Opposition officials sue party leader in Zimbabwe

Five top officials in Zimbabwe’s divided main opposition party filed a multimillion-dollar defamation suit against Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, their lawyer said on Friday.

The officials allege Tsvangirai accused them of plotting his assassination, attorney Nicholas Mathonsi said. The suit, demanding 100 billion Zimbabwe dollars (S$9,6-million) in damages, was filed on Thursday in the second city of Bulawayo.

Tsvangirai gave notice he would defend the action, and has 10 days to submit a summary of his rebuttal before a date can be set for a hearing, Mathonsi said.

Fixing a date could take several months, he said.

Mathonsi said the suit arose from a December 21 address Tsvangirai had made to foreign diplomats in Harare, in which he alleged main rivals in the opposition were planning his “elimination”.

The rivals—including the party’s Vice-President, Gibson Sibanda, and secretary general, Welshman Ncube—had opposed an order by Tsvangirai in October to boycott the November 26 national elections for a new 66-seat upper house, or Senate.

Defying Tsvangirai, the rivals fielded 26 candidates in the Senate race, but won only seven seats.

The defamation suit filed on Thursday threatened to further disintegrate the labour-backed party, formed in 1999 as the first significant challenge to the autocratic rule of President Robert Mugabe, who lead the nation to independence from Britain in 1980.

The two rival party factions were scheduled to hold their own conventions in February, which were expected to result in the formation of two opposition parties, both claiming the name of the MDC.

Both Tsvangirai’s and Sibanda’s supporters have voted to strip their opponents of positions in the party, but both sides have ignored those votes.

Last month, Sibanda’s faction demanded Tsvangirai relinquish the party presidency and the right to use the opposition symbol of an open-hand salute and turn in party property.

Just 19% of eligible voters cast ballots in the Senate poll, the lowest turnout for a national election since independence in 1980.

Tsvangirai claimed voters heeded his boycott call.
Independent election monitors said voting was affected by apathy and voter fatigue, after three bruising national elections since 2000 lost by the opposition amid allegations of political intimidation and vote rigging by the government.

Tsvangirai argued that participation in the Senate vote would lend credibility to a poll that was certain to be flawed. Others in the party said the opposition needed to try to maintain a voice in the legislature. - Sapa-AP