Movement for Democratic Change treasurer Roy Bennett said Zimbabweans in the diaspora were so divided and “tribalist” that he had chosen to focus on fundraising among the smaller group of elite Zimbabwean businessmen living in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs.
Bennett’s sentiments were echoed by Mathula Lusinga, Project Officer for the Peace and Democracy Project.
PDP was a British-funded programme, implemented through an American organisation Freedom House, that sought to encourage Zimbabweans living in South Africa to return to Zimbabwe to vote in the March 2008 elections.
Lusinga said PDP was attempting to work with a range of Zimbabwean exile organisations based in South Africa to encourage political activism, including the National Constitutional Assembly, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, SAWIMA, the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, the Zimbabwe CSO Forum, and the Zimbabwe Torture Survivors Project.
He admitted that coordination was difficult because of the extensive in-fighting between the various diaspora organisations, centred around jealousy over donor funds, political differences, and ethnicity.
Viewing cable 08PRETORIA633, FEW ZIMBABWEANS RETURNING HOME TO VOTE
DE RUEHSA #0633/01 0871546
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R 271546Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3948
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1468
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
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C O N F I D E N T I A L PRETORIA 000633
DEPT FOR AF/S, PRM
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/26/2018
SUBJECT: FEW ZIMBABWEANS RETURNING HOME TO VOTE
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Donald Teitelbaum. Reason 1.4(d).
¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Only a small number of Zimbabweans living
in South Africa will return to Zimbabwe to vote in the March
29 election, according to Mathula Lusinga, a Zimbabwean exile
community activist and head of a DFID-funded project on
diaspora voting. The reasons vary: many Zimbabweans live in
South Africa illegally so they are afraid they will have
difficulty returning to South Africa if they vote in
Zimbabwe; others were unable to register to vote (or were
unsure if they were still registered); and a significant
number are cynical about the value of elections. Neither the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) nor the
divided diaspora groups are successfully organizing
Zimbabweans in South Africa around the election. END SUMMARY.
¶2. (SBU) PolOff met on March 26 with Mathula Lusinga, Project
Officer for the Peace and Democracy Project (PDP). PDP is a
DFID-funded program, implemented through Freedom House, that
seeks to encourage Zimbabweans living in South Africa to
return to Zimbabwe to vote in the March 29 election, to
increase awareness in the Zimbabwean diaspora about the
conditions for free and fair elections, and to build links
between the disparate Zimbabwean exile groups. PDP has set
up ten “Get Out the Vote” stations in Johannesburg and
Pretoria to hand out materials to Zimbabwean exiles and
stimulate discussion about political events in Zimbabwe. The
stations are drawing large crowds, especially in the late
afternoon. Despite the likely benefit to their cause, the
MDC is not playing a major role in the campaign, Lusinga
Few Returning to Vote
¶3. (SBU) A significant number of Zimbabweans have asked PDP
about receiving free transport to Zimbabwe for the election,
although Lusinga said he suspects most are not properly
registered voters; some simply want a free ride home. As of
March 26, PDP and its partner groups planned to transport
only two buses of people (approximately 90 people) to
Zimbabwe for the election. Lusinga noted that a much larger
number of Zimbabweans are already home via public transport
or their own vehicles, many for the Easter holiday break.
However, he speculated that no more than 10,000 – 20,000
Zimbabweans living in South Africa (out of an estimated
800,000 to 3 million) will, in the end, return home to vote
in the election.
¶4. (SBU) Lusinga cited a number of reasons that Zimbabweans
in the disapora are not returning to Zimbabwe to vote:
— many Zimbabweans live in South Africa illegally, so are
afraid they will have difficulty returning to South Africa
after they vote;
— many Zimbabweans cannot afford to leave work in South
Africa — often in the informal sector — for the time
required to vote;
— many Zimbabweans were unable to register to vote, or are
unsure where they should vote given the recent delimitation
changes in Zimbabwe; and
— many Zimbabweans have lost faith in the electoral system
and believe change will only come when President Mugabe dies.
Diaspora Groups Divided and Doing Little
¶5. (C) Lusinga’s PDP is attempting to work with a range of
Zimbabwean exile organizations based in South Africa to
encourage political activism, including the National
Qencourage political activism, including the National
Constitutional Assembly (NCA), the Crisis in Zimbabwe
Coalition, SAWIMA, the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, the Zimbabwe
CSO Forum, and the Zimbabwe Torture Survivors Project.
However, Lusinga admitted that coordination has been
difficult given the extensive in-fighting between the various
diaspora organizations, centered around jealousy over donor
funds, political differences, and ethnicity. These divisions
have undermined the election initiative. MDC Treasurer Roy
Bennett told PolOff that the Zimbabwean diaspora community
was so divided and “tribalist” — much more so than in
Zimbabwe itself, he believes — that Bennett chose to focus
on fundraising among the smaller group of elite Zimbabwean
businessmen living in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs.
¶6. (C) We agree with Lusinga’s assessment that only a small
number of Zimbabweans living in South Africa will return home
to vote in the election. Estimating even an approximate
number is nearly impossible, but we do not believe the number
of voters will be statistically significant. We also agree
with Lusinga’s observation that the Zimbabwean diaspora is
sharply divided along ethnic, generational, and economic
lines, with many — perhaps most — exiles just trying to
survive and send remittances to their families in Zimbabwe.
Ironically, this migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa,
brought about by Mugabe’s misrule, has largely benefited
Mugabe and his ZANU-PF regime: a significant number of
regime opponents, especially young men, have left the
country, and the disapora’s remittances to family members at
home help keep Mugabe’s sinking regime afloat.