THE Supreme Court yesterday ruled that Nelson Chamisa is not the legitimate leader of the MDC-T, but acknowledged that its ruling may be moot and academic.
BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE/MOSES MATENGA
The court ordered Thokozani Khupe as the interim leader to convene an extra-ordinary congress within three months to elect a new leadership, failure which Morgen Komichi, who took over as party national chairman when former national chairman Lovemore Moyo resigned, will automatically take over the reigns of the MDC.
The decision, handed down by Justice Bharat Patel, sitting together with Justices Paddington Garwe and Antonia Guvava, was ruling in Chamisa’s appeal against the High Court order declaring Khupe the bona-fide party leader.
Justice Patel, however, admitted that the judgment could have been “rendered moot and academic” by the
mutating political events in the opposition party.
“It is abundantly clear that the second appellant’s ascent to the helm of the party was fundamentally flawed by gross constitutional irregularities,” Justice Patel said.
“To perpetuate that situation without appropriate correction would not only undermine the ethos and dictates of the Constitution, but would also infringe the rights of all the party’s members to a constitutionally elected leadership.”
Chamisa rose to power in 2018 after the death of MDC-T founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
A party activist from Gokwe, Elias Mashavira, lodged a challenge at the High Court against Chamisa’s rise to power, describing him as illegitimate and seeking an order compelling the party to revert back to the 2014 structures.
Aggrieved by the outcome, Chamisa and his then deputy, Komichi, appealed the ruling at the Supreme Court, citing Mashavira, Elias Mudzuri and Khupe as respondents.
But Justice Patel admitted “the imbroglio that the party’s leadership has become entangled in may as well be water under the bridge”, insisting “it is a bridge that, for the sake of the party’s stature and credibility, needs to be correctly and systematically corrected”.
“There can be no doubt that the second appellant (Chamisa) and his lieutenants are in de facto and effective control of the party,” Justice Patel ruled.
“There is nothing to suggest that the situation will not continue for some time, or that the second appellant is likely to be eclipsed and supplanted as the leader of the party in the foreseeable future. While the court cannot, with accuracy, predict the future political path of the party, we certainly cannot disregard the political realities on the ground.”
He added: “In the premises, I am inclined to agree with the appellants that the present matter has, indeed, been rendered moot and academic.”
However, the judge said it was still within the interest of the law that makes an authoritative determination on the matter despite the “political mootness of this matter”.
Chamisa went into 2018 elections as MDC Alliance leader, and lost narrowly to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, but has disputed the outcome.
Khupe leads the smaller MDC-T and came a distant third in the polls, with 0,94% votes.
Khupe and her lawyer, Lovemore Madhuku, are part of Mnangagwa’s Political Actors Dialogue.
After the ruling, Komichi, who is the MDC Alliance secretary for presidential affairs, read out a speech prepared before the judgment, but obviously aware of the outcome, that the party reverts back to 2014 structures, where he was the party’s national chairman.
“All the actions of the present leadership, including the holding of the Gweru congress while well aware of the present case, are nullified,” he said.
“To that end, we advise all our members and structures as follows; all suspensions and dismissals of any party members by the current leadership between February 2018 and today are null and void. The affected members are fully reinstated to their positions in the party.”
Komichi contested and lost the post of vice-president to Tendai Biti and Welshmen Ncube at the party’s congress held last May.
“We are now going for an extraordinary congress for purposes of electing a substantive president. Any member of the party is free to contest this without fear or victimisation. The congress will be run by an independent commission which, of necessity, will include the ZCTU [Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions] and MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora.”
He added: “The judgment has instructed us to prepare for an extraordinary congress within three months using the 2014 structures. We must now stop the blame-game and unite for the bigger picture.”
Komichi said Chamisa’s May 2019 congress had been nullified.
But Biti said the Supreme Court judgment had been overtaken by events.
“The congress of May 2019 stands, and cannot be affected by any ruling and determination on a judgment affecting the MDC-T,” Biti said outside the Supreme Court.
“We are MDC Alliance. The next congress of the MDC Alliance is in May 2023, not any time before. This is a judgment against an entity called the MDC-T, we are the MDC Alliance.”
He added: “We are MDC Alliance, we contested 2018 elections as MDC Alliance and it’s an alliance of seven political parties and whose president is Chamisa. In that elections, Chamisa received 2,6 million votes.
“The MDC Alliance in May 2019 held its congress and Chamisa was unanimously elected as the leader and some of us were elected there.
“The MDC Alliance has nothing to do with the judgment given today that we have mayors, Members of Parliament. Those that were affected by the judgment can proceed to do what they were ordered by the court. We will respect the outcome of the people of the May congress in Gweru.”
Welcoming the judgment, Mwonzora said: “The MDC that was led by Morgan Tsvangirai has had its leadership defined today. There’s no need to denigrate the courts anymore. The courts have ruled as a result of an appeal filed by Advocate Chamisa himself.”
Police blocked access to the MDC Alliance headquarters, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House, in the lead up to the judgment to stop party leaders access.
Responding to the judgment yesterday, Chamisa tweeted: “It’s a purification moment. Dictatorship never wins.
Dictatorship always ultimately falls and so shall it be with all those who connive with it. The people always win and the people shall govern. Bigger after it all. Correctness never comes second best.”
Analysts described the ruling as “an academic judgment”.
“It is an academic ruling because we already have two political parties, the MDC-T led by Khupe and the MDC Alliance led by Chamisa, which all contested elections. So I don’t know what Khupe intends to do with the judgment because she cannot have any standing to claim another opposition party called the MDC Alliance,” Rashweat Mukundu said.
Another political analyst Eldred Masunungure said: “We have to deal with the legal consequences and the political consequences and I think politically, Chamisa is firmly in control of his party (MDC Alliance) and legally, depending on what the ruling says regarding the distribution of the property, who owns the then MDC-T property, who was entitled to receiving the money under the Political Parties Finance Act? In terms of leadership, I think Chamisa is still in control and will remain firmly in control of the MDC because the party he leads is no longer the party which was under dispute last year.”
Alexander Rusero, another analyst, said: “Legally, it is nothing, but politically it plays well into Zanu PF and Mnangagwa’s divide-and-rule scheming. While they will be battling with COVID-19, the MDC will have something to run for and Chamisa will be having a political headache.
“It is a bizarre ruling considering what happened when the two parties contested as two different entities in the 2018 elections. You know Mnangagwa is a schemer and a shrewd politician and this will boost Polad post-COVID-19 and it may be a way to whip Chamisa into line ahead of talks that are imminent.”
Khupe started celebrating way before the ruling was announced and for the first time in two years, posted on her Twitter page appearing to be celebrating before the judgment was read out.