The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Thokozani Khupe in the long running dispute with Nelson Chamisa about who is the legitimate leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.
Chamisa had appealed an earlier High Court ruling that confirmed Khupe as the party’s interim president following the death of party founder Morgan Tsvangirai in February 2018.
Justices Paddington Garwe, Bharat Patel and Antonia Guvava dismissed Chamisa’s appeal and directed that Khupe convene an extraordinary congress within three months. The judges however conceded that their ruling was “rendered moot and academic” having been overtaken by events.
“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.”
“The imbroglio that the party’s leadership has become entangled in may as well be water under the bridge”, but insisted that “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.
“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.
“In the premises, I’m inclined to agree with the appellants that the present matter has indeed been rendered moot and academic. That, however, is not the end of the matter.
“The question that arises is whether or not the court should nevertheless proceed to deliver its definitive pronouncement…
“In short, notwithstanding the political mootness of this matter, it is imperative that there should be an authoritative determination of this appeal in the interests of justice.”
MDC Vice President Tendai Biti was dismissive of the ruling saying it had been overtaken by events.
“The congress of May 2019 stands, and cannot be affected by any ruling and determination on a judgement affecting the MDC-T. We are MDC Alliance.
“The next congress of the MDC Alliance is in May 2023, not anytime before. This is a judgement against an entity called the MDC-T, we are the MDC Alliance,” Biti said outside the Supreme Court.
MDC treasurer David Coltart tweeted; “The fact the regime and its enablers contrived for the judgment to be handed down today in the midst of the #Coronavirus lockdown (which lockdown we as a party supported as responsible citizens) shows just how much the regime fears the #MDC under the leadership of @nelsonchamisa.”
Former MDC Vice President Morgen Komichi, who lost out at the congress last May, welcomed the judgement outside court. Douglas Mwonzora, who initially wanted to contest against Chamisa for the presidency before being defeated in the race for secretary general, stood behind him.
“The judgement 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, while advocating for “reconciliation and forgiveness.”
He said all decisions taken by Chamisa following Tsvangirai’s death had been voided, including the May 2019 congress.
“All suspensions and dismissals done from February 18 (when Chamisa was installed as interim leader), are null and void. Affected members are fully reinstated to their positions.
Reading from a prepared speech Komichi added: “These include the mayors of Chegutu, Victoria Falls and Masvingo; ward and district executive committees are reinstated and all staff members whose contracts were unlawfully terminated are reinstated.”
Responding to Komichi’s detailed statement Coltart tweeted:
“This is a remarkably detailed statement for someone who should not have had any foreknowledge of the judgment. One questions how it is the Supreme Court judgment was known so well by so many, so well in advance. This is utterly farcical. #Zimbabwe.”