Zimbabwe’s main opposition factions fight for control of party HQ building

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HARARE – The MDC has split more than five times and the latest occupation of the party headquarters is likely to aggravate the already fierce battle for the iconic building which both camps see as the soul of Zimbabwe’s democratic struggle.

Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-Alliance) leader Nelson Chamisa told his supporters at a virtual rally on Saturday 26 September that, “All members of Parliament are coming back… [to] Morgan Richard Tsvangirai [MRT] House [the party headquarters] and the people will unite to become one.”

True to Chamisa’s claims, hordes of youths aligned to his MDC-Alliance took over MRT House on Sunday night, just a few months after the building was occupied through enforcing a court order by the rival Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) party on 5 June during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The main opposition MDC youth assembly members have violently fought each other to take control of the party’s headquarters in Harare on behalf of faction leaders since the days of the party’s late founding father, Morgan Tsvangirai. Twice in under two months, youths aligned to the rival factions, one led by Chamisa and the other by Thokozani Khupe, have taken control of the building, with the latest attempt occurring on Monday 28 September.

The MDC-T Harare youth chairperson, Paul Gorekore, who was behind Monday’s takeover, addressed journalists in the company of former youth leaders from the 2014 structures who defected with Chamisa to form the Alliance.

“As the first line of defence of the party, the vanguards of democracy and the custodians of the party and its future, we have assumed all security duties of the party headquarters.”

Gorekore accused the ruling Zanu-PF of “infiltrating and capturing” the party in a bid “to destroy the people’s movement, thereby aiding the suffering of the masses”.

“We act to unite our leadership, support base and Zimbabweans at large. We furthermore urge the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to desist from interfering in MDC internal political affairs and immediately vacate our headquarters. We also urge all youths to maintain discipline and peace as we await the party national executive and national council meeting to map the political way forward,” Gorekore said.

Why fight for MRT House?

Before his death in February 2018, Tsvangirai had brought together more than seven opposition political parties in Zimbabwe under one roof in what he called “the big tent”. Tsvangirai’s MDC-T was to become the principal partner and so the big tent was named the MDC Alliance. The Alliance included parties led by former MDC defectors like Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube – now Chamisa’s two vice-presidents – and Job Sikhala, now vice-chairman.

The MDC leadership was bitterly disputed after the supreme court judgment in March 2020 which ruled that Chamisa’s elevation to the presidium was illegitimate because it didn’t follow the party’s constitution.

The 2014 MDC-T congress had elected Khupe as Tsvangirai’s only deputy and according to the party’s constitution she should have assumed interim charge pending an extraordinary congress, but Chamisa had already allegedly usurped the throne and ran against Mnangagwa in the 2018 disputed election.

Khupe has since used the judgment to assert herself as leader of both the MDC-T and MDC Alliance parties, claiming the party’s properties and finances. More than 24 members of Parliament and senators who rejected her leadership have been recalled.

There was a heavy police presence outside MRT House, but commanding officers called for “peace to prevail”. At least nine MDC Alliance youths were arrested outside the headquarters while the rest had locked themselves inside the building.

Daily Maverick spoke to MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora, who vowed to stop the Chamisa-led group using legal means. 

“They were organised and funded by Chamisa and G40 [a faction of Zanu-PF] to unlawfully take over our building using violence, but we will take it back.

“They’re not in a position to make demands after holding 12 of our members hostage. They’re in a weak position both legally and physically. It’s a question of time, we will take our building,” Mwonzora said. 

The MDC Alliance has not been recognised as a legal entity by Zimbabwean courts by virtue of it being an election pact by a group of opposition political parties, but Chamisa insists it is a party. The Alliance, however, has no constitution. 

MDC Alliance vice-presidents Biti and Lynette Karenyi-Kore are currently on trial after they were arrested for violating Covid-19 lockdown regulations while attempting to take back the building in June. In 2014, Biti and another leader, Elton Mangoma, were rescued by Tsvangirai after youths loyal to the late leader assaulted them at the party headquarters for allegedly trying to illegally unseat Tsvangirai.

Formed in 1999, the MDC has split more than five times and the latest occupation is likely to aggravate the already fierce battle for the iconic building which both camps see as the soul of Zimbabwe’s democratic struggle. DM