History Monday: The MDC Split 1

MDC split, ITAI DZAMARA reveals the search for a leader of the breakaway faction and contents of minutes of a meeting between SA president Thabo Mbeki and the Mutambara faction, outlining Mbeki’s game plan for Zimbabwe.

The breakaway Welshman Ncube-led grouping first approached Tendai Biti as it searched for a popular figure from Mashonaland who could lead it after the split. It has been confirmed that Biti could have joined them because “he has a soft spot for Welshman”. He was, however, under immense pressure from his close friends, such as Nelson Chamisa, Lovemore Madhuku and others in politics as well as civil society who advised him not to join the splinter group.

It is important to explain the thinking of people from the country’s southern parts regarding their abilities to lead. It is generally believed by aspiring leaders from that part of the country that, because of tribal and population dynamics in this country, an individual from that region cannot get enough support to lead the whole country. They therefore tend to settle, pragmatically, for the deputy position in national politics.

After Biti declined to join them, Ncube and company tried to persuade successful businessman, Strive Masiyiwa, owner of multinational communications company, Econet. This reporter established that several visits were made to Masiyiwa’s base in South Africa – but in vain. One of Ncube’s colleagues who was involved said “it was interesting to note Masiyiwa’s concern and desire to contribute to the cause of helping his country but the issue at stake became whether or not it was worth taking the risk”. An official from the Tsvangirai camp claims Masiyiwa sympathies lie with the MDC (Tsvangirai) and that “there was no way he would agree to lead the splinter faction”.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) chair, Reginald Matchaba Hove was also approached with the offer to lead the splinter faction but cited “engagement on other commitments” in declining. “After that, an earlier suggestion to bring in Arthur Mutambara became the only option and Job Sikhala, who had shared the stage with Mutambara in student leadership, was tasked with approaching him,” said a source who was involved. Prior to this development, Mutambara had, during his sojourn across the world in search of educational advancement as well as other opportunities, exhibited a serious ambivalence regarding his political plans.

On the one hand he had kept in touch with his “comrades” involved in the struggle at home, the likes of Brian Kagoro, Selby Hwacha, Sikhala, Madhuku, Chamisa and Gabriel Chaibva. He had even taken opportunities to contact with Tsvangirai and “always wanted to know what role he could come and play in the struggle”. It is said he always showed a lot of respect for Tsvangirai.

Land policy an issue

However, interestingly, our investigations have also showed that whilst in the United States of America, Mutambara flatly declined to join the MDC, which was led in that country by the daughter of Gibson Sibanda. One of the above-mentioned colleagues of Mutambara spoke about a meeting he had with him in Washington DC.

“We had a very long discussion about politics and the situation at home and he basically said he didn’t want to join the MDC because he alleged it lacked a clearer policy on land,” the source said. “By the way Zanu (PF) had embarked on land seizures and I was utterly shocked to find Arthur seeming to support it and even castigate the opposition for what he took to mean a position against land reform. He is a man of resolve and it was clear he had reservations about the MDC, not really to mean he supported Zanu (PF) but probably hoped for another alternative.” That was around 2003.

About a year before the MDC 2005 October 12 split, Mutambara came home for his wedding and it has been established that there were efforts afterwards by his colleagues in the party to have him join and fill the vacuum left by Roy Bennett in Chimanimani, who had moved to South Africa. “He was willing and could have come in had it not been that he didn’t have a party card,” said the source.

Shocked by events

When Mutambara was approached by the Ncube faction after the split, he consulted his colleagues before taking it up and five of them told The Zimbabwean that they were shocked about the events. “He told me on the morning of the meeting with Welshman and company that he wasn’t yet decided and was likely to decline the offer but we later learnt that he had already written his acceptance letter the previous night upon arrival,” a source said. Another added, “I had been with him in America the previous week and he told me there was no way he could accept to lead the splinter group.”

Another source met Mutambara on the eve of his acceptance of the MDC splinter faction presidency and said, “The way he went about it was very interesting. For example, on the night before his acceptance I was with him and after advising him not to take it up he then asked what Tsvangirai could offer him indicating he could instead join the main group but wanted a position.” Right from taking over the leadership of the splinter faction, Mutambara approached the situation with conciliatory overtones and a member of his faction says “it must have been his plan from the beginning to praise Tsvangirai in the hope of achieving unity”.

Mutambara has clearly indicated how he desired to go into a pact that would bring the two factions together under the leadership of Tsvangirai and on analysis, it could be concluded he personally led the faction into negotiating for unity or coalition so early after the split more because of his own fears and belief in abilities. That is one of the reasons his hurried go at unity or coalition has failed. It is also a fact that the relationship between the splinter faction and President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa came into play again and contributed to the failure of unity efforts.

Obstacle to Unity


Minutes of a meeting held last year – leaked to us by sources in the Mutambara faction – show that the two parties still viewed Tsvangirai as “an obstacle to unity” while alleging that the former trade unionist “fails to understand that a government of national unity is unavoidable in solving the country’s problems”. That criticism of Tsvangirai notwithstanding, the splinter faction and Mbeki acknowledged it was difficult to do without him and his following, hence the resolve to work on establishing a coalition of opposition parties in the event the attempt at convincing Tsvangirai into a power sharing pact between the two factions failed.

A follow-up meeting was scheduled for the end of March this year but had to be postponed after the events of March 11 when Tsvangirai, Mutambara and other leaders were arrested and beaten at a Save Zimbabwe Campaign prayer meeting. “The events of March 11 threw impetus into the engagement between Mutambara and Tsvangirai but it was always queer how the splinter faction pushed hard yet demanding equal power sharing,” a source said.

Tsvangirai’s side obtained intelligence on the plans and meetings between Mbeki and the splinter faction and for that reason dragged its feet on proposed unity or coalition deals until Mutambara recently burst out and called his colleague on the other side ‘indecisive’ and announced he would go it alone. Mutambara had offered Tsvangirai the presidency of the united party or coalition, with himself in deputy position – but really tried to clip the wings of the former trade union leader by wanting a commitment that he would not appoint cabinet members without his approval. The splinter faction also asked for equal representation in constituencies ahead of the elections.


  1. Dzamara, I (2007) ‘The Untold Story of MDC Split’

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