Nineteen MDC Alliance MPs defied a party directive to boycott Parliament on Tuesday, but the rebellion was far short of the numbers Thokozani Khupe needed to convince her backers that she can seize control of the party.
Khupe, leader of the MDC-T party, simultaneously announced that she had expelled MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, adding to the chaos in the opposition ranks triggered by a Supreme Court judgement in April.
Among the MDC Alliance MPs who turned up in parliament were Hatfield lawmaker Tapiwa Mashakada, Kariba MP John Houghton and Glen View South MP Vincent Tsvangirai, the son of the party’s founding leader, the late Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mashakada said he still supported Chamisa, but disagreed with the strategy to boycott parliament announced after Khupe recalled four MDC Alliance lawmakers.
Khupe is now effectively in charge of two parties in parliament, her MDC-T which has one MP and the MDC Alliance with 84 MPs – a political farce which the MDC Alliance is currently challenging at the High Court.
Political analyst Alex Magaisa said Khupe was hoping for a more impressive turn-up in Parliament.
He said: “She should be concerned, surely, after being supposedly given title to the party (MDC Alliance) by the courts and to the MPs by the Speaker of the National Assembly and President of the Senate. If she cannot command the MPs, what more the ordinary people?”
The MDC chaos was occasioned by a controversial Supreme Court ruling in April. The apex court had been asked to rule on two substantive issues on appeal from the High Court by Chamisa. The first was whether appointments of deputy presidents made by the founding president of the MDC-T, Morgan Tsvangirai, in 2016 were lawful.
The second concerned the legality of Chamisa’s rise to become interim leader of the MDC-T in February 2018, following Tsvangirai’s death. Khupe insisted that the MDC-T constitution entitled her to lead, as the only vice president elected at the last congress in 2014.
The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the High Court that there were illegalities in both instances. The court determined that the MDC-T should revert to the pre-2016 structures before Tsvangirai’s elevation of Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri to form a tripartite vice presidency with Khupe.
It also ordered that the MDC-T should hold an Extraordinary Congress within three months from the date of the judgment.
The decision of the court split opinions about its consequences for opposition politics. Khupe – who contested the July 2018 election as MDC-T leader while Chamisa led the MDC Alliance – sought to assert control as leader of the MDC Alliance.
Khupe recalled four MDC MPs and senators, forcing the MDC Alliance to order its lawmakers to stop attending parliament.
Most officials who held positions in the MDC-T structures of 2016 are in the MDC Alliance, some of them MPs, and Khupe has used the threat of recall – with the attendant loss of pensions and means of survival for some of the MPs – to try and whip them into line.
The decision to “expel” Chamisa, announced by Douglas Mwonzora who says he has reprised his former role as MDC-T secretary general, appeared aimed at thwarting any possibility of his nomination at the Extraordinary Congress which he maintains has nothing to do with his MDC Alliance party.
In a letter addressed to Chamisa, dated June 1, Mwonzora wrote: “I note that following the Supreme Court judgement, in MDC and Others v Elias Mashavira and Others (SC56/2020) of 31 March 2020, which ruled that you were no longer the President of the Movement for Democratic Change which was formerly led by the late Dr Morgan Tsvangirai, you have continued to defy the court order.
“The latest incident is when on 21 May 2020 you issued a communication to the effect that you had in your capacity as the President of the MDC Alliance party made certain appointments and redeployments to the party’s National Standing Committee. You could only have made these appointments as president of the party other than the party that was referred to in the Supreme Court judgement in the case mentioned above.”
Mwonzora said in terms of clause 5.10.(a) of the MDC-T constitution, Chamisa had automatically terminated his membership to the party by joining or forming another party.
Chamisa’s spokesman Nkululeko Sibanda said Mwonzora’s letter was part of “Zanu PF machinations to take over the MDC Alliance which would ultimately fail.”
The for MDC Alliance MPs have gone to court to challenge their expulsion from Parliament, arguing that Khupe’s recall was a legal nullity as they were not elected on an MDC-T ticket. The matter could potentially spill back into the Supreme Court which will get a second opportunity to untangle the political mess.