Zimbabwe’s largest trade union federation is backing ailing MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to be the opposition’s presidential candidate in the looming elections.
Tsvangirai, who is currently receiving chemotherapy treatment in South Africa, has been the face of opposition parties for almost two decades.
He is also the leader of the MDC Alliance, a coalition of seven political parties that have also endorsed his candidature in the pending elections.
Notwithstanding intense jockeying behind the scenes by his lieutenants to take over the reins — he still enjoys support from the ZCTU, a key ally of his MDC.
ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo told the Daily News that while they are not interested in influencing leadership positions — they would gladly nominate Tsvangirai if they are given a chance.
“We don’t decide for any political party, workers in ZCTU belong to different political parties and they make their own decisions.
“We don’t make decisions for political parties, but if we are invited to make a decision, we will be glad to make a decision, we can contribute if we are invited.
“However, the question now is, do we have to talk about someone taking over when we don’t have a vacancy? This is not the time. We don’t believe that we should be debating that for now, there is no vacancy because he is still there and must continue,” Moyo said.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said Tsvangirai, and even those who religiously back him, must accept that he is now worn out and cannot withstand the rigours of election campaigning.
“In his condition, as portrayed in the media, I don’t think he can sustain a gruelling election campaign. I don’t think it is prudent to field him as a candidate, it is an act of cruelty to field him.
“The verdict should be that he retires and passes on the baton to someone who is elected through an electoral process, they should not appoint a successor, it’s an archaic route, but his constituency should lead the process,” Masunungure said.
Before plunging into politics, Tsvangirai was the secretary-general of ZCTU — and led workers during the 1997 mass protests. He survived an assassination attempt on his life when some unidentified men tried to throw him from his 10th floor offices during the same year.
Since the turn of the millennium, Tsvangirai was the symbol of resistance to Zanu PF’s rule. He had humble beginnings as a former mine worker and later trade unionist who joined hands with students, churches, and civic society to form the MDC in 1999.
In 2008, Tsvangirai won the popular vote, and after a six-week delay, the results were announced showing that he did not garner enough votes for an outright victory.
The ensuing presidential election run-off was, however, marred by several irregularities — including acts of intimidation and violence against his supporters. The former trade unionist was forced to withdraw, and the international community backed him, forcing Mugabe into a coalition government.
In the coalition government, Tsvangirai shared power with Mugabe as prime minister but his stint in government came to an end in 2013 when he was trounced by the latter in an election he again alleged was marred by several irregularities.
A charismatic public speaker, Tsvangirai is still the winning brand for the opposition, with political analysts unanimous that whoever succeeds him would face a mammoth task to fit his shoes.
Spokesperson of the MDC Alliance Welshman Ncube, who is also leader of the smaller MDC faction, has told the Dialy News that the seven parties in the coalition back Tsvangirai.
At its strategic retreat last weekend to prepare for the forthcoming elections, the MDC Alliance came up with Tsvangirai’s campaign itinerary.
Ncube indicated that the MDC Alliance is continuing with its meetings — with Tsvangirai represented by his deputy and founding MDC top member Nelson Chamisa, who is also heavily tipped to take over the party leadership in the post-Tsvangirai era.
Other contenders for the job are Thokozani Khupe, a trade unionist and the MDC’s vice president, and former Harare mayor Elias Mudzuri, who is currently the acting rotating president. Dark horses include the party’s secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora and deputy chairperson Morgen Komichi.
“We agreed that we should immediately start the campaigns with a rally in Harare’s Glen View suburb on Saturday and then Epworth on Sunday. This will be followed up by a star rally in Mutare while the organising team comes up with dates for other venues,” Ncube said.