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By Godfrey Marawanyika

RENEWED bickering among Zimbabwe’s opposition only months after a vow to bury their differences looks set to wreck prospects of a united challenge to President Robert Mugabe at elections next year.

After they both fell victim to a crackdown by the security services in March, leaders of the two factions of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) promised they would no longer be distracted from their primary task of ending Mugabe’s 27-year rule.

But the uneasy truce broke down last week when the main MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was denounced as “an intellectual midget” by Arthur Mutambara, who commands the loyalty of nearly half the party’s lawmakers.

Tsvangirai in turn accused his rival of wasting ammunition on the wrong target.

Analysts believe the only real winner is Mugabe, seeking a seventh term in office next year at a time when the economy is in meltdown and his country increasingly diplomatically isolated.

“This rivalry will be an added advantage to the ruling (Zanu PF) party and Mugabe,” said Takura Zhangazha, a Harare-based political scientist. “The decision (to renew rivalries) is unfortunate for the people who are fighting for democratic space in Zimbabwe.”

Other anti-government activists felt let down by the MDC’s failure to put differences to one side, saying it underlined the need for a whole leadership.

“What is clear is that after next year, Mugabe will remain in power because of these personality differences,” said Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a coalition of civic groups agitating for a new constitution.

“The future will now need a new leadership, because currently there is lack of seriousness from the two factions. So after next year, there is need for people who are keen to have united opposition to come out and look for new leaders.”

Once posing the stiffest challenge to 83-year-old Mugabe’s stranglehold on power, the MDC split into two factions in 2005 over a decision to participate or boycott senate elections which Tsvangirai said were a waste of money.

After Tsvangirai and Mutambara were assaulted by Mugabe’s forces at a foiled protest in March, both men made a point of standing side by side in court and Mutambara declared that “we are going to manage our differences”.

But at a press conference last Saturday, Mutambara, a former academic, delivered a withering assessment of one-time union leader Tsvangirai.

“If Morgan Tsvangirai is such a weak and indecisive leader who cannot embrace what ordinary Zimbabweans are demanding, is he worthy of the presidency of this country?” Mutambara said.

Tsvangirai’s response came the next day when an appeal for unity contained a swipe at his younger rival.

“The enemy is not Tsvangirai. The enemy is Mugabe. If you focus on Tsvangirai, you are wasting your resources on the wrong target,” he said.

Both factions have sent representatives to on-off talks in Pretoria which form part of efforts by the South African government to mediate between Zanu PF and MDC ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary polls.

But the divisions among their leaders has prevented them from presenting a united front at the talks with sources saying that the two factions have put forward differing demands on conditions for free and fair elections.

Former information minister Jonathan Moyo, who has split from Zanu PF, said the opposition was making a fatal mistake by failing to resolve its differences and would hand victory on a plate to Mugabe.

“Another fool’s choice being peddled in opposition circles is that Morgan Tsvangirai’s faction of the MDC can or will win the presidential election in March 2008,” he wrote in the privately-owned Zimbabwe Independent.

“While Tsvangirai has over the years shown commendable courage as an opposition leader, his exemplary courage has been failed by his characteristically poor leadership and lack of strategy or sound judgment.” – AFP

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