MDC-T President Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday swiftly moved in to avert yet another deadly split within his party as he lashed out at “rogue” activists who brutally assaulted several top officials, including his deputy, Thokozani Khupe, during a meeting in Bulawayo on Sunday.

Tsvangirai told journalists at a hastily-arranged Press conference in Harare that the incident was a “dastardly act” and promised to bring the culprits to book, amid reports that Khupe’s group was plotting to sever ties with the opposition party.

In 2005, then MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube broke ranks with Tsvangirai following their fallout over the party’s participation in Senate elections. This was followed by
another split in 2014 when Ncube’s successor, Tendai Biti, severed ties with the MDC-T accusing Tsvangirai of exhibiting dictatorial tendencies and failing to dislodge President Robert Mugabe in three successive presidential elections.

 “As the president of the party, I condemn in the strongest terms this callous act of violence committed by these people,” Tsvangirai said.

“Our vice-president, Honourable Thokozani Khupe, together with other members of the national leadership was manhandled by these thugs resulting in the vice-president having to seek medical attention.”

The MDC-T leader said the thuggish behaviour had violated Khupe’s dignity as a woman.

“Her position as the party’s vice-president, her dignity and her status as a woman, a mother and a role model to many young women was immensely undermined in the process. This misguided behaviour puts the name of the party and our beliefs into serious disrepute both nationally and internationally,” he said.

This came amid reports that Khupe was immediately admitted at a private hospital for suspected high-blood pressure following the incident.

For years, Tsvangirai has been accused of failing to rein-in party hooligans, among them the party’s deputy treasurer-general Charlton Hwende who on Sunday posted offensive messages on Facebook insinuating that Khupe and her group deserved the bashing because they had boycotted the signing ceremony for the coalition deal in Harare the previous day.

Tsvangirai said: “Wait for us until we act, don’t judge us with the past … as for Hwende, he will receive the same censure as everyone else. The values of the party are for everyone not only for the youths.”

Hwende in his post in the aftermath of the incident seemed to blame Khupe, national chairman Lovemore Moyo and organising secretary Abednigo Bhebhe of holding a clandestine meeting to undermine the coalition deal, hence inviting the violence.

 MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora said the disrupted Bulawayo meeting had been sanctioned by the party as part of internal consultations regarding the envisaged opposition coalition ahead of next year’s general elections.

Khupe and her supporters were reportedly opposed to the MDC Alliance which will see them cede some of their traditional seats to Ncube’s MDC.

A top MDC-T official who attended the aborted Bulawayo meeting said they were opposed to ceding seats to Ncube and were contemplating parting ways with Tsvangirai.

“Tsvangirai knows that what he has done (sharing of seats) does not resonate with Bulawayo and the region as a whole. His (Tsvangirai)’s audacity to hire thugs (from Harare) shows that he understands our feeling resonates with what the people (in the region) want,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

But Bhebhe yesterday played down talk of a split, insisting that the team which met in Bulawayo was on its way to discuss grey areas in the coalition with Tsvangirai.

“Talk that we are splitting or rebelling against Tsvangirai is pure hogwash, we are not and we are also not fighting the president, but we want to engage him on the coalition,” he said.

Tsvangirai, however, said the alliance will go ahead and would not be side-tracked by events which took place in Bulawayo.

“I want to conclude by saying that if anyone thinks violence will detract or divert us from the alliance that we launched on Saturday, then they are very wrong. One wonders what motivated this callous behaviour and whose cause was being advanced as it is now turning out to benefit our detractors,” he said. newsday