No going back on congress: MDC

BY CHARLES LAITON/BLESSED MHLANGA/OBEY MANAYITI

THE High Court yesterday nullified Nelson Chamisa’s MDC presidency and ordered the party to organise an extra-ordinary congress to choose a new leader within a month, but the youthful opposition politician vowed to go ahead with his party’s planned elective congress later this month while appealing the court ruling.

The verdict by Justice Edith Mushore follows an application by MDC secretary for Gokwe Sesame district, Elias Mashavira, who petitioned the High Court last year seeking nullification of
Chamisa and his deputy Elias Mudzuri’s appointment into the party’s presidium.

The duo was handpicked and appointed as co-vice-presidents by the now late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

But in her ruling delivered in the motion court, Justice Mushore said: “The appointments of the second and third respondents (Chamisa and Mudzuri) as deputy presidents of the MDC party were unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void. The appointment of second respondent (Chamisa) as acting president, and president of the MDC party were unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void.

“All appointments and/or reassignments and all actions of the second respondent in his purported capacity as deputy/acting or incumbent president were unconstitutional and,
therefore, null and void.”

Justice Mushore also ordered the MDC party to hold an extra-ordinary congress within a month.

In July 2016, Tsvangirai handpicked Chamisa and Mudzuri as his deputies and when he passed on in February 2018, the party’s national executive committee and the national council annointed Chamisa and Mudzuri as president and deputy, respectively.

But Mashavira challenged the move, citing violation of the party’s constitution.

Justice Mushore said it was self-evident that, according to the MDC’s constitution, party presidents and their deputies were only elected at congress and not appointed.

“Second and third respondents’ (Chamisa and Mudzuri) claim to be deputy presidents is based upon the late president (Tsvangirai) picking them to be deputy presidents. They were not elected into those positions at a congress,” the judge said.

“The applicant (Mashavira) claims that the legitimate deputy president in the party, who still carries the title of deputy president, is the fourth respondent (Thokozani Khupe), by virtue of her democratic election at congress in 2014. That claim is aligned to the provision in article 6.4.4.1 of the party’s constitution. It is that simple.”

Justice Mushore further noted that after Tsvangirai’s death, the acting president, as per article 9.2 of the constitution, should have assumed the presidential duties and called for an extra-ordinary congress in no later than a year from the death or resignation of the former president.

“Plainly speaking, therefore, … the duty to call (for) the extra-ordinary congress for such an election would have been that of the fourth respondent (Khupe). The constitution is specific about this requirement …,” she said.

In his application, through his lawyers Mutungura and Partners, Mashavira had cited the MDC, Chamisa, Mudzuri, Khupe, MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora and chairperson Morgen Komichi as respondents.

Mashavira also challenged the decision of the party’s national executive committee and the national council to elect Chamisa as party president outside congress.

He said, as a delegate representing Gokwe Sesame district, he was supposed to have been invited to an MDC congress organised by Khupe in Bulawayo last year.

“The fifth respondent (Mwonzora), as the secretary-general, did not invite delegates, neither did he take minutes of the alleged congress. My province, district, ward and branch were not invited to that congress and, as such, in terms of the MDC party constitution, no congress has been held to fill the vacancy left by the passing on of the president of the MDC party, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai. In any event, what was supposed to be held is an extra-ordinary congress, not an ordinary congress,” he said.

“Upon the death of Tsvangirai, provisions of the party’s constitution regarding the president’s succession automatically kicked in. However a dispute erupted between Khupe, Chamisa and Mudzuri.”

In a statement yesterday, MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume, however, said the party was going ahead with its elective congress set for May 24-26 in Gweru, regardless of the High Court ruling.

“We have just been advised of the High Court of Zimbabwe judgment issued by Justice Edith Mushore today. We fundamentally disagree with the judgment. The choice of leaders of any political party, the world over is the sole preserve of the members of that party,” he said.

“It can never be a judicial process. Equally, the actions, activities and programmes of a political party, being a voluntary organisation whose existence is protected by the Constitution, is the sole preserve of the members of that party.”

The MDC said it would appeal the High Court judgment, noting in their statement that the courts had become an extension of “Zanu PF hegemonic rule”.

“In just a few weeks’ time, the MDC will complete the process of democratically electing its leadership at a congress convened in terms of its constitution. Strangely, Justice Mushore’s judgment contradicts and totally ignores an earlier judgment of the High Court, which ruled on the case of Murimoga versus the MDC,” Mafume said.

In 2017, the High Court dismissed an application by Patson Murimoga challenging the appointment of Chamisa and Mudzuri as vice-presidents.

“We are fully aware of the machinations and strategies being deployed by the Mnangagwa administration to destabilise and destroy the people’s project. We reiterate that (President) Emmerson Mnangagwa is illegitimate and no amount of diversionary tactics will change this fact,” Mafume added.

He said “for the avoidance of doubt”, preparations for the MDC congress were at an advanced stage and 6 800 delegates would attend.

“That process is irreversible. We shall hold a historic and joyous congress under the theme Defining a New Course for Zimbabwe,” Mafume said.

An MDC appeal against the High Court ruling has the effect of suspending the judgment, meaning the congress can proceed without any legal hindrances.