HARARE – Four lawmakers from the MDC Alliance have gone to court challenging their removal as MPs in an ongoing battle for the control of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party.
Members of Parliament Charlton Hwende, Prosper Mutseyami, Thabitha Khumalo and Senator Lilian Timveos are arguing in court that the Speaker of Parliament and President of the Senate erred in removing them as lawmakers on the basis of a letter written by Douglas Mwonzora, signing off as secretary general of the MDC-T party.
Mwonzora acted on April’s Supreme Court judgement on the MDC-T leadership dispute which said Nelson Chamisa, the former interim MDC-T leader who stood in elections in 2018 as leader of the MDC Alliance, breached his former party’s constitution when he took the reins following the death of founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February 2018.
The Supreme Court said Thokozani Khupe, who broke away from Chamisa and kept the MDC-T name with which she contested elections in 2018, should have been interim leader upon Tsvangirai’s death. Supreme Court judges admitted their judgement was “moot” and “academic”, but went on to direct the MDC-T to hold elections within three months to elect Tsvangirai’s successor.
The MDC Alliance says the judgement is unenforceable because processes have long moved on, with both Khupe and Chamisa having held their respective party congresses to elect a new leadership.
Mwonzora, defeated by Hwende in the race for secretary general in internal MDC Alliance elections in 2018, has seized on the Supreme Court ruling to re-instate himself to the position which he held before Tsvangirai’s death.
The four lawmakers maintain that they participated in elections in July 2018 as members of the MDC Alliance party led by Chamisa, whereas the MDC-T party was a rival in the same election. Chamisa narrowly lost the presidential vote with over 2 million ballots cast in his favour, while Khupe polled just over 45,000 votes.
The quartet on Friday petitioned the High Court for a declarator setting aside their expulsion, which they want declared “wrong and unlawful.”
The Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda, the President of the Senate Mabel Chinomona, Parliament of Zimbabwe, Mwonzora, MDC-T leader Khupe and the MDC-T are all cited as respondents.
The lawmakers say Mwonzora, himself a Senator for the MDC Alliance elected through proportional representation, had no authority to write the letter recalling them from Parliament.
Mudenda and Chinomona “acted unlawfully, in accepting a declaration from any other party other than a declaration from the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance.”
“Further having dealt with us for two and half years as MDC Alliance,” they argue, Mudenda and Chinomona were “estopped and barred from treating us any differently or giving us a new label or name without due process.”
They accuse Khupe and the MDC-T of making a “false declaration” by labelling them MDC-T members and purporting to exercise jurisdiction over them.
The MDC-T “carried out an unconstitutional coup d’état by usurping, and giving itself authority over our party the MDC Alliance itself”, they argue, adding: “It ignored the fundamental legal position that a political party is a voluntary association whose rights and interests are protected by sections 56, 58 and 67 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
“In 2018, we voluntarily chose to be part of the MDC Alliance. The MDC-T and those who follow it chose a different route. No force of power can suddenly conflate us.”
The lawmakers say Mudenda and Chinomona “descended into a political arena and made a judgment on contested claims.”
“Their decision and finding that we belong to the MDC-T was a quasi-judicial decision which they are not qualified to make,” the lawmakers say, while dismissing the parliament leaders’ actions as a “fraud on the electorate.”
Mudenda and Chinomona “cannot make the decision of merging two political parties,” the lawmakers said, adding: “There is already in Parliament a party known as the MDC-T led by the 4th Respondent (Khupe). It has Members of Parliament.”
The matter is yet to be set down for hearing.