AN acrimonious verbal war has erupted within the MDC-T following party leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision to replace the late Public Service Minister Professor Eliphas Mukonoweshuro with Kuwadzana House of Assembly member Lucia Matibenga, it has been established.
Senior party officials in Matabeleland have expressed reservations over the decision, saying the Cabinet post should have been allotted to a candidate in the region.
Their preferred successor is Hwange Central legislator Brian Tshuma.
The situation is said to have left Tsvangirai caught between a rock and a hard place as he seeks to gain support in different regions, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the party’s women’s assembly.
Sources in the MDC-T standing committee — which is the party’s highest decision-making body — said the Prime Minister recommended to President Mugabe Matibenga as the successor to Prof Mukonoweshuro, who died of lung cancer in August.
It is understood the Office of the President rejected a letter penned by Tsvangirai, saying the Prime Minister’s Office has not followed the correct procedure.
The sources said top MDC-T officials in Matabeleland were complaining their leader “does not take them seriously” when senior appointments are made.
They said leaders in the region were backing Tshuma to become the next Public Service minister, arguing that Matabeleland’s allotment of Cabinet posts was reduced in last year’s MDC-T reshuffle.
Nkulumane House of Assembly member Thamsanqa Mahlangu was dropped from the position of Deputy Minister of Youth, Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment.
He was replaced by his Masvingo Central counterpart, Tongai Matutu.
Fidelis Mhashu and Engineer Elias Mudzuri were also dropped.
The remaining MDC-T Cabinet members from Matabeleland are Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe, Public Works Minister Joel Gabuza, Water Resources and Infrastructural Development Minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo and State Enterprises and Parastatals Minister Gorden Moyo.
“The party is being held to ransom by a few individuals.
“Matibenga was touted for the Masvingo governorship which never came,” said a source.
“Today, she is being allocated yet another position. After all, she is a Harare MP and there are too many ministers from that province.
“When Mahlangu was dropped, he was replaced by an MP from Masvingo — Tongai Matutu — and this was wrong.
“However, this can be corrected through replacing Prof Mukonoweshuro, who was from Masvingo province, with someone from our region.”
The source added that Matabeleland party members would be forced to defect to Professor Welshman Ncube’s formation if their concerns were not addressed.
A Bulawayo legislator said: “This tribalism must stop or the party will be finished.”
The lobby for Ms Matibenga is reportedly being spearheaded by the ZCTU.
In October 2007, she was unceremoniously replaced by Home Affairs co-Minister Theresa Makone as women’s assembly boss.
This did not go down well with the ZCTU which views Matibenga, who is its fifth vice-president, as their deployment into the party.
The Prime Minister reportedly promised to correct this “anomaly” by ensuring she got a Government position.
Senior ZCTU officials are said to have cornered him again on the sidelines of its congress in August this year and asked him to honour his promise.
A women’s assembly faction aligned to Matibenga has also pushed Tsvangirai to accord her an influential position.
Contacted for comment, Matibenga said: “I can confirm that I might be the replacement for Prof Mukonoweshuro.
“In fact, I can disclose to you that I had a meeting with the Prime Minister and he briefed me about my deployment to that post,” she said.
“I have been in this struggle for too long and I think it’s now time I take up a top post like any other person who deserves it.”