As the government continued to delay the release of results for the 2008 elections, the Herald resorted to liberation struggle language describing Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai and presidential candidate Simba Makoni as Western stooges who were being used to sabotage the land reform programme.
The paper claimed that white commercial farmers had started trooping back to Zimbabwe after the MDC had prematurely claimed victory and some had headed straight to farms where they threatened to evict newly settled farmers.
It quoted one war veteran as saying: “We will be left with no option except to take up arms and defend our pieces of land” if Tsvangirai wins.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000274 SIPDIS SENSITIVE SIPDIS AF/S FOR S. HILL ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU ADDIS ABABA FOR ACSS STATE PASS TO USAID FOR E. LOKEN AND L. DOBBINS STATE PASS TO NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR B. PITTMAN E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: KDEM [Democratization], PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], PHUM [Human Rights], ASEC [Security], ZI [Zimbabwe] SUBJECT: IN THE ABSENCE OF RESULTS, RUMORS: THE STATE MEDIA REACTS REF: A. HARARE 266 B. HARARE 269 C. HARARE 254 ¶1. (SBU)
SUMMARY: Four days after Zimbabwe’s national election, presidential and senate results have yet to be announced, but rumors abound. The government-run newspaper, The Herald, dedicated much of its April 2 issue to post)election propaganda. In what appears to be an attempt to manage expectations and tamper excitement about change in the State House, the newspaper refuted MDC claims of victory, applauded the role of the electoral commission, fanned fears of a dismal future under an opposition-led executive, and promulgated conspiracy theories of Western intervention. Nonetheless, all evidence suggests the majority of Zimbabweans are ready for a change. END SUMMARY.
¶2. (SBU) Under the headline “ZANU, MDC in Photo Finish”, Zimbabwe,s state-run newspaper’s April 2 edition worked to maintain the appearance that ZANU remains in control. While The Herald, using results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), conceded that the opposition MDC leads in House of Assembly seats (99-97), it emphasized that ZANU won the popular vote. If extrapolated to the presidential race, this could suggest momentum for a ZANU win in the rumored upcoming runoff or lend credibility to a ZEC announcement of a Mugabe win.
¶3. (SBU) What the paper failed to highlight, however, was that ZEC’s results also revealed that the opposition tally, combining the MDC-Tsvangirai and MDC-Mutambara factions along with independent candidates, exceeded ZANU’s total by 196,525 votes and put the opposition in control of Parliament with 106 seats. With the opposition ahead in the both the popular vote and in seats gained, the desire for change in Zimbabwe is clear.
¶4. (SBU) In the wake of the MDC’s announcement of its victory in both the presidential and Assembly races (reftel A), The Herald went on the attack. Quoting the ZANU secretary for administration, the paper reported that the MDC’s announcement was both incorrect and illegal, as ZEC was the only body authorized to declare final results. The article went on to criticize the MDC for speaking to the international media and accused the opposition of attempting to confuse the public about the outcome of the election. The Herald failed to note that the opposition party has stated on numerous occasions that MDC figures were based on publicly available information from polling station postings, and were not meant to be viewed as certified results.
¶5. (SBU) The Herald gave significant coverage to touting the work of ZEC, which, according to the paper, “is emerging this week as the bedrock of a peaceful and transparent election.” The Herald noted that preliminary statements by observer missions; including the Common Market for East and Southern Africa, the Pan African Parliament (PAP), and the Southern African Development Community, deemed ZEC,s efforts and the elections as credible. The paper did not report on PAP,s caveat that the delay in the announcement of the results was a serious concern that could suggest fraud (reftel B).
¶6. (SBU) Other Herald articles condemned the role of NGOs, the international media and Western governments for their “hidden hand” in the election. The newspaper reported that U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown had “hinted” on the BBC at increased aid for Zimbabwe if Tsvangirai won the presidency. State-run radio has been airing programs blaming Western sanctions for Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. The paper claimed that in contrast with the silence from African leaders, the HARARE 00000274 002 OF 002 West’s statements calling for results to be released were a sign of political maneuvering by “unfriendly nations” to promote regime change. The international media, much of which was officially banned from covering the election from inside Zimbabwe, was criticized for spreading conspiracy theories about ZANU. The African Union observer mission delegation leader criticized CNN,s “biased reporting” following a meeting with Mugabe. The accuracy of parallel tabulations by “the MDC and its civil society compatriots” was questioned by The Herald in a veiled reference to the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network’s sample vote count (reftel C).
¶7. (SBU) Additional articles were written within the context of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, of which Mugabe is still considered a hero, and the ruling party’s subsequent controversial land reform efforts, during which farms belonging to whites were seized and redistributed to liberation veterans. One story described Tsvangirai and presidential candidate Simba Makoni as “Western stooges” who were “being used to sabotage the land reform program.” In another, The Herald reported on “the conspicuous flow of many white commercial farmers who trooped back to Zimbabwe once the MDC prematurely claimed victory. Some of them headed to farms where they threatened to evict newly settled farmers.” One veteran from the liberation war was quoted as saying, “we will be left with no option except to take up arms and defend our pieces of land” if Tsvangirai wins.
¶8. (SBU) COMMENT: In an apparent move to rekindle nationalist sentiment and remind Zimbabweans of Mugabe’s once popular political agenda, ZANU, through its government mouthpiece, is playing on some of the country’s most emotional issues, including white rule and Zimbabwe’s perpetual political hot potato, land reform. Whether this return to campaign mode will have any impact on voters in either a runoff scenario or in the case of a Mugabe power grab remains to be seen. However, results released so far only lend credence to the perception that Zimbabweans are ready for change no matter what tactics are employed to impact their vote. END COMMENT. MCGEE