The bishops trying to broker talks between the Movement for Democratic Change and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front were excited that leaders of the two-parties had met at vice-President Simon Muzenda’s funeral.
Even more encouraging was President Robert Mugabe’s acknowledgement of the presence of the MDC leaders and the fact that he had erred “as an older brother”.
The bishops said this was a positive signal for potential negotiations.
Viewing cable 03HARARE1977, BISHOPS PROPOSE PARTIES’ RETREAT
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
301021Z Sep 03
C O N F I D E N T I A L HARARE 001977
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/29/2013
SUBJECT: BISHOPS PROPOSE PARTIES’ RETREAT
Classified By: Political Officer Win Dayton, under Section 1.5(b), (d)
¶1. (C) Bishop Trevor Manhanga on September 26 offered the
Embassy an update on the so-called bishops’ initiative.
According to Manhanga, the bishops continued to meet
personally with representatives from each party at least once
a week. They remained especially encouraged by ZANU-PF’s
posture, noting that party principals had met despite
potential schedule conflicts entailed by Vice President
Muzenda’s funeral. According to Manhanga, the MDC had
followed the bishops’ counsel to have a substantial presence
at the Muzenda funeral, a gesture of good will that had been
reciprocated by Mugabe’s public recognition of their
presence. Manhanga maintained that Mugabe’s implicit
concession in his eulogy that he had erred “as an older
brother” was a positive signal for potential negotiations.
He noted that ZANU-PF elements’ loud applause for Mugabe’s
“outreach” to the MDC during the eulogy evidenced popular
support for the talks and also bode well.
¶2. (C) Manhanga asserted that, encouraged by the parties’
growing candor and good will, the bishops had proposed at
their most recent meetings with each party that the time was
ripe for a face-to-face pre-talks confidential retreat. He
said the parties would caucus on the issue and advise the
bishops during the week of September 29 of their receptivity
to such a meeting. Manhanga confided that in the meeting
with ZANU-PF, Party Spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira had been
quite enthusiastic about the idea while Party Chairman John
Nkomo was more guarded. As for getting beyond a retreat and
to the table, Manhanga said that the key lay in finessing a
face-saving resolution to ZANU-PF demands for MDC public
statements on Mugabe’s legitimacy and urging an end to
¶3. (C) Manhanga advised that the bishops had covered the
international waterfront in pushing their initiative, having
met with representatives from Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa,
and Australia, among others. Manhanga said that the bishops
understood that the USG was not in a position to be offering
carrots or benchmarked timetables for a normalizing of
relations with Zimbabwe. Nonetheless, he urged that the USG
and other western donors be prepared to be prepared to move
quickly with confidence-building measures should the parties
end their impasse and come to the table. He said that some
support for aspects of land reform could be potentially
decisive in moving ZANU-PF forward in any negotiating
¶4. (C) COMMENT: ZANU-PF may yet be prepared make a gesture
toward starting talks in hopes of getting the government an
invitation to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
(CHOGM), notwithstanding international outcry over The Daily
News closure. The party has yet to project seriousness about
negotiations beyond appearing to consider the mere
possibility of their commencement, however.