Tsvangirai’s statement renewed speculation of a growing rift between the two MDC-T leaders.
Speaking to journalists in Bulawayo on Friday, Tsvangirai did little to quell the reports of a power struggle between the two leaders who continue to seemingly give diametrically opposed policy views, with some claiming that it was symptomatic of factional fighting within the party.
“It is mischievous to say Biti can deny people money because the money is not his,” Tsvangirai said.
He, however, said the rift between Biti and himself was imaginary and people were misinterpreting statements he made.
Matters came to a head in the past few weeks when Tsvangirai gave a statement that seemed to contradict Biti’s regarding a salary freeze for civil servants. Tsvangirai said the wage freeze was not government policy, while Biti insisted government could ill-afford an upward review of salaries.
However, in another instance, Biti was reportedly dressed down by Elton Mangoma, a senior MDC-T official, who warned him to tone down his attacks on President Robert Mugabe. There was speculation that the Energy minister was fighting in Tsvangirai’s corner.
Biti is considered too hawkish, while Tsvangirai has often had a measured approach when talking about Mugabe.
“Who is Mangoma to say that about Biti?” an MDC-T legislator quizzed. “Biti is doing the right thing. only recently, Mugabe implied that our leaders are on ARVs and you expect Biti to take a soft approach.”
The legislator confirmed the factional fighting within the MDC-T, though claiming that the latest incident had been blown out of proportion by the media. “This is another ploy by Zanu PF to discredit our party,” the legislator said. “They failed when they came up with trumped up charges against Tsvangirai, now they are playing up the so-called divisions.”
MDC-T party spokesman, Douglas Mwonzora said Biti and Tsvangirai were in sync and blamed the media for hyping the supposed chasm.
“Regarding what the Prime Minister said about civil servants’ salaries, he was only clarifying the position of government. He was not saying what Biti had said was right or wrong,” he said.
Mwonzora said the government had not discussed the wage freeze issue and hence Tsvangirai had to respond.
However, he would not say why Biti had gone ahead to announce a policy that had not been discussed by the government.
Mwonzora said he doubted that Mangoma had criticised Biti.
“Biti has done nothing wrong in his criticism of Mugabe, in fact his criticism of Mugabe has been spot on,” he said.
Biti was not answering his phone yesterday. However, another legislator said some people within the party had held a meeting and decided that Biti should assume the party’s top position, should Tsvangirai face criminal charges over fraud allegations regarding the purchase of his residence in Highlands.
Biti, the source said, was on the ascendancy as he had been able to neutralise a clique of Tsvangirai’s advisers, referred to as the “Kitchen Cabinet”.
The Standard was told former trade unionists in the party feared that there was a new crop of leaders gunning for the top posts.
The legislator said while Biti was seen as a possible leader within the party, Tsvangirai was a brand and it was highly unlikely that his secretary general would want to upstage him.
The parliamentarian said most people at grassroots identified with Tsvangirai and it was almost impossible to replace him ahead of next elections.
There was speculation that a rift similar to the 2005 one would ensue, but the legislator said party members knew better than to challenge Tsvangirai.
“If you look at Welshman Ncube, his political fortunes took a dip after the split and no one will want that to happen to them,” the legislator said.