In early 2008, a few months before the elections, opposition party supporters waited with bated breath on a meeting that could decide the country’s future, as the two factions of the MDC – anti-Senate and pro-Senate — met well into the night, trying to conjure a unity deal.
By NQABA MATSHAZI
Then, I was working for the Sunday News in Bulawayo and I was waiting for the outcome, which would be our lead story.
There was a nationwide power blackout on the day and at 10pm we still had nothing, making telephone calls those days a nightmare and this was exacerbated by the electricity outage.
As it was late, without our envisaged front page story, we were now forced to try and reconfigure the page layouts and decide on what would be the lead story.
Well after 10pm, a source called to confirm that the talks between the two formations, as they were known then, had collapsed and they will go for elections as different entities and the unanimity in the newsroom was that the opposition was doomed.
There was almost consensus among observers that the two parties would unite under the late Morgan Tsvangirai, as there were no ideological nor fundamental differences between them.
My source, who obviously had his own agenda, informed me that the talks between the two groups had collapsed because members from Matabeleland — particularly Thokozani Khupe and the late Thamsanqa Mahlangu — were fiercely opposed to any unity arrangement.
Khupe, many thought, was insecure and the return of the late Gibson Sibanda and Welshman Ncube threatened her position as the deputy of the MDC anti-Senate formation.
Mahlangu was eyeing the seat held by Sibanda and he had a lot to lose if the latter returned to the fold.
The animosity between the two camps grew and eventually MDC anti-Senate went it alone, while the pro-Senate group had an ill-fated romance with Arthur Mutambara.
It is left for the soothsayers and crystal ball gazers to tell us what could have happened had the two formations reunited.
Fast forward 10 years later and Khupe is again at the centre of what could be a sapping split for MDC-T, not that she is the problem, but this issue has come full circle and she finds herself, arguably on the wrong side of history.
Khupe may have a case to argue that she was the only elected deputy to Tsvangirai and morally she can demand that she becomes the acting president of the party.
On the other hand, her critics can argue that by appointing two more deputies, Tsvangirai effectively passed a vote of no confidence in her and he was only hamstrung by the party’s constitution from firing her.
When the sun was shining for her, Khupe was happy to endorse the one centre of power concept in the MDC-T, which put all the power in Tsvangirai and that proved her undoing.
This should serve as a lesson to others that in a democracy, power should never be vested in one person, but should be devolved as much as possible.
It was intriguing to hear Khupe arguing that she was a victim of violence and that she was pulling away from people who resort to force when they are politically defeated.
Ironically, she too benefited from that violence and was happy to keep quiet when it served her ends.
The 2005 MDC split was very violent and it paved the way for Khupe’s ascendancy to the deputy presidency.
She also calls for a return to constitutionalism, without a hint of irony, considering that in 2005, Tsvangirai went against the constitution, vetoed a resolution by his party and Khupe saw nothing wrong with that — it was expedient for her to ignore the constitution and back the late MDC-T leader because she stood to gain.
Then there was the dubious MDC-T women’s summit in Bulawayo, which was clandestinely held at Khupe’s Fast Climbers Restaurant, when other members had gone to Luveve, where the meeting was initially supposed to be held.
While sticking to constitutionalism is paramount, Khupe’s calls are disingenuous and self-serving as she is a direct beneficiary of flouting of that very document she purports to be upholding today.
There are legitimate concerns that she raises about sexism and tribalism that affect how far she can go.
We cannot escape from those, there is a glass ceiling for women and people from minority tribes and by belonging to both, Khupe suffers a double whammy.
At the burial of Tsvangirai, Khupe alleges she was labelled a dissident, an innocuous statement meaning someone who breaks from a collective, but in Zimbabwe it has tribal and genocidal connotations and she is right to scream blue murder.
We should not pretend that those who denounced her as a dissident did not know that and that points to a deep-seated problem, where resorting to tribalism when confronted with a problem is almost second nature.
It is for this reason that Khupe will have pockets of support, because there are some that genuinely believe she is being discriminated against because either she is not Shona or that she is a woman.
While Khupe has legitimate concerns, they can only be ironed out within the broader collective, instead of this scenario, where she looks like she is choosing to sulk, throwing a tantrum and with it risking the whole party.
She can claim to be the legitimate leader of the party, but the reality is that Nelson Chamisa has long stolen a march on her and the best thing she can do is be pragmatic and live to fight another day.
As Eddie Cross said, Khupe is fighting a lost battle.
This is not about my like or dislike for her, but being pragmatic and seeing the bigger picture.
In 2008, she failed to see the bigger picture, surely 10 years on, she is older and wiser and, with the benefit of hindsight, she knows why MDC-T failed to win in 2008 and she should be working to ensure that the events of a decade ago do not repeat themselves.
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