Two former allies of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe whom he fired last year are suing the 91-year-old leader and his ZANU-PF party for unfair dismissal and for breaching the party's constitution, court papers seen by Reuters showed.
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, changed the party's constitution ahead of ZANU-PF's December congress to allow him to appoint his two deputies himself rather than having them elected by the party.
Rugare Gumbo, once the ZANU-PF spokesman, and Didymus Mutasa, the party's former secretary general, say in their lawsuit, which also targets a former party chairman, that these changes were illegal.
The lawsuit, filed at Zimbabwe's High Court, also says Mugabe breached the law by removing a provision requiring one of the deputies to be a woman and by appointing his wife Grace to lead the ZANU-PF women's wing.
Their challenge to Mugabe is unprecedented, especially as it comes from members who for years were Mugabe's closest allies.
Gumbo was fired from the party in December and Mutasa in February on charges that they supported a bid by former vice president Joice Mujuru to remove Mugabe from power.
Mujuru, who had been tipped as Mugabe's successor, was dismissed for allegedly plotting to assassinate Mugabe and to contest against him at the December congress. She has denied these accusations and has not been charged.
Grace Mugabe led the attacks on Mujuru before her downfall.
Simon Khaya Moyo, ZANU-PF's spokesman, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Mugabe was re-elected as ZANU-PF leader at the party's congress, making him the ZANU-PF candidate in the 2018 polls. Viewed as an international pariah for decades, Mugabe has been accused of vote rigging and human rights violations, making him the target of sanctions by the West.
The deputies he appointed in December are Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko. The two were also named joint vice presidents.