By Costa Nkomo
ETERNAL political foes, Nelson Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe came face-to-face for the first time since their acrimonious fall-out in the period following the death of founding MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February last year.
Khupe and Chamisa were both vice presidents along with Elias Mudzuri when Tsvangirai succumbed to colon cancer in South Africa on Valentines’ Day, last year triggering a mad power rush that nearly turned nasty.
Chamisa now leads the MDC while Khupe heads a smaller faction of the opposition that retained the name MDC-T after an angry breakaway last year.
Khupe was booed on arrival and when Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda’s speech was drowned in a cacophony of heckling, Chamisa took the chance to claim the high moral ground.
The MDC leader said he would defend Khupe’s right to be there and demanded that his supporters be tolerant of divergent views.
“I will defend Dr Khupe’s right to be here. This is what we were taught by our leader Dr Tsvangirai, to be tolerant and inclusive. If I am your leader you will listen to me.
“I am disappointed and I don’t want to chastise you in front of people,” said Chamisa.
In his speech later, Chamisa took the issue even further.
“We quarreled with Dr Kupe before, but she is a comrade in the struggle because we have a journey that we have travelled together. I honour you Dr Khupe, thank you very much.
“Dr Khupe once more I salute you. You were my Deputy Prime Minister when I was a Minister. You were my vice president when I was your spokesperson, organising secretary, that hierarchy is not broken. It is the one known by Vimbai and Dr Richard Morgan Tsvangirai,” said the MDC leader.
Khupe did not give a speech at the church service.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Khupe, served as Tsvangirai’s deputy for 11 years while Chamisa and Mudzuri were controversially appointed by Tsvangirai in mid-2015 months after the late veteran trade unionists had publicly announced he was fighting cancer.
Hours after Tsvangirai’s death, Chamisa railroaded the MDC’s internal organs and installed himself interim leader claiming he had been anointed by Tsvangirai.
Khupe protested demanding an extra-ordinary congress at the very least and a tense period ensued including Tsvangirai’s burial in Buhera, at which his long-time deputy was almost killed by marauding youths who came short of torching a thatched hut she and then secretary general Douglas Mwonzora had sought refuge.
In the weeks that followed, Chamisa consolidated his stranglehold on power pushing Khupe into breaking away before a High Court battle that the latter won to keep the MDC-T party name.
Chamisa, riding the crest of a popularity wave, campaigned for last year’s presidential election under the banner of the MDC Alliance, whose foundation had been laid by Tsvangirai as the late former Prime Minister sought to unite warring factions of the party he formed at the turn of the century.
Khupe went into the elections as the MDC-T candidate and performed dismally while her rival came within a whisker of wrestling power from President Emmerson Mnangagwa who had come to power on the back of a military coup in November 2017.
After being separated by a death, over a year later, another death in the Tsvangirai family has united the two. Tsvangirai’s eldest daughter Vimba Tsvangirai-Java who died of injuries sustained in a car crash last month was the MDC’s MP for Glen View South.
Her funeral brought Chamisa and Khupe into the same space for the first time. The two sat next to each other and although they seemed to have been chatting, their body language suggested tensions between the two were still as high as ever.