Bennett arrested during spate of violence and intimidation


The Member of Parliament for Chimanimani Roy Bennett and his wife Heather were among several Movement for Democratic Change supporters who were arrested as violence and intimidation mounted during the run-up to the rural council elections.

His wife was released buy Bennett remained in jail.

A German doctor at the hospital in Chipinge told United States embassy officials that prior to the local elections, she had treated approximately 10 people for fractures and bruising that appeared attributable to political violence.


Full cable:



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Reference ID





2002-10-01 12:28


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HARARE 002193









E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/30/2012







Classified By: political section chief Matt Harrington. Reasons: 1.5 (

B) and (D).





1. (C) Voter turnout was low in Zimbabwe’s nationwide rural

council elections September 28-29, and early returns suggest

a likely landslide victory by the ruling ZANU-PF, not

surprising given pre-election violence, intimidation, and

electoral manipulation. The GOZ stepped up efforts to

diminish outside scrutiny of the electoral process, including

barring most local independent observers and opposition

representatives from the polling stations. In addition,

government officials refused to share any election-related

information with informal observer teams from Harare-based

diplomatic missions, including the United States, saying they

had been instructed not to engage in such discussions.

Incidents of violence and harassment against MDC supporters

and officials, including the arrest of an opposition

parliamentarian, were reported on the voting days.

Government-procured food assistance is being used for

political gain by ZANU-PF, while cases of malnutrition among

children and adults increases dramatically. End Summary.


General Climate



2. (C) Three observer teams from Harare-based diplomatic

missions, including three U.S. diplomats, deployed to hot

spots, beginning two-three days before the nationwide rural

council elections held September 28-29. One team covered the

province of Manicaland, while the other two travelled to key

areas in Matabeleland North and South; in total, the teams

visited approximately a tenth of Zimbabwe’s 120 electoral

constituencies. Common themes emerged from the experiences

of all three teams: food assistance distributed by

government is regularly manipulated to give political

advantage to ZANU-PF; cases of malnutrition and related

infirmities in children and adults have risen dramatically;

violence and intimidation against MDC supporters continue to

be problems, although the numbers of incidents have declined

somewhat since the presidential election; and the ruling

party has manipulated the rules to tilt the electoral process

heavily in its favor.


Initial Results



3. (U) Reftel reported that the opposition Movement for

Democratic Change (MDC) was unable to field candidates for

even half of the approximately 1400 seats being contested in

the rural council elections, due primarily to GOZ-sanctioned

violence and intimidation and manipulation of the electoral

rules. The MDC’s effort to delay the elections for those

seats for which it had been unable to nominate candidates was

dismissed by a High Court judge on September 27. Initial

returns for the 600-some seats that were contested showed

ZANU-PF winning 72 of 86 by comfortable margins. The MDC won

12, all in its stronghold of Matabeleland, although the

majority of announced seats even in that region were won by

the ruling party. Two seats went to independents. ZANU-PF

has swept the seats announced so far in Masvingo and

Mashonaland Central provinces. The MDC won two seats on the

city council of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city,

changing the ZANU/MDC balance on that council to 16/11, with

two independents. We expect final results to be announced

sometime on October 1 and predict an overwhelming victory by

the ruling party.


Low turnout



4. (C) On the first day of voting, our teams witnessed

mostly empty polling stations, where few people appeared to

be casting ballots. Rindai Chipfunde, national coordinator

of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) — a grouping

of NGOs interested in maintaining the integrity and

transparency of elections — confirmed that voter turnout

nationwide was very low, a phenomenon she attributed

primarily to a lack of information about the elections.

Many people, she said, had been unaware that elections were

being held. In addition, we suspect that violence and

intimidation had an effect, as well as the voter apathy which

normally accompanies local elections. It will be interesting

to see whether the final election results confirm a low



Electoral manipulation



5. (C) Reftel described a litany of tactics used by the

ruling party in advance of the rural council elections to

block the registration of MDC candidates and generally tilt

the process heavily in its favor. While in the field, we

learned of other devices used. No MDC campaign rallies had

been permitted, for instance, in the Matabeleland North

constituencies of Tsholotsho, Nkayi, and Silobela in the

pre-election period, so the opposition party was forced to

conduct discreet, door-to-door compaigning where possible.

