AN organisation, be it in business or politics, that does not have a succession plan is a danger to itself and its members.
When the MDC included in its constitution of 2000 a maximum of two five-year terms for its leaders, it was seen as a democratic force walking in the footsteps of South Africa’s ANC, which has provided the best form of democracy in Africa so far. It has had four presidents in a space of 15 years.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai at his party’s second congress in 2006 promised to hand over power once Zimbabwe was restored to full democracy.
He said he had no intention of holding on to power, adding that a new Zimbabwe had no room for life presidents.
However, the MDC has since amended its constitution, dropping clauses limiting the president and his deputy’s terms in office.
While sources revealed to the Zimbabwe Independent last week that the amendments were done without the approval of congress, as they were never brought before the people at the last congress in 2006, MDC legal secretary Innocent Gonese and secretary-general Tendai Biti refute this.
Gonese told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the amendments were discussed at the congress and approved as stipulated by the party constitution.
According to the MDC constitution, any amendments to the constitution require approval by at least two-thirds of delegates present and voting at the congress.
Asked why it was not on the list of amendments brought before the congress, which were widely publicised by the media and how the media could have missed such an important development, Gonese maintained that it was done at the congress.
He said while the party constitution did not have time limits, the new national constitution if approved –– for which they are proposing two five-year terms of office for the president –– safeguarded the country against those that might want to cling to power.
Biti said in a recent interview with The Standard that: “the constitution was amended at our last congress in 2006. The understanding was that when you are in a struggle, you do not concentrate on terms of office. But in government, our position has always been very clear; the terms of office for the members of the executive have to be limited.”
However, the MDC’s decision to drop the clause limiting the party president’s term of office has irked some political analysts, who believe that such a move was retrogressive, while others felt that the amendment was strategic.
Political analyst and newspaper columnist Alex Magaisa who is based in the UK said: “I think the strategy is clear –– Tsvangirai represents the face of the struggle being waged by the MDC; he is the prime minister in this coalition arrangement and removing him as the leader of the party at this stage would probably not serve its ends within the context of the bigger picture.
“It was necessary to retain him as leader but they could have made their task easier if their constitutional term limit had qualifications that would allow him to remain in office in the given circumstances, so long as the supporters were happy with that position.”
Eldred Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political scientist, did not share Magaisa’s view, saying: “It just does not make any sense. In my household I am father for life, we can’t transpose that Mugabe is the biological father of Zanu PF and Tsvangirai father of the MDC-T. Why should we start disaggregating only at national level (limit in the Zimbabwe Constitution)?”
Masunungure said the term limits were a good thing and the deletion of that clause was wrong.
“I have expressed displeasure at the deletion of that clause,” he said. “Whether it was done unilaterally or by the congress, that is not the point. The limit of two terms was a good thing. What is disturbing is the inherent goodness that is being disposed of.”
However, Masunungure strongly believes that Tsvangirai, whom he described as the “face of MDC, who symbolises democracy” would not be that reckless as to order that deletion.
When the constitution was written after the formation of the party in 1999, one of its authors said no one dreamt that Tsvangirai would not be in power 10 years later.
“So the two five-year terms made sense then. No one ever thought that 10 years on, Tsvangirai would not be ruling this country,” said the source. “Now that the two terms are about to come to an end before the next elections, MDC found itself in a dilemma. The question was, who else could take the MDC into government if Tsvangirai stepped down.”
Magaisa concurred when he said MDC was too ambitious when they wrote their constitution with term limits.
“I think in future any party or organisation needs to appreciate that the bigger picture is the goal that is sought to be achieved and that such a goal should not be derailed by technical issues,” he said.
Musunungure pointed out that any organisation that falls on one person is a weak institution.
“Are we saying there is not a single person out of the let’s say 200 000 that is capable. No, no, no –– that statement is tragic and mortal. That means that the leaders are weak. It is the task of the leaders to create new leaders out of followers,” he said.
Magaisa differed when he said when a party is in a struggle it needed resolute and experienced leadership, hence the need for continuity in order to achieve its goal, which is to be in power.
“It is unlikely that a party that is engaged in a struggle for power would want to deal with problems attendant upon leadership changes. There can be little doubt that Tsvangirai is the figurehead of the MDC struggle for power, indeed recognised across the world as the face of the pro-democracy struggle,” said Magaisa.
Masunungure criticised the media and civic society for failing to play the watchdog role, without bias.
He pointed out that the MDC should not be allowed to get away with such things just because the media and civic society, which are supposed to play the watchdog role, are suffering from a “founders syndrome”.
Not criticising or highlighting mistakes made by MDC, Masunungure said, would not help Zimbabwe and if not careful, might end up creating a “monster” in the long term.
“Autocracy comes in small doses – that is the nature of autocracy. If we accede to this cumulatively you will have a monster. Zimbabwe was not a dictatorship in 1980, 1990 and in 1995. It comes in small doses and accedes to this. The media was quiet when this was happening,” he said.
“There is something wrong, other people are cheering – but we must remember that what we cheer today, can be poisonous tomorrow. There are very few people that surrender power, Nelson Mandela (of South Africa) was an exception. Power is the forbidden fruit. If you eat it you will not want to let go.”
Masunungure said it was never too early for any political party to start discussing its succession plan or policy.
“In Africa, there is a tendency to treat certain individuals in politics as cult heroes or demi-gods, who can never do any wrong and Zimbabwe is no exception. Former legislator Paul Themba Nyathi wrote in 2008 in his article ‘Zanu PF, MDC cross-pollination cultures’ that it is because of such tendencies that Africa is littered with thousands of mass graves.
“Large elements in the media –– and civil society — are now portraying Tsvangirai as an untouchable in the Zanu PF succession race, who is to be protected at all costs,” he said.