A former Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front legislator Pearson Mbalekwa, who had just resigned from ZANU-PF, told United States embassy officials that top politicians from ZANU-PF including former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo were planning to launch a Third Force to challenge the two major parties ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change.
He said the group was aiming to contest the 2008 presidential elections and would be largely composed of disgruntled elements aligned with Emmerson Mnangagwa, disenchanted war veterans, independent MP and former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, and selected MDC elements.
The group would stand on a platform of political moderation, economic reform, and rapprochement with the international community.
Mbalekwa said Mnangagwa would likely remain within ZANU-PF for the time being rather than join this third force.
Viewing cable 05HARARE982, THIRD FORCE READY TO EMERGE?
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
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——————16E92E 181614Z /38
FM AMEMBASSY HARARE
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8598
INFO SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
USMISSION USUN NEW YORK
C O N F I D E N T I A L HARARE 000982
AF/S FOR D. MOZENA, B. NEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2010
SUBJECT: THIRD FORCE READY TO EMERGE?
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires, a.i., Eric T. Schultz under Section 1
¶1. (C) Pearson Mbalekwa, an ex-MP who recently resigned from
ZANU-