In addition, the Registrar-General has refused to provide

copies of the voters rolls to the MDC, as required by law, so

the opposition had no idea how many people had registered to

vote. This issue was of particular concern in Insiza

constituency, where an important parliamentary by-election

will be held in late October to replace a deceased MDC MP.

The MDC’s elections coordinator for Matabeleland and Midlands

provinces claimed that large numbers of outsiders were being

transported to Insiza in army trucks to register to vote and

it was impossible to analyze who they were without a copy of

the voters roll.


6. (C) ZANU-PF also stepped up efforts to block independent

scrutiny of the electoral process, including on the voting

days themselves. ZESN applied to have 5,000 observers

accredited, approximately four per polling station. In the

end, the GOZ accredited only 209, a token number that ensured

no meaningful observation effort could be conducted.

According to ZESN’s Rindai Chipfunde, even accredited

observers were prevented from entering polling stations in

Hurungwe West (Mashonaland West province), where a

parliamentary by-election was being held the same weekend,

Bindura (Mashonaland Central province), and Gutu (Masvingo

province). One of our teams visited three polling stations

in Insiza constituency on the first day of voting; MDC

polling agents were excluded at two of them because the

presiding officers said they had not been officially

registered, while we were unable to confirm the presence of

MDC representatives at the third center. The presiding

officers at the first two stations — one of whom was visibly

uneasy and the other openly hostile — told embassy observers

they had been given specific instructions not to share any

information with us. For the latter official, that directive

apparently included provision of his own name and the name of

the particular polling station to which he was assigned. The

day before the election, the central government’s senior

official in the Matabeleland North town of Lupane — the

district administrator — freely shared information with us

about the food shortage. When we raised the local

elections, he said he had been told that that was not an

issue he could discuss. Late on September 30, MDC national

elections coordinator Nomore Sibanda told political section

chief that he had received numerous reports of exclusion of

MDC polling agents. He was trying to get a sense of the

national scope of the problem, but spotty communication with

the party’s representatives in the more isolated geographic

regions made this difficult.





7. (C) Reftel reported a number of incidents of violence and

intimidation against aspiring MDC candidates and party

supporters during the pre-election period. All of the areas

visited by our three teams had experienced significant

political violence — targeted predominantly at MDC

supporters — in the run-up to the presidential election in

March.   The general level of political violence had declined

since then in the five constituencies we observed in

Matabeleland North and South, but a general climate of fear

and tension was palpable in all of those areas. The

Chipinge/Chimanimani region in southeastern Zimbabwe,

however, continued to experience politically-motivated

violence in the run-up to the election and on the voting days

themselves. A German doctor at the hospital in Chipinge told

us that, during the several weeks prior to the local

elections, she had treated approximately 10 people for

fractures and bruising that appeared attributable to

political violence.


8. (C) Nomore Sibanda of the MDC shared with us preliminary

evidence the party had gathered on violence and harassment

occurring on the voting days. The following incidents are

only a few revealing examples drawn from Sibanda’s much more

substantial list:


–ZANU-PF militia members assaulted MDC polling agent Godfrey

Nyarota at a polling center in Ward 35 of Chipinge North

(Manicaland province), while the MDC’s aspiring council

candidate was chased away from the same center.


–In Chipinge North’s Ward 31, known MDC supporters had their

national identification cards — necessary for voting —

confiscated at most polling stations, while ZANU-PF youths

allegedly wearing police uniforms barred MDC polling agents

from entering Madziwa polling station.


–The senior police officer in the area (Chief Superintendent

Mabunda, who is known to the embassy as a principal

instigator of political violence in the Chipinge/Chimanimani

area) appeared at Mwacheta primary school in Chipinge South

wearing ZANU-PF regalia and threatening to shoot anyone who

voted for the MDC. MDC officials were barred from entering

that polling station.


–In Chipinge South’s Ward 4, MDC candidate Menard Mishape

was kidnapped by war veterans on the eve of the elections and

is still missing.


–MDC Member of Parliament Roy Bennett and his wife were

arrested on September 29. His wife has since been released

but Bennett remains in custody.


–In Gutu North (Masvingo), ZANU-PF supporters destroyed the

shop of MDC member Mr. Makamure.


–In Gutu South, some houses belonging to MDC supporters were

burnt to the ground.


–The MDC’s candidates in Zaka East (Masvingo), Jekede and

Mujere Nososo, were beaten in their homes by ZANU-PF militia

on the eve of the elections.


–In Murehwa South (Mashonaland East), 10 MDC polling agents

were assaulted by war veterans as they attempted to deploy to

polling stations on the first day of voting.


Food politicization



9. (C) All three of our diplomatic observer teams heard

numerous accounts of government-procured food assistance

being used to boost the political fortunes of the ruling

party. In many of the rural areas we visited, the GOZ’s

Grain Marketing Board (GMB) provided bags of maize meal to

ZANU-PF councillors to use in their campaign efforts.

Another common tactic employed by ZANU-PF was to announce

the distribution of food in the vicinity of, and at the

precise time of, an MDC rally. Hungry people understandably

chose to attend the food distribution event, but were often

turned away empty-handed once the nearby MDC rally had come

to an end. In addition, we heard reports from Amani Trust, a

prominent human rights organization, and ordinary residents,

of the GMB selling food only to those who produced ZANU-PF

membership cards, or making it very difficult for known MDC

supporters to purchase it. J.J. Moyo of Amani Trust (please

protect) claimed that fewer children are attending school in

Lupane, in Matabeleland North, and have been forced to find

piecemeal jobs in order to help their families buy food. He

also said that a number of children in Binga, in northwest

Zimbabwe, had died recently after eating a poisonous root.

One polling station we visited in Insiza constituency in

Matabeleland South was normally used as a GMB depot, and we

observed that some voters were given food after casting

ballots, while others were not. An independent council

candidate told us that ZANU-PF had promised to give food to

those who voted for it.


10. (C) Cases of malnutrition are increasing in

Matabeleland and Manicaland. At St. Lukes Mission Hospital

about 100 km north of the city of Bulawayo, the resident

German doctor told us he has witnessed a dramatic rise in the

numbers of adults and children affected by malnutrition in

the last two months, and showed us a ward set aside for those

cases. The image was sobering. All the toddlers were

terribly thin, several were suffering from skin lesions and

swelling attributable to protein deficiency, and at least one

had the telltale sign of reddish hair. The doctor said he

expected all of these children to die from either HIV/AIDS,

which afflicted 80-90 percent of the hospital’s patients, or

malnutrition. In the meantime, he had enrolled these

patients in a supplementary feeding program, but the success

of this effort was complicated by the worsening food






11. (C) Rural areas have long been ZANU-PF’s stronghold, and

the ruling party was not about to allow the MDC to gain any

significant inroads there. The fact that ZANU-PF felt it

necessary to employ an array of unashamed tactics —

including blocking the opposition from even contesting half

the seats — suggests a realization that the party no longer

enjoys unparalled popularity in rural areas.   Given that the

ruling party has succeeded in terrorizing large segments of

the rural population — our observer teams witnessed that

first-hand in all of the areas we visited — it is, frankly,

a wonder that anyone had the courage to cast a vote for the



12. (C) ZANU-PF has clearly perfected the art of winning

elections, which they will continue to hold to cloak their

move toward totalitarianism with a veneer of democracy. The

party cannot, however, avoid the reality that legitimacy is

not conferred by an election in which the opposition and its

supporters are subjected to massive intimidation and blocked

from engaging in a genuine competition. The unavoidable fact

remains that this is a deeply unpopular regime that will grow

even more so as people’s living standards continue to erode









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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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