VPs Issue: Tsvangirai a student of Mugabe?: MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Friday took the world by surprise when he elevated rivals and national executive council members Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri to become party vice presidents.
They join substantive VP Thokozani Khuphe as co-VPs.
Tsvangirai, who is battling colon cancer, said this was aimed at energising the main opposition ahead of the gruelling campaign period for the 2018 elections.
He further denied he had anointed the rivals as his successors as it turns out he may not still be strong enough to see through what has turned an elusive dream to become the country’s president.
However, several theories have emerged around Tsvangirai’s move with some accusing the former prime minister of pulling a leaf from his nemesis President Robert Mugabe’s book.
By remaining party leader with apparent signs of fatigue and ailment, Tsvangirai sees it would be difficult to justify why he still remained party president, something which could cost the party yet another election.
The MDC-T leader still recalls how the party split in 2014 after his lieutenants accused him of clinging to power when he had shown barren leadership.
Likewise, appointing assistants was a way of hoodwinking his critics he was proactive in terms of ensuring leadership renewal in his party.
Another school of thought says by appointing two powerful politicians as he deputies, Tsvangirai could be playing the two party factions against each other as a self-preservation tactic.
By his own admission, Tsvangirai said Friday he decided to go against the MDC-T national council decision to appoint one VP as opposed to two.
He said this was an attempt to avoid “horse-trading” to the detriment of the party as it prepares for 2018.
“By putting them in those positions, Tsvangirai has set them up against each other,” said Harare-based political analyst, Kudzai Kwangwari.
“He will achieve the exact opposite of what he is aiming for. They are now smelling blood and will now go for broke. The stakes are now raised; these guys see they are now very close to power and will try by all means to get to the finishing line.”
The tactic of playing powerful party factions against each other has been perfected by President Mugabe over the years, observers say.
Similarly, Tsvangirai finds this a handy tool to redirect attention away from himself while he takes time to recover in time to catch up with the race for state house.
It is also thought elsewhere that none of the three deputies could take over party leadership after all, just like in Zanu PF where Mugabe has interchangeably elevated Vice Presidents Emmerson Mngangagwa and (former) Joice Mujuru who later discovered state house was very distant at the end.
By bloating his presidium to four, some say, Tsvangirai had turned another Robert Mugabe who has overloaded his inner circle to try to appease potential challengers to his job while putting them close enough to monitor their actions.
Media and development expert Tawanda Majoni sees double standards in Tsvangirai’s controversial decision.
“It’s confusing that Tsvangirai and his party have suddenly discovered the need for a bigger presidium,” he said.
“This contradicts the party position on bloated structures. It seems Tsvangirai wants to quash factional rebellion by appeasing the two who he has clashed with before. This would be critical to him given his health problems.
“The decision is also dangerous because he is not in good books with Khuphe. That means he is now surrounded by antagonistic vice presidency.”
Majoni says Tsvangirai has become a perfect Mugabe copycat after the 92 year old leader railroaded his party in 2014 to allow him to handpick his deputies while discarding the old system of elected VPs.
Masvingo based academic, Dr Takavafira Zhou feels the MDC-T leader could be right in trying to stabilise his party to avoid the often turbulent period preceding major polls.
“If the intention is to energise and unite the party and improve its efficiency and effectiveness, it is commendable but by no means should this imply a scenario applicable to MDC-T government as it is cumbersome and unnecessary liability,” he said.
“It is also our hope the appointments are a product of wide consultation so that they do not generate divisions they purportedly want to resolve along personality differences, gender and ethnicity.”
Others, however, feel that Tsvangirai, who has previously said Mugabe was once his hero and that he could have “killed” for him, resumed his admiration for the veteran ruler during the Government of National Unity. Mugabe has revealed that he, together with Tsvangirai, then Prime Minister and Arthur Mutambara, his deputy, used to drink tea at his offices during the GNU.