Tendai Biti vs Morgan Tsvangirai

In a tight spot: Morgan Tsvangirai, twisting this way and that, is poised for a battle with his more realistic Secretary-General and Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, who is taking a more realistic approach to the troubles facing the constitution-making process. Tsvangirai's chosen route of being all things to all people is, Tendai Biti, realises, destined to leave the Prime Minister with egg all over his face, since Tsvangirai has made it clear that he is not going to let this issue decide the fate of his precious unity government with Mugabe


Harare, Zimbabwe, 22 August 2009

A bruising encounter is brewing between Tendai Biti, the MDC-Tsvangirai Secretary-General (also Finance Minister) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai over the constitutional process.

Biti (as confirmed by this week's Zimbabwe Independent) confronted Advocate Eric Matinenga about his statement that the Kariba Draft Constitution was not a factor in the current process, asking him why he had gone ahead to issue that statement without consulting with Biti, who was one of the negotiators in the talks that led to the formation of the Inclusive government.

Biti was a co-author of the draft, together with Patrick Chinamasa, the ZANU PF minister of Justice and Welshman Ncube, of the smaller MDC led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

Matinenga is said to have retorted that he had consulted with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and that the Prime Minister was in agreement with him.

Tsvangirai denied this to Biti, saying nothing had been decided in the constitutional process and that he was "walking a tightrope" to try and balance the interests of his former partners in civil society who are demanding the jettisoning the Kariba Draft, and those of ZANU PF, which is insisting that no process will go ahead without the Kariba Draft as the basis of a new Constitution.

Biti's quandary is that he is a co-author of the Draft, which is being roundly rejected by the civil society, including the Trade Unions, who have traditionally been the backbone of the MDC-T but who have now broken rank with the opposition party. But, more importantly, he is informed by a realistic assesment of the prospects for success if the MDC tackles Mugabe head-on with regards to this issue (more on that in a moment).

Last week, Tsvangirai scrambled to put together a meeting with the trade unions, student bodies and the National Constitutional Assembly as it became clear even to him that any proposed constitution based on the Kariba Draft and driven by the Parliamentary Committee would be defeated at a referendum.

Although he gave assurances to these civil society bodies, they remain unconvinced, in light of the Prime Minister's crusade to appease Mugabe, bending over backwards in order not to unhinge the dictator and his still belligerent party, ZANU PF.

So, while Biti is still trying to defend the inclusion of the Kariba Draft in the process, Morgan Tsvangirai is telling his civil society partners the very opposite, although he has no workable plan for the exclusion of the draft from the process.

Tsvangirai has not even brought up the thorny issue with Mugabe in their weekly report-back meetings - he knows what the dictator's reaction will be.

Civil society, meantime, is refusing to call off its assault on the process purely on the basis of promises from Tsvangirai, whom the National Constitutional Assembly says has sold out and now "has tea and cake with Mugabe joking with him."

Iit is certainly clear that Biti is not only being honest but realistic about the whole issue.

The route the MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai has taken, of not rocking the Inclusive Government boat and his determination to hang on to a meaningless Prime Ministerial office, means that there is no realistic chance that the MDC-T will get the better of ZANU PF in the battle over the Kariba Draft.

Tsvangirai has no plan (never mind a workable one) to counter the intransigence of ZANU PF on the matter. The only route available is a confrontational one, which civil society has now adopted, lumping the Prime Minister and Mugabe on one side as part of the obstacle to a new people's document.

Biti, therefore, being the realist that he has proved to be in the office of Finance Minister, is simply trying to spare the MDC-T the embarrassment of later being tongue-tied as it is confronted over the broken promise to jettison the Kariba Draft and to take the matter out of the hands of the Parliamentary Committee.

The Finance Minister is positioning himself to be able to say later on, "I told you so," and thereby reinforce his image as the only realist left in the MDC as the party follows Tsvangirai like rats following the Pied Piper.

You are likely to see open confrontation between the Prime Minister and his Secretary-General in the weeks and months to come as Morgan Tsvangirai seeks to extend the life of his charade and Biti seeks to knock realistic sense into his party's leadership.

The last year and a half have proved that Mugabe and ZANU PF, in their destructive quest to retain hegemony over Zimbabwe, are not only more ruthless, but are also able to hold their nerves longer than the Prime Minister, who is throwing in the towel left, right and centre, letting Mugabe and ZANU PF literally get away with murder in the name of "unity".


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