One half of the divided MDC heads for 'watershed' congress

The anti-senate faction of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by its founding president, Morgan Tsvangirai, says its weekend congress will be a "watershed" moment in the nation's history.

Faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa told IRIN, "The congress will, among other things, see the election of a leadership that will be able to take the Zimbabwean regime head-on. The new faces and new blood will add a fresh impetus and bring new ideas."

Chamisa said the highlights of the congress would be a report by party president Morgan Tsvangirai, the election of party leaders and the adoption of resolutions on future plans.

"The way forward will be the presentation of a rescue package that the MDC would offer in the event of forming the next government; the way forward will also include the adoption of more robust and vigorous strategies of confronting [President Robert Mugabe's government]. We expect to move away from the old, ineffective, passive resistance to something more active," he told IRIN.

He said although the split in the MDC was regrettable, it had helped to reveal the differences of opinion among the leadership.

"In fact, the split was a blessing in disguise because it helped to identify the ideological baggage that the MDC was carrying. This will enable us to come up with a smooth machinery that will be ready to form the next government," Chamisa noted. "There are some who have called for unity between the two factions and, in the interest of unity, we have invited the leadership of the pro-senate faction to attend the congress, as that would be the perfect opportunity for people to work out their differences."

Despite the arrest of three of the factions's key leaders in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the government, Chamisa said their resolve remained firm. The MDC leaders were released yesterday when the government withdrew charges of banditry, sabotage and terrorism against them, due to a lack of evidence.

The three, who include a legislator from Manicaland province in the east of the country, were arrested and detained last week, following the discovery of an arms cache in Mutare, near the Mozambican border.

Another anti-senate stalwart, Roy Bennett, is in hiding after he was allegedly implicated in connection with the arms cache and an alleged coup plot. He was set to be elected to the post of national treasurer at the weekend congress.

Bennett was jailed last year for several months after he assaulted the Minister of Justice during a parliamentary debate.

Regarding the withdrawal of the charges against the three MDC officials, Chamisa commented: "We reiterate our position that the dictatorship is working flat out to derail the forthcoming MDC congress. The regime has engaged in a sustained project to instil fear in the citizenry, set the stage for the arrest of the party leadership ahead of the congress, and to distract the nation from the real problems facing the country."

Harare police arrested another MDC member of parliament on Wednesday night for allegedly insulting Mugabe two weeks ago.

Chamisa told IRIN the weekend conference had the potential to be "epoch-making", and would be closely watched by the international community.