The opposition MDC Alliance on Thursday said it foiled an attempted take-over of its Harare headquarters hours after it announced a boycott of parliamentary proceedings to protest against the dismissal of four of its legislators at the behest of a faction opposed to the party leadership.
On March 31, the country’s Supreme Court declared that Nelson Chamisa’s leadership of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance was illegitimate and ordered the party to hold an election to elect new leadership within three months.
A majority of MDC-A leaders have rallied behind Chamisa, arguing that the leadership issue was settled when the party held a congress in 2019 to choose a new executive.
But a faction opposed to Chamisa has been emboldened by the court ruling and this week asked parliament to eject four senior MDC-A members, all allies of Chamisa.
Dozens of police officers in riot gear arrived at the MDC-A offices in central Harare shortly before 7PM armed with a letter written by Douglas Mwonzora, the party’s former secretary general who says the court judgement has restored him to his former position with Thokozani Khupe as interim leader.
In it, he requested police help to take over the party HQ “in order to carry on the task of preparing for the extraordinary congress.” He stated that the offices were guarded by 15 to 20 youths who had “promised violence… threatened that there would be a bloodbath.”
MDC-A Secretary general Charlton Hwende said the police drove off after being challenged because they had no court order. “We have possession, occupation and title so they left. Harvest House is a revolutionary house, no-one can take that away from us,” Hwende said.
MDC-A treasurer general David Coltart wrote on Twitter that the building “is not owned by MDC-T”, the party of Mwonzora, “and the MDC Alliance is in lawful occupation of it.”
Earlier, the MDC-A said parliament, which is controlled by the ruling Zanu PF party, had taken sides in the fight to control the opposition. The party suspended participation in parliament while it consults members on its next move.
“For the avoidance of doubt this means that no MDC-A member shall attend any parliamentary committee or the sitting of parliament or any official business of parliament until such time as a decision is made,” the MDC-A said.
The four lawmakers’ dismissal should trigger a by-election but the new coronavirus outbreak makes this uncertain. The pandemic also makes it difficult for the MDC-A to organise protests. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF already has a majority in parliament and can pass legislation or even amend the constitution without any hindrance.
Chamisa, 42, narrowly lost the 2018 presidential election to Mnangagwa. He maintains Mnangagwa rigged the vote and does not recognise his presidency.
The MDC-A, which has split three times since its formation in 1999, frequently accuses Zanu PF of fanning divisions in its ranks. Zanu PF denies the charge.