By Shingai Nyoka
A decision by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe to strip main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of his title as the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has fragmented the party instead of settling a long-running row.
Mr Chamisa, a charismatic preacher and lawyer, thought he had settled the leadership question with his rival Thokozani Khupe after outperforming her in the 2018 general election. The two contested the elections on behalf of separate parties.
Ms Khupe under the name MDC-T (Tsvangirai), and Mr Chamisa as leader of the MDC Alliance, with various splinter groups that founding MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had united the previous year to contest national elections before his death.
Mr Chamisa gained about 45% of the vote, narrowly losing to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, while Ms Khupe got less than 1%.
An MDC member went to court to challenge Mr Chamisa’s leadership of the party, questioning the process that appointed him as leader, after the death of its founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
Ms Khupe had argued that as an elected deputy to Tsvangirai, the party rules meant she should have taken over as interim leader.
Mr Chamisa has, however, claimed he was the preferred successor to Tsvangirai.
The Supreme Court declared Ms Khupe as the interim leader and ordered her to organise the MDC’s congress and internal elections.
In the meantime she was given the right to the party’s trademark and assets.
Some analysts believe this includes the right to claim parliamentary seats won by the MDC Alliance in the last election as well as public finances due for the seats.
MDC Alliance Vice-President Tendai Biti, a supporter of Mr Chamisa, said the court ruling had not changed anything and that the “judgement was academic”.
Mr Chamisa has not commented publicly – his supporters however believe he can continue to lead the party.
“The MDC- A[lliance] was not before the court and cannot be bound by a judgement to which it is not a party,” tweeted the party’s third vice-president Welshman Ncube.
The MDC has been blighted by factional fights that have weakened it. It has split and reunited several times since its formation in 1999.