The big interview BY XOLISANI NCUBE
The succession battle following founding MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s death in February 2018 took an intriguing turn last week after the High Court ruled that Nelson Chamisa is not the party’s legitimate leader.
Justice Edith Mushore made the ruling in a case brought by an MDC official from Gokwe, who had challenged Tsvangirai’s 2017 appointments of Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri as vice-presidents.
The court’s decision means that Thokozani Khupe is the legimate leader of the country’s main opposition party and she is now expected to organise an extraordinary congress.
Khupe (TK), who left the MDC last year to lead her own MDC-T, told our senior reporter Xolisani Ncube (XN) in an exclusive interview yesterday that she was determined to see the court ruling implemented.
She revealed that she had already met MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora to discuss the ruling and is eager to hold talks with Chamisa to plot the way forward.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
XN: How do you intend to respond to last week’s High Court ruling that said you are the legitimate leader of the MDC?
TK: First things first, the court ruling is asking us to hold an extraordinary congress.
We must meet as parties who are mentioned in that court order to come up with a way of implementing that order.
I cannot do this alone, we need each other as a party and this we must do.
XN: Last year you held an extraordinary congress that confirmed you as the leader of the MDC-T. How do you reconcile the fact that you are now claiming leadership of another party?
TK: The High Court ruling has done one simple thing, to nullify everything which happened post February 14, 2018.
It has given us a direction to follow in accordance with our party constitution and we shall follow that.
XN: What do you intend to do if other parties in the dispute over the leadership of the MDC ignore your invitation?
TK: I am a firm believer in constitutionalism and I strongly believe that if we want the MDC party, whose agenda at its formation was to respect and promote the rule of law, we shall find each other and implement the court decision.
Also we have other avenues to ensure we comply with the court judgement because we believe in the rule of law.
I cannot disclose other avenues that we are going to pursue, but we are going to do something about this court ruling.
XN: What is your reaction to the stance by other MDC leaders that party members should choose their leaders, not the courts?
TK: Laws are made to govern the people and ought to be followed.
If people make rules for themselves, they must follow them and abide by the book.
No matter how many people support something illegal, it would not change and become right.
We must always stick to the constitution.
It doesn’t matter who and how many are doing the wrong thing, for me, principles matter and must transcend beyond selfish agendas.
I don’t support mobocracy. I don’t support ideas based on emotions, but ideas based on the law and what ought to be done.
In this case, the court has just reminded us what the MDC law book says and how we must conduct ourselves.
XN: What is your reaction to criticism that the ruling pushes a Zanu PF agenda to weaken the opposition?
TK: It is unfortunate that we always want to fault some people on a matter we could have dealt with in a different manner.
I, for one, don’t think this is fair to say Zanu PF influenced this decision.
This matter was brought by an MDC member from Gokwe and the colleagues defended their position with a view to win, but a decision was made. How does this become a Zanu PF idea?
Let us go back to the law and apply the law as it is written in the MDC constitution.
XN: A lot has happened since the death of Tsvangirai, which includes an election that you contested as MDC-T against MDC Alliance, among other parties. How do you intend to deal with the new reality?
TK: Right now, we are supposed to be dealing with an extraordinary congress and not focus on MPs and other issues.
The court judgement instructs us to deal with the extraordinary congress only.
Why do you want to divert from the real issue. We have to talk about this issue in an honest, open and truthful manner.
XN: After the court ruling, you indicated that you would want to engage MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora on the way forward. Have you made any headway on this matter?
TK: I have met him to discuss the court decision, but he is just one person who is affected by the court’s decision.
We need to meet as a collective and map a way to take the party forward.
XN: In your view, what is Chamisa’s position in the party?
TK: He is an MDC national executive member and that is according to the High Court ruling.
The court said we must revert back to the 2014 structures and if we are true democrats and abide by the constitution, we must just do as the order stated.
XN: Have you engaged him so that you could take the party forward as you have said?
TK: I have not spoken to him, I have instructed my lawyers to engage their lawyers so that we can start to talk.
The idea is to handle this matter in a mature way.
The main reason why I am avoiding calling him directly is because I don’t know how he would react and I don’t want to create a mountain from nothing.
Let us deal with this issue without emotions. When our lawyers find each other, we can then engage for the good of the MDC.
XN: Others say Tsvangirai, who is accused of violating the MDC constitution, can no longer defend himself.
TK: If people had done the right thing in February and followed the constitution of the party and not this mobocracy, we would be somewhere as a movement.
Some of us tried by all means to talk and had agreed that we shall follow the party constitution, but we were surprised by what happened.
On the issue of the VPs, I disagreed with the president and I gave him my advice as his VP.
I told him the reason why I was against the unconstitutional appointments.
So basically, this is the reason we differed and it is normal to differ.
XN: Some say you actually left the party before Tsvangirai died because you were no longer attending meetings after you differed on the VPs. What is your reaction to such allegations?
TK: I attended all meetings called by Tsvangirai as my legitimate leader.
I did not attend any meeting called by any of those people who were unconstitutionally appointed as VPs.
I told him this and he knew why I was not attending such meetings.
As you might know, we were attacked in Bulawayo by people who were purporting to be representing him.
I spoke to him and he apologised about the issue.
Maybe for clarity, when the president fell ill, it is I and Chief Ndlovu from South Africa who facilitated that he gets treatment.
We worked to ensure that our president was well.
We managed to mobilise
R200 000 that was required for him to get his first operation.
Three days before he died, I was called by the family saying he wanted to talk to me.
He was unable to speak well, but he had a desire to talk to me.
So those who are saying I had a frosty relationship with him are just politicking. It is cheap propaganda.