment has no capacity to deal with intra-party violence. It’s violence within the leadership and redressing it will be problematic.”
Leader of MDC 99, an offshoot of the original MDC, Job Sikhala said violence was in the bloodstream of the MDC-T and anyone who wants to challenge Tsvangirai would be subjected to such physical abuse.
He said violence was sanctioned by party leaders who are the “commanders and sponsors” of the heinous acts.
“If people think the MDC will be able to deal with it, they will be dreaming. More internal violence will be experienced. Violence has been a problem in the MDC right from the beginning,” Sikhala said.
“There have been several investigations on violence, including a report by David Coltart on violence in the MDC, but nothing has happened. The party is run by a group of thugs who thrive on violence. Zanu PF is better because there is discipline. No one can do what happened at the weekend in the face of Mugabe.”
Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya yesterday dismissed the MDC-T’s commitment to dealing with the perpetrators of the weekend violence saying it was evident the party had failed to stem the plague.
“It is apparent the MDC is failing to deal with violence,” Ruhanya said.
“The MDC has failed to address the issue of violence in its rank and file. They must convince the public that they are serious about peaceful political activities and the respect for human rights. They should walk the talk by taking concrete measures that stop violence once and for all.”
Ruhanya said the MDC leadership should stand firm against violence to resolve internal conflict if they want to avoid the risk of being accused of being the authors of the violence. He said stifling dissent was undemocratic.
Despite a statement by MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora promising to deal with the perpetrators of the weekend violence, “if in fact they are MDC-T supporters”, people now doubt the ability and sincerity of the party in eradicating violence.
In the past, the MDC witnessed internal fights and reports of the investigations had been made public, but no action against the perpetrators was taken.
Serious infighting broke out at the Bulawayo 2011 congress and a report was compiled, but no disciplinary measures were taken against the perpetrators.
Earlier on, several cases of infighting were recorded. In 2005 at the time the MDC split into two parties, one led by Tsvangirai and the other by his former secretary-general Welshman Ncube, several members were assaulted, including Trudy Stevenson, who was accused of being too combative against Tsvangirai.
Several cases of violence were recorded at the party’s headquarters, where Mangoma was assaulted at the weekend, but still, no action has been taken.
The many cases that have gone unresolved have cast doubt in the minds of sceptics on the ability of the MDC-T to deal with internal perpetrators of violence.
Dewa Mavhinga, board chairperson for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch said violence was criminal and if the party was failing to deal with it, the perpetrators should be handed over to the police.
He said violence should be unacceptable to a party that is guided by democratic principles.
“Political violence is not only wrong, it is also criminal, so, if internal systems of accountability are inadequate, they should let the police investigate and bring the culprits to book,” Mavhinga said.
“The MDC leadership must take drastic measures to bring the perpetrators of this shameful violence to book. This time we expect a very public process of discipline to nip this practice of impunity in the bud.”
Political analyst Ernest Mudzengi said the MDC –T is capable of dealing with violence provided there is a political will to do so.
“The MDC-T can deal with violence provided there is a political will on the part of leadership,” Mudzengi said.
He said the part needed to establish a culture of tolerating divergent views, a democratic culture and to develop a unity of purpose in order to stem the scourge.
Mwonzora was not picking calls, but Mangoma maintained that the violence was a well-planned act.
Already, conflicting statements about the weekend violence could be indicative of that the party will still fail to deal with the case.
Mangoma maintained he was set up by Tsvangirai for attack by the youth. Mwonzora confirmed in his statement that Mangoma was assaulted and that the party would probe the assault, although he blames infiltration by Zanu PF as the cause.
But Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka denies his boss was complicit in Mangoma’s attack. He said the MDC-T leader’s hands were clean, claiming he actually saved the deputy treasurer-general from the restive youths.
Manyeruke’s observation that the infighting in MDC-T is a leadership issue could be true after all.