By Tendai Kamhungira
MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa has taken his battle for State House a notch higher by dragging his main rival in next month’s crunch national elections, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, to court for remarks that the Zanu PF leader made at a ruling party campaign rally earlier this month.
This comes after the MDC took exception to Mnangagwa’s utterances at a Zanu PF rally in Mutoko on June 9, where he was quoted saying that chiefs held the keys to the National Assembly for aspiring ruling party MPs — which necessitated that the traditional leaders be treated well.
“If there is a clever MP … if you want to be, let me tell you a secret. Those of you who were greeting me here, the prospective MPs, if you go to the chief in your constituency … you should bring with you a new blanket … and groceries, and a goat in tow.
“You should then say, ‘chief, I want to work in your area of jurisdiction’ … clapping hands, right? … humbling yourself. If they accept your gifts, then you should know you are 50 percent done.
“As for you chiefs, you must always remember there is a political party called Zanu PF. Remember that … as a chief you only have jurisdiction in your area … but Zanu PF is spread across the whole breadth of the country.
“So you must always remember to be one with Zanu PF, to work together for us to have peace and prosperity in our communities,” Mnangagwa told his supporters.
In its application to the High Court, where it is seeking an order barring Mnangagwa and Zanu PF from interfering with the independence of traditional leaders, the MDC said the president’s remarks were “dangerous” and could affect the freeness and fairness of the forthcoming national elections.
Mnangagwa, Zanu PF and the president of the National Council of Chiefs Fortune Charumbira, as well as chief Alfred Tome, are cited as the respondents in the matter.
“Suggesting that 2nd respondent’s (Zanu PF) candidates in the upcoming elections offer trinkets to traditional leaders for their endorsement is akin to engaging in corrupt practices proscribed by the electoral laws.
“It also undermines the independence, impartiality and non-partisan nature required of traditional leaders by the Constitution and the laws governing their conduct.
“Traditional leaders are specifically prohibited by the Constitution from being members of any political party or in any way or participate in partisan politics, or act in a partisan manner, or further the interests of any political party or cause.
“They are also prohibited by the Traditional Leaders Act (Chapter 29:17) from showing political affiliation in the discharge of their duties,” MDC acting chairperson, Morgen Komichi said in his party’s court papers.
The main opposition said further that Mnangagwa’s utterances also posed a huge threat to the holding of peaceful, free, fair and credible elections in that Zanu PF’s candidates were being incited to solicit the support of traditional leaders and push them to act in a partisan manner.
In that regard, the MDC wants the court to bar Mnangagwa and Zanu PF from “interfering with the independence of traditional leaders”.
“Third respondent (Charumbira) be and is directed to circulate this provisional order widely through the auspices of the National Council of Chiefs and Provincial Assemblies of Chiefs and may seek applicant’s assistance in this respect if he so desires.
“All traditional leaders under the purview of the National Council of Chiefs led by 3rd respondent be and are hereby ordered not to engage in partisan political activities such as attending partisan political rallies and/or uttering partisan political statements,” read other parts of the order being demanded by the MDC.
The MDC also cited another political rally at Sabina Mugabe School, where it says Tome chanted Zanu PF slogans.
“Attendance by chiefs at partisan political party gatherings is a violation of their statutory and constitutional obligations. Uttering political statements and slogans of a certain political party … is equally a violation of the Constitution and the law,” the MDC argued further.
Meanwhile, analysts say if the application is upheld by the courts, it will have significant implications on what politicians — both from the ruling party and the opposition — say on their campaign stumps.
Mnangagwa, 75, is seeking a substantive term in the July 30 harmonised elections, in which he will face the youthful Chamisa and 21 other presidential aspirants.
This year’s elections have generated a lot of interest among both ordinary Zimbabweans and ambitious politicians alike, with many people anticipating a close contest between Zanu PF and the MDC Alliance, as well as between Mnangagwa and Chamisa.
The polls themselves will be the first in the past two decades not to feature former president Robert Mugabe and the popular late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who lost his valiant battle with cancer of the colon in February.
And for the first time in post-independent Zimbabwe there will also be female presidential candidates — three of them — taking on their male counterparts for the right to occupy the most powerful political office in the country after the July 30 plebiscite. Daily News