Opinion / Columnist
Black Friday and the new Chiwenga law
04 Oct 2020 at 10:04hrs | Views
THREE very interesting but equally disturbing, sinister and disruptive developments took place last Friday.
The Supreme Court granted the MDC-T party an extension to hold its long-overdue congress to November 30. The party had applied for the extension after failing to hold the congress within the time earlier specified by the highest courts, ostensibly due to Covid-19 and the resultant lockdown that made it risky and criminal for people to gather in large numbers.
This was part of the long-running script relating to the fight for political turf between MDCT, led by Thokozani Khupe, and MDC Alliance, headed by Nelson Chamisa. The courts had ruled that there must be a congress to choose a new leadership for the MDC party to which both factions belonged in 2014, whatever that would mean now.
Second, the Health ministry headed by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga pulled out a new statutory instrument — SI 225A — that indefinitely suspended the holding of by-elections in more than a dozen constituencies. MDC-T has been recalling undesirable lawmakers aligned to MDC-A over the past few months.
This has made it necessary for by-elections to be held to replace the recalled MPs, and councillors, of course. Recently, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) made nice noises. It said the byelections could go ahead. MDCA, which is undeniably far much more popular, was hoping to hit back at its MDC-T rival through the by-elections and then claim back its seats in Parliament.
Third, the ZEC, through a government gazette, announced that seven proportional representation legislators had been appointed to the now not-so-august house. These lawmakers are all from MDC-T and include Khupe as had always been speculated. It must be sweet for her to get back to Parliament after losing so sourly in 2018, and even sweeter for her to be the head of a party that is, in reality, not entitled to more than the two seats it received in 2018.
There are several coincidences here, if you look closely. The three developments, as already said, happened on the same day. That's a calendar coincidence and would not have mattered if there were no other coincidences. The second one is that they all converged on the political fights between MDCT and MDC-A. Thirdly, they all favoured MDC-T and represented a pitch-black Friday for Chamisa's MDC-A. Number 4, they all came with the involvement of state institutions — the Supreme Court, the Health ministry and ZEC.
MDC-T must be the luckiest opposition party the world over, to be benefiting from state-related acts of commission like that. If you are cynical enough, you would say MDC-T is an opposition party that is being sponsored by the ruling party to undermine its rival. This is not a new cynicism, of course. It's as old as when the courts ruled that Chamisa's party was illegitimate, hence the need to go back to congress to choose a new leadership based on the 2014 structures of the "united" MDC.
Then came the controversial take-over of Harvest House, the symbolic party headquarters in Harare. They said — and provided pictures and small videos to prove a point — that the police was helping MDC-T wrest Harvest House from MDC-A, which then routinely dismissed MDC-T as a court created Zanu-PF goblin.
This happens quite often in politics the world over. You don't haunch on your laurels when you see a chance to finish off your enemy. The problem is how you are going to do it. If you are going to use public resources and agencies to do that, it's criminal, corrupt and undemocratic. It's not acceptable.
What is particularly absurd is the Health ministry's SI225A. It looks proper on paper to suspend the by-elections. We are still not out of the woods with Covid-19, so big gatherings would not be permissible. But, really? Right from the word go, it looks clumsy, untidy and futile for the Health ministry to ban elections. SI255A was made precisely to do that. One would have thought that the Justice ministry and ZEC should have done that to avoid any misinterpretations and naughty perceptions.
This particular instrument is right on big gatherings. Just that it's forgetting certain important issues. In other words, it's too selective, if not sinisterly so. Just recently, government allowed schools to reopen. It also re-admitted public transport operators back on the roads. Using these two examples alone, there is no prize for seeing that the government has re-admitted big crowds. By early next month, all classes in primary and secondary school will be back in schools. Most probably from Monday to Sunday to make up for lost time.
Talk about social distancing is hypocritical. You are never going to get first graders remembering to socially distance. But the main point is, by re-introducing school-
ing, government has permitted large crowds once again. The same applies with public transport. Of course, it's not as if we have not been having large and congested crowds even during the harshest days of the lockdown.
What difference, then, is VP Chiwenga's ministry drawing between the crowds at school and on public transport on one hand and the crowds that would come with by-elections? Put differently, why permit the re-opening of schools and still ban the holding of byelections?
In any case, how come by-elections are being suspended indefinitely and the MDC congress allowed to take place on November 30? Is it a case of the Supreme Court being bound by the law to set concrete time-lines, with the possibility of further extensions based on prevailing circumstances? Or is this deliberate, to ensure that MDC-T can somehow still go ahead and do a lockdown congress, then pluck more feathers from the MDC-A crest? Or maybe, by that time, parliament would have sat and used a "consensus" vote to change the constitution to declare a moratorium on elections for some time?
Whatever is going to happen, the developments on Friday when the Health ministry indefinitely suspended by-elections, the Supreme Court threw the MDC-T another lifeline and ZEC announced the appointment of new MDC-T legislators stink far and wide.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
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