Thursday, March 16, 2006

Stakes High for Second MDC Congoress

Just over two weeks after their rivals held their own congress, the anti-senate faction of the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai is set to hold their congress this weekend. Interestingly, the faction have extended invitations to Welshman Ncube and Gibson Sibanda the main architects of the pro-senate group.
The spokesman for Tsvangirai's faction of the MDC, Nelson Chamisa, told ZimOnline that they had written to Ncube, Sibanda and other officials of their faction inviting them to attend the congress scheduled to take place from March 18 to 19.

He said: "We have written to Sibanda and Ncube advising them that the congress of the MDC they were instrumental in forming takes place at the weekend . . . it will give them the opportunity to express any complaints they have with other members of the party. So we expect them to attend just like any other invited delegate."

But it is highly unlikely that Sibanda and Ncube, who together with Tsvangirai grew the MDC over six years into the most vibrant Zimbabwean opposition party ever, will take up the invitations, which their spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi yesterday described as "nothing serious".
No one has commented on the invitations as a concession by the Tsvangirai group yet. I don't see the move as that either, it is just diplomatic gesture. Of course I expect neither of the two to show up this weekend.

The success of this weekend is another subject on which there hasn't been much speculation. However, if ZANU-PF's actions in the runup to the congress are anything to go by, this weekend is going to be a major pain in the side for them. Over the the last two weeks, ZANU-PF has stepped their verbal and physical abuse of the MDC. More than a dozen influential MDC members were arrested at some point this week. Many if not all were held without charges, tortured, and then released with no word on their immediate future.

For their part, Tsvangirai & Co. have remained tight lipped about what developements they intend to discuss at their congress. My prediction is that much of the time will be spent working on the details of invigorating the party's fragile structures and mobilizing the grassroots base. MDC is going through an identity crisis of sorts right now. Not only are they stuck with senate issue (which really is more a question of electoral participation), but they must also tackle the major issue of deciding where their strongest base is going to be. The MDC had carved a nice niche for themselves as an "urban party." They've won virtually every election in most of the country's major urban areas in the party's six year lifespan.

Now neither of the party's factions have a decisive claim on the all too important urban electoral base. In fact ZANU-PF just won back the Chegutu mayoral races two weeks ago in a foreboding indication that the voting public is beginning to be enticed by the ZANU-PF message.

As if that is not enough already, Tsvangirai and friends must also confront perennial headaches that have dogged them through the years. One such issue is that of connecting their message to that of the lay people's needs. MDC has long been criticized of being an elitist party with separatist tendencies for not engaging the laity more intentionally. So they need to invent a new message which will ultimately evoke great resonance among the people. While they have plenty of fodder to choose from, the decisions they make in this area are of pivotal importance to the survival of the party on Zimbabwe's political landscape.

So now we wait to see how the weekend will unfold.

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