Security forces seized the headquarters of Zimbabwe’s main opposition group in the capital Harare late Thursday night.
The move paved the way for one of the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC Alliance) to occupy the building.
It benefits the Thokozani Khupe-led MDC-T faction, which is an ally of the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF).
The MDC-T joined the Political Actors Dialogue after the other MDC Alliance faction led by Nelson Chamisa refused, accusing Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa of rigging the country’s general elections two years ago.
Chamisa became the leader of the MDC Alliance after the death of former prime minister and longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in 2018, and was Mnangagwa’s main rival in the elections.
His elevation to the top caused a rift within the opposition bloc and resulted in a split with Khupe.
The Supreme Court recently declared Khupe the rightful leader of the MDC Alliance, but the decision has been opposed by Chamisa’s side.
MDC Alliance denounces action as ‘unlawful’
The MDC Alliance has denounced the seizure of its headquarters as unlawful and said it proves the MDC-T’s strong links to the ruling Zanu-PF.
“If there was any doubt that the Khupe, [Douglas] Mwonzora, and [Morgen] Komichi group is just a ZANU-PF front, that has been vividly removed overnight. When have soldiers or police ever helped anyone in the MDC since it was formed in 1999?” said Charlton Hwende, the secretary-general of the MDC Alliance.
“Fortunately, Harvest House [the opposition headquarters] is a privately owned property. It can’t be taken forcefully by soldiers. They must go to court and obtain an eviction order.”
David Coltart, the treasurer general of the MDC Alliance, also contended the legality of the move.
“The only person who is entitled to forcibly take over a privately owned building is the sheriff of a high court of Zimbabwe [who is] armed with a court order,” he said.
“This did not happen. We have never received any such court application or order.”
However, Morgen Komichi, chairperson of the rival MDC-T, claimed there was a “proper handover” of the disputed building.
“There has been a proper handover of the headquarters. What is happening now is that there are MDC Alliance youths going against what their leaders have done. The police are here to maintain order,” he said.
Despite Komichi’s assertions, MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said the group “maintains its rightful position” as occupants of the headquarters, and “will not allow such underhanded and patently unlawful seizure of its property.”