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MDC split final - official

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MDC to boycott senate - Tsvangirai

By Lebo Nkatazo

ZIMBABWE'S six-year-old opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has split irreconcilably and no mediation will reverse that, a senior party official told New Saturday.

MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai has urged party members to boycott elections to choose senators to a newly-created Upper House of parliament, but his senior lieutenants disagree.

On Monday last week, the party's national executive met to try and resolve the crisis, but the meeting ended in a deadlock.

And last Saturday, Tsvangirai called a meeting of the MDC's top decision-making body, the national council, to try and fend off an imminent split.

Several senior party officials including his deputy, Gibson Sibanda, and the party's secretary general general, Professor Welshman Ncube, boycotted the meeting saying it was "illegal" and accused Tsvangirai of violating the party's constitution.

Other key officials who gave the meeting a miss included national executive members David Coltart (secretary for legal affairs), Paul Themba Nyathi (secretary for information and publicity), Innocent Gonese (Chief Whip), Trudy Stevenson (secretary for local government), Renson Gasela (secretary for agriculture) and the party's organising secretary, Esaph Mdlongwa.

Speaking to New after the Saturday meeting boycotted outright by three provinces, a leading figure in the pro-senate group said Tsvangirai and his supporters had shut the door to any possible reunification of the party. He added that a court action was now unavoidable to "decide who is, and who is not MDC."

"The holding of the unlawful meeting on Saturday was the catalyst for the point of no return," said the official who asked not to be named.

"We had the chance to mend our differences at the national executive meeting on Monday last week, but it became clear that we are two movements heading in the opposite direction. There is no question of giving up, forming or joining another party. The constitution of the MDC is on our side, the right side."

In a brief statement issued Saturday evening, Tsvangirai's deputy, Sibanda set the stage for a dramatic split.

He said a resolution taken on Saturday to reverse an earlier decision by the National Council to participate in senate elections on November 26 was "null and void".

"We do not and will not recognise the unlawful resolution made by an unlawful gathering purporting to be the MDC national council," Sibanda said.

"It is a matter of great regret that Morgan Tsvangirai continues to show disdain of the constitution of the party," he added and claimed the meeting had been attended by non-members of the national council.

New can reveal that three provinces -- Matabeleland South, Midlands South and Bulawayo -- did not send any representatives to the meeting, while at least five others were partially represented.

Every province has three representatives in the national council -- the secretary, treasurer and chairman.

Manicaland's high profile treasurer Roy Bennett and the province's chairman did not turn up, while the secretary did attend. In Mashonaland West only the chairman went. In the Midlands North, the chairman and treasurer did not attend.

In Matabeleland North, the chairman, Morgan Nkomichi -- a relative of Tsvangirai who hails from Buhera district -- attended the meeting against the resolutions of the province, whose secretary and treasurer also did not attend. In Mashonaland East, the secretary and treasurer attended, but the chairman's position was taken by his deputy, contrary to the constitution.

The secretaries of the party's youth and women's wing did not pitch up.

The provinces which were fully represented were Harare, Chitungwiza, Mashonaland Central and Masvingo.

After Saturday's meeting, Tsvangirai emerged to announce a team of three members of the party, all opposed to the senate, to mediate.

These include Makokoba MP Thoko Khupe, Eddie Cross and another official.

But a senior official in the pro-senate faction said there would be no such talks, and questioned the independence of the mediators. This followed Cross' utterances on Saturday which lifted the veil of impartiality needed for such talks.

Cross had told reporters after the meeting: "I think it's a major setback for the guys who are pro-senate. I think I can confidently say the MDC is out of the senate race."

But Sibanda urged MDC candidates to carry on campaigning for the senate.

"We call upon all lawful organs of the party ... to ignore this so-called resolution and continue to campaign vigorously for all MDC senatorial candidates," Sibanda said.

The MDC official said Sibanda's statement should be read in the context of a final declaration of a split. He said he believed that a legal showdown with the Tsvangirai camp, to prove breach of the constitution, now loomed.

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