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13 May 2019

A few days ago, a judge in Zimbabwe issued a judgement saying that the leader of the main opposition in Zimbabwe, Mr. Nelson Chamisa, who many believe defeated current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in the last presidential elections were it not of the age-old election tempering, is illegally occupying the leadership of the largest and most popular opposition party.

The judge said Mr. Chamisa did not attain leadership of the party through ‘legal’ means, adding that if the party constitution were to be followed, MS Thokozani Khupe should have succeeded the late party founding president, Morgan Tsvangirai.

While this provoked sneers from both political and legal experts who say membership to any organization is voluntary and, therefore, not subject to court’s involvement, there is the issue of the party’s constitution that Mr. Tsvangirai himself also violated at some point by appointing more than one vice president.

Undoubtedly and to the chagrin of many ruling party politicians, Nelson Chamisa is the most popular political figure in Zimbabwe today and this comes as the most beautiful Mother’s Day gift to them.

It will be interesting to see how the young politician does although as of Saturday, he was busy laying the groundwork for his party’s congress to be held towards the end of this month.

But Chamisa can afford to walk away from the original name of the party and still command followers like no other party leader has done before.

During the presidential elections of last year, he stopped using the party name of MDC-T and officially ran against Mnangagwa as president of MDC Alliance.                                                   People are following him and not the name of the party.

Party lawyers are busy preparing a response and have already declared that they will appeal. However, it is a spanner thrown into the machine at a very inopportune time since a party congress that is supposed to declare Mr. Chamisa as the unchallenged party leader is due to start in two weeks’ time.

There is no doubt that Chamisa and his followers will find a way but the ruling party is living to its declared mission to destroy the MDC before the next elections. After being embarrassed by Chamisa and his MDC Alliance at the last polls, Zanu-PF reportedly set aside US $6 million to destroy Chamisa and his party.

The ruling, which is obviously being challenged, is a cheap maneuver that has, once again, brought the impartiality of Zimbabwean judges into question.

One-time Tsvangirai legal aide during his time as prime minister, Dr Alex Magaisa, called the court’s decision “an embarrassment to the legal and political system,”

It becomes very interesting when legal judgements contradict realities that people and even the government, faces. Reconciling the two is a task full of pitfalls.

Before Zimbabwe’s elections of last year, the issue of the legitimate leadership of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) came up. Mr. Chamisa, who was appointed, not elected, by Mr. Tsvangirai as one of the deputies, did not bother to argue about the party leadership but, instead conceded and campaigned under the MDC Alliance, a conglomerate of several political parties.

Thokozani Khupe, elected as Morgan Tsvangirai’s vice president, legally took the party name and failed dismally in the elections, not getting even a single counsellor elected.

And now, once again, the government has intruded, saying that Mr. Chamisa’s leadership is not legitimate because his appointment by Mr. Tsvangirai was done outside the party’s constitution.

Even though party membership is voluntary and not subject to any governmental oversight, the judge thought otherwise.

Mr. Chamisa heads the MDC Alliance under which he contested for the presidency, not the MDC-T fronted by Miss Khupe.

This judgement, therefore, does not change the political dynamics in Zimbabwe. If anything, it further paints a darker image of the Zimbabwean judiciary which has always been criticized as being in cohorts with the ruling party, especially since many among them are recipients of the illegally seized commercial farms.

Although Zanu-PF is going to exploit this legal decision to the fullest, the issue remains that at least half of the voters in the country have already pledged their allegiance to Mr. Chamisa and his MDC Alliance.

It will be interesting to see how this ruling affects him and his followers but, at the time of writing, they were all busy setting up debates in preparation for the big congress to be held between May 24 - 26.

The issue of how partial to the ruling party the judiciary is has always been debated since the government almost never loses political court cases.

The effort to harass political opponents or liquidate political organisations is inherent in most African ruling parties and Zanu-PF has made itself a champion of this practice.

It remains to be seen how this latest attempt to humiliate and vanquish an opposition political party plays out.

It is indeed a contest between constitutionalists who find protection in written documents and majoritarians, who say they wrote the documents but are masters of their own destinies regardless of what they wrote some day.

It is, however, a sure bet that majoritarians will walk away from a constitution they once believed in and, once more, choose to be masters of their own destinies and write another constitution.

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