The Supreme Court has ruled that Nelson Chamisa is not the legitimate leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, which was led by founding president Morgan Tsvangirai, who died of colon cancer in 2018.
Professor Lovemore Madhuku, an attorney representing Thokozani Khupe who claims to be the legitimate leader of the MDC-T, welcomed the Supreme Court decision.
But MDC secretary general, Chalton Hwende, said the ruling won’t change anything “because Chamisa was elected by the people of Zimbabwe.”
The High Court last May declared Chamisa an illegitimate leader of the MDC and ordered the party to choose a new president after a month. The MDC filed an appeal against the order saying Chamisa was the rightful leader of the party following the death of Morgan Tsvangirai.
Chamisa’s rise to the helm of the party led to serious internal rifts between members of the party, resulting in Khupe leading a faction known as the MDC-T and Chamisa reverting to the old MDC formation. Chamisa brought in several MDC parties back to the main party, forming the MDC Alliance.
An MDC extraordinary congress reaffirmed Chamisa’s leadership of the party but Khupe has fought all the way to the Supreme Court where she wanted current structures of the MDC to be dismantled and assembled as per their formation in 2018 when Tsvangirai died.
In the 2019 High Court ruling, Judge Edith Mushore declared Chamisa’s leadership of the MDC “unconstitutional and therefore null and void.”
The MDC claimed at that time that the ruling was part of a big plot by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s governing ruling Zanu PF party to destabilise it.
Chamisa, 42, narrowly lost the 2018 presidential vote to Mnangagwa. He accused the Zanu-PF leader, who became the main beneficiary of the 2017 military coup that ousted the late strongman, Robert Mugabe, of rigging the vote and does not recognise his presidency.
Chamisa has refused to join political talks with the president over the country’s economic crisis and ways to solve the intractable political disputes stemming from that election in the absence of a foreign mediator.
The case against Chamisa was brought by a member of a rival faction of his MDC. The court said the process that made Chamisa acting party president after Morgan Tsvangirai died in February 2018 was illegal and therefore null and void.
Police had already sealed off the MDC headquarters in Harare to prevent Chamisa’s executives from entering the building.
The ruling could open the door to Chamisa’s rival, Thokozani Khupe, who leads the smaller rival MDC-T faction and has been angling to take over the leadership of the larger MDC movement.
Political analysts said the ruling could be academic, with Chamisa still enjoying popular support from grassroots MDC members who elected him, unopposed, as their permanent leader at a congress last year.
“My position is that we as MDC we held our congress in May 2019. Nelson Chamisa is our president and our next congress is 2024. Full stop,” MDC vice president Tendai Biti told reporters.
“The government is trying to usurp our party.”
Supporters of Chamisa accuse the ruling ZANU-PF party of using the courts to emasculate the MDC and to force him to accept Mnangagwa as legitimately elected. – Additional reporting by agencies.