Mnangagwa legitimacy conundrum explodes into court battle
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa is cornered in a high-stakes internal power struggle manoeuvre over his dubious legitimacy as Zanu PF leader in the aftermath of a devastating High Court application by a party member — which reflects factional strife and his faltering grip.
In the explosive lawsuit, party member Sybeth Musengezi is demanding that the court follow the precedent set by the opposition MDC-T case in the Supreme Court and force Mnangagwa to step down.
This comes as The NewsHawks has received huge feedback from various political sections, including Zanu PF bigwigs and ordinary members, showing that the court case has set the cat among the pigeons ahead of the party’s annual conference at the end of this month.
The shifts and changes within Zanu PF structures amid a state of flux are also being fuelled by the political brinkmanship fixated on the party’s delayed elective congress before the 2023 general elections.
This is over and above the main contention in the application, widely shared in the party, that Mnangagwa should relinquish the leadership, as he was installed illegally through a kangaroo Zanu PF central committee meeting on 19 November 2017 at party headquarters in Harare. The meeting was unlawfully convened, constituted and conducted, the High Court application by Zanu PF member Musengezi demanding Mnangagwa’s removal says.
The court challenge against Mnangagwa’s ascendancy by Musengezi has echoes of the messy MDC-T infighting that erupted following the death of founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February 2018. Mnangagwa’s unconstitutional and unlawful rise to power is thus now entangled in the MDC-T case precedent. Courts usually work through precedents.
Precedent refers to a court judgment that is considered as authority for deciding subsequent cases involving identical or similar facts, or similar legal issues. The similarities between the Zanu PF and the MDC-T cases are close. Musengezi is alive to that reality in his application.
“I am fortified in my quest for a remedy to my grievance against the respondents (Zanu PF, Mnangagwa, Obert Mpofu, Zanu PF secretary for administration, Patrick Chinamasa, Zanu PF secretary for finance and acting national commissar, Phelekezela Mphoko, former vice-president, and Ignatius Chombo, ex-secretary for administration) by a recent judgment of the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe handed down on the 31st of March 2020 in the matter of the Movement for Democratic Change & Others v Mashavira & Others Sc 56/20, wherein the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe made a corrective intervention in the internal affairs of the Movement for Democratic Change party and made an order for the regularisation of the election of the leadership of that political party in the interests of justice despite the passage of time and the mootness of the case,” Musengezi says.
“The Supreme Court in the said judgment held that it is a matter of public importance as regards the governance of political parties generally that the leadership of the political party is constitutionally and lawfully ensconced.” Musengezi said the political stakes were much higher in the current Zanu PF case than in the MDC-T one.
“The stakes in the present matter are much higher and cry out for the corrective intervention of this honourable court as the beneficiary of the chain of events which commenced with the unlawful special session of the central committee convened on the 19th of November 2017, the 2nd respondent (Mnangagwa), now occupies the positions of both president and first secretary of the party and President and head of state of the country. His ascension to both those positions is tainted by blatant illegalities in violation of the constitution of the 1st respondent (Zanu PF). He cannot derive any legitimacy at all from the catalogue of illegalities which were committed in furtherance of his ambition to occupy the two offices of the party and the country.
“My fear is that once one assumes a position of political power illegally, they are prone to engaging in further illegal conduct to retain and consolidate that power. If such illegalities as were committed in propelling the 2nd respondent to the political positions he currently occupies in the party and under the country’s constitution go unchecked, it will become the norm in the party which is contrary to its aims and objectives as enshrined in the party constitution.”
Mnangagwa is locked in a cut-throat battle with Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga over the party’s unresolved leadership issue following the toppling of the late former president Robert Mugabe.
The infighting between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga — just like Mugabe and Mnangagwa before that — is manifesting itself through different events in the party and government, as well as business and civil society. Musengezi, a Zanu PF member of good standing for 20 years, says Mnangagwa was unconstitutionally and unlawfully elected by the central committee meeting of 19 November 2017 — five days after the military coup that ousted Mugabe.
As a result, Musengezi is seeking a declaratur against Mnangagwa that the special session of the central committee after the coup at party headquarters in Harare from 10am to 4pm was ultra vires the Zanu PF constitution, unlawful and thus null and void ab initio.
He also wants the court to rule that all the resolutions of the central committee meeting passed during its unlawful gathering to install Mnangagwa as party leader were “unlawful, invalid and are accordingly set aside”.
Further, Musengezi says Mphoko should temporarily take over the Zanu PF leadership and preside over an extraordinary Zanu PF congress to be called within 90 days of the granting of the order to regularise the leadership positions to ensure Mugabe’s successor is installed constitutionally and legally.
As things stand, Mnangagwa has no mandate to be the leader of Zanu PF and President of Zimbabwe, the application suggests. He came in through a string of illegalities which have not been cured, meaning he is an illegal President of the republic.
Besides the coup and his 2018 disputed election, Zanu PF did not elect him as the application contends.
Legal experts say Mnangagwa is a product of a slew of illegalities and here is why:
- irst, he came in through a coup, which means unconstitutional seizure of power;
- econdly, he did not follow the national constitution on how he should have come in; Mphoko did not act as required;
- Thirdly, he was installed as Zanu PF leader by an illegal central committee meeting;
- Fourth, he was elected through a disputed election with a wafer-thin margin in 2018; and
- Fifth, he did not hold the 2019 Zanu PF congress which was due, as he feared defeat amid raging battles of unsettled leadership question.