The rise of Douglas Mwonzora to the helm of the MDC T on 27 December 2020 has had its fair share of controversies. However, most of the controversies are internally generated. Mwonzora becomes the second substantive president of the two decade old opposition formed in 1999. He rose through the party’s ranks to where he is today. The past two decades have seen him occupying leadership roles at District, province and national levels. He has been most visible on the national platform as the party’s secretary for information and Secretary General. Furthermore, he was the party’s face in the successful drafting of the National Constitution which received more than 3 million endorsing votes in 2013. Therefore, in terms of the MDC constitution Mwonzora’s qualification to hold the top office in the party is beyond question. There are no doubts about his eligibility.
Since December 2020 the media, both social and mainstream, has been flooded with illegiticy and criminal allegations on Mwonzora and his presidency. These allegations have their origins from within the MDC T itself. They are attributed directly or indirectly to some of Mwonzora’s rivals for the top office.
This opinion piece will not focus on personalities but on the substantive issues alleged. Specifically it will dwell on the allegations of procedural flaws in the Extraordinary process on the 27th of December 2020, the allegations of stealing party funds and the allegations of unconstitutional appointments in the post Extraordinary congress era.
Extraordinary Congress Process on 27 December 2020
There is not much to say on this one because a legal opinion by the MDC T lawyer Professor Lovemore Madhuku cleared the legal air around this. Further, the Independent Electoral Management Board (IEMB) which conducted the election and announced the results has prepared an independent report on same. A critique of the report is subject for another day. From Professor Madhuku’s legal opinion and the declaration by the Independent Electoral Management Board, Mwonzora was duly elected second president of the MDC left by the late Morgan Tsvangirai. And again like Madhuku said unless a competent court of law says otherwise, Mwonzora is the legitimate president of the MDC T whether individuals want to recognise him or not. Any contrary claim at the moment is null and void.
It will be a tall if not insurmountable order to try to overturn this position legally. Yes there may be allegations of voters roll irregularities, violence and intimidation but these do not erase the fact that the process went on to its logical conclusion. That the independent management board allowed the process to go on and declared a winner shows that the alleged violence and intimidation were not an programme-inhibiting occurrence. Therefore, this has no much force to warrant even prima facie dismissal of the outcome of the 27 December event. It must be noted that violence or intimidation in any form against anyone is and must never be condoned. However, these alleged irregularities serve as pointers to areas of improvement for the party in subsequent such events.
From the declaration by the IEMB and the Madhuku legal opinion, Mwonzora, as the substantive President of MDC T has legitimate authority to exercise the functions of the office to their fullness.
When Mwonzora assumed office he made some far reaching appointments in the party’s executive. Much has been said about his appointments to positions that are ordinarily elected positions as well as appointing an extra vice president. Many have been quick to label Mwonzora as playing double standards. This is so given that the Supreme Court judgment which led to the Extraordinary congress of 27th December 2020 had nullified the appointments of vice presidents in the party in 2016. The argument being advanced is that Mwonzora has repeated exactly what Morgan Tsvangirai did putting to question the purpose of having it nullified in the first place. Further, it is argued that Mwonzora was making appointments in the same way that Chamisa did when he took over.
Therefore, he was just repeating Chamisa’s moves which were nullified by the Supreme Court. These arguments erroneously give the impression of an individual opposing in order to do what he is opposing. It is also designed to perpetuate the narrative that Mwonzora is a product of the system and as such he can be allowed to do as he wants. This impression needs to be debunked once and for all. First on the Tsvangirai appointments there was no evidence that it was to align with the national constitution. The late Tsvangirai made two appointments with no precedential justification in and outside the party. The 2016 appointments were activated before ratification by the National Council or congress. The National Council then could not sit as a congress as it was not the first National Council after a congress. Hence had no power to ratify this. In the 2016 scenario according to deposed Murimoga case court papers on record the National Council purportedly delegated the President to make the appointments for which he had no power in terms of the constitution. In the Mwonzora case he proposed and the National Council ratified hence taking responsibility.
Therefore, if anyone wants to contest this in a court of law he or she must site the National council of the party and not put it on Mwonzora. Furthermore, in Mwonzora’s case only one VP was appointed and this was convincingly explained as a move to align the party constitution with the national constitution. This actually puts the party up as an entity that respects the national constitution as the supreme law of the land. As a governing party in waiting its structure must mirror the national structure. This aspect was clearly missing in the MDC draughtsmanship. While Mwonzora proposed to have Mudzuri as his Second Vice President it is the National Council of the party that appointed Mudzuri to that position. If there is dispute on whether the move is correct or not the next ordinary congress will approve or disapprove. This is ‘if ‘ only on the basis that it is proven that the National Council of the party had no power at the material time to do same.
Secondly, the attacks on Mwonzora’s appointments to vacancies in elected positions are baseless. It is evident that some elected positions were vacant. For the organisation to fully function these vacancies had to be populated. The party’s constitution does not say those positions have to remain vacant until the next elective congress. The party’s constitution provides for appointment of deputies to officers of congress. It is sheer hypocrisy on the part of those in the MDC aligned to Dr Khupe to say Mwonzora has no power to appoint anyone to fill an elected position. When Khupe took over she appointed Mudzuri the Deputy National Chairperson of the party not even in acting capacity. No one said it was wrong. Interestingly she put him above an elected Secretary General at that. Because it was done by their preferred leader those making noise today were quiet about it. However, be that as it may, the MDC constitution is silent on appointments to acting capacity in elected positions. This leaves it to leadership discretion. And there was precedence from Khupe in the case of Mudzuri.
It goes without saying that those that Khupe appointed as deputies to elected office were definitely going to act in the vacant substantive positions above them. It is clear when Khupe appointed her people Pugeni and Ndlovu as deputy information secretary and deputy treasurer general respectively her intention was to have them as acting Information and treasurer respectively but with full powers of the substantive offices above them. If an appointed deputy can act in the role above him or her it means anyone else can be appointed to act in that role. It is not automatic that the deputy becomes the acting. It is clear for example that in terms of the MDC constitution a deputy treasurer’s duties are to assist the treasurer in his or her duties and to act on behalf of the same if the same is absent or unable to perform their duties as well as perform any such functions assigned by the treasurer general. So this means the deputy treasurer general cannot automatically become the treasurer general or acting treasurer general if the position becomes vacant.
The MDC constitution provides for omission or oversight in draughtsmanship. The national council of the MDC was within its mandate at the material time to adopt the appointments in acting capacity and ratify the proposal to make same appointments substantive. This is so especially given that it was the first National council meeting after a congress. What is clear in this scenario is that if anyone takes the issue of appointments to court it will be impossible to overturn. The appointments are above board given the omission sited. However, the argument would remain on whether the appointments should be in acting capacity or substantive. One of the two will definitely carry the day. The fact that the real argument will be on this makes the whole effort to fight it an exercise in futility, wasting time and resources because it won’t change anything.
Practically the fights on the Mwonzora ascendency to the top MDC post and his subsequent appointments are just political hot air without legal power to change anything. It can only serve to strain internal political relations. Any tug of war in this regard politically and legally is skewed towards Mwonzora.
Allegations of Stealing Party Funds
The allegations of ‘stealing’ party funds by Mwonzora is mere internal smear campaign that will not add any value to the democratic struggle that many want to be associated with. There are uninformed social media rants that Mwonzora must be arrested and sent to prison for stealing public funds. There are even calls for an audit of the grant from government to the MDC. This is as nonsensical as the push for the police to lock Mwonzora for this. First and foremost the money is a grant to a private voluntary organisation that earned the right to receive it for its own use following a laid down procedure. A grant by its nature is not repayable. It is only the beneficiary organisation that determines how to use the money received for its operations. Its not the operational items that determine the receiving or amount receivable. It is an entitlement upon achieving a certain representation in parliament after a general election. It is the organisation that decides how to use the money to advance its set objectives and obligations. To put it bluntly it is a misnomer for anyone to term any internal use of an earned grant as abuse of the taxpayer’s money.
The taxpayer’s interest ends at the point the funds are disbursed to deserving beneficiaries in terms of the act. Beyond that its none of the taxpayer’s business. What beneficiaries do with the funds allocated to them is their own business. For example when you get a grant to go to school the grant providers are not interested in what type of books you buy and what kind of clothes you buy with the grant money or what amount of fees is payable. As long as you are going to school. When I went to university a long time ago I received a government grant. It paid for my fees and upkeep. Besides my upkeep, like many of my peers, I used some of the money to send my young brothers to school and some of it I bought cattle for my peasant farmer father.
The same applies with the government grant to political parties. It is the party, which is the beneficiary and through its designated persons decides how it is used. It is those designated persons who can tell whether their money is stolen or not. So for all intents and purposes it is the party through its designated person or persons that can go to the police and report any theft. This can not be done by an unsubscribing street member who may be used by insiders to fight their colleagues in proxy. To start with Murimoga has no legitimacy to report a theft in MDC grant moneys by MDC leaders or anyone for that matter. He has no say in how the money is distributed internally. Secondly, he does not represent the party which is the beneficiary of the grant. The truth is that even Thokozani Khupe can not report a theft of grant money to the police unless mandated by the party’s National Executive Committee implementing decisions and resolutions of the party’s National Council which is the organ of the party with authority to lead the organisation and execute its aims and objectives. So outside congress the National Council of the MDC is the only organ with power to authorise legal or criminal proceedings with regards to allegations of internal abuse of the government grant. The MDC is a juristic person which can sue or be sued in its own right. Through its designated people it can seek recompense in its own right.
It wont be surprising why the police doesn’t seem keen to be involved in this matter at this juncture. All this points to, for any sane mind, is internal power struggles. Actually, its Murimoga and his handlers who are trying to abuse state machinery to fight internal power wars. It is only the party that can confirm that money is missing or not. When Khupe wrote to the police after one Chisvo had reported Mwonzora for stealing party money she was simply telling the police that the party had not complained or pressed charges. The fact that the police listened to that points to the truth of who must make the report in the first place. It should be prudent to hasten to say that even Khupe or any MDC member today can not report theft of party funds without permission of the party’s national council. In a bid to tarnish the image of Mwonzora Murimoga and his team by alleging money laundering using the government grant they are tarnishing the image of the party and all its leadership Thokozani Khupe included. It puts to question the leadership capacity of Khupe herself if indeed anything untoward happened under her watch.
It is clear the internal struggles within the MDC T left by Tsvangirai have nothing to do with substantive issues but has everything to do with power. It is only painting in bad power light the Khupe camp and Khupe herself. She is coming out as someone who doesn’t take defeat lightly and who is prepared to burn all bridges if she doesn’t get her way. There is also display of negative arrogance that borders on ill perceived tribal superiority on the part of the Khupe team. They seem to be trying to bully others using the tribal victim card. In the process they are displaying dictatorial and intolerant tendencies. This is not likely to sit well with well-meaning Zimbabweans across the board. Politics has no permanent friends or enemies. In all internal disagreements it’s advisable to differ respectfully without burning bridges.