THE MDC-T may be headed for another split after its deputy president Thokozani Khupe yesterday allegedly organised protests in Bulawayo against party leader Morgan Tsvangirai's decision to boycott by elections set for June 10.
The province is considered the party's stronghold as it is the only one in the country where MDC-T had a clean sweep in both council and parliamentary elections during the 2013 harmonised elections.
Party insiders told The Chronicle that Khupe is mobilising to push a vote of no confidence against Tsvangirai. Fierce clashes erupted during a rally at Stanley Square yesterday with members of MDC-T factions aligned to Khupe and former Mzilikazi Senator Matson Hlalo stoning and clubbing each other.
Tsvangirai, who was supposed to address supporters at the rally, reportedly developed cold feet at the last minute when he was informed there would be demonstrations against him.
MDC-T secretary Douglas Mwonzora turned up instead. Journalists fled for dear life as knobkerrie- wielding youths clashed. Party youths carrying knobkerries, bricks and an assortment of weapons chanted obscenities at each other and threatened to attack journalists who they barred from attending the rally.
A freelance journalist, Auntony Zinyange, was assaulted by MDC-T youths for taking pictures of the violent proceedings.
His colleagues from other media houses were forced to seek refuge at nearby houses in Makokoba.
The Khupe faction was angered by placards that were being waved by Hlalo's supporters accusing Khupe of trying to impose deputy mayor Gift Banda on the province.
Banda was recently barred by the High court from being Bulawayo provincial chairman after Hlalo contested his election.
The Khupe faction allegedly wanted to take Tsvangirai to task about the party's national executive committee and national council's decision to endorse a boycott of by-elections.
Five parliamentary seats fell vacant in Bulawayo following the recall of 21 rebel MDC-T MPs last month.
Khupe's faction is against the boycott as it felt the party would win the Bulawayo seats.
Hlalo's faction supports Tsvangirai's boycott.
Party sources said Khupe refused to address the rally on behalf of Tsvangirai at an earlier meeting held at a city hotel. Traffic flow was disrupted along the busy 3rd Avenue extension that leads into the city centre as motorists, fearing for their safety, used Khami Road.
Some of the party youths accused Khupe of foisting Banda onto the provincial chairmanship post yet he was barred by the courts from assuming the position.
Others supported Khupe and accused Hlalo of taking Tsvangirai and the party to court over the Bulawayo chairmanship.
Hlalo's supporters were eventually kicked out of Stanley Square. The party's spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora and Khupe arrived at the rally six hours later as the clashes died down. Hlalo's supporters said they did not want to be addressed by the pair.
They said Mwonzora was part of the Khupe faction and would not say anything positive about Tsvangirai.
A member of the faction said Khupe had tried to force them to sign a petition to support Banda for the provincial chairmanship and form new structures in the party's districts.
"They lied to us that Tsvangirai was coming to Bulawayo. They wanted us to sign petition forms to support Banda in court. We will not support Banda because we never voted for him and he was ordered by the court not to assume the chairmanship. He was brought by Khupe from nowhere and now we're being forced to accept him. We don't want him here," said the supporter who accused Khupe of dividing the party.
A Khupe supporter, who declined to be named, accused the other group of accepting bribes to create chaos at the rally. "We don't want these people led by Hlalo because he is a rebel. How can he insist that he's a member of the party yet he is taking the party and its leader to court and fuelling divisions within the party," he said.
The party's Bulawayo offices were defaced by suspected Khupe supporters, demanding that Hlalo, Bulawayo Central MP Dorcas Sibanda and the MDC–T Veterans Activists Association (VAA) to stay out of the party affairs.
The anti-VAA graffiti was sprinkled across the precast wall in bright bold spray-paint before the walls were quickly re-painted.
After the 2013 elections, the party's offices in Bulawayo were defaced with red spray-paint by unknown people calling for leadership renewal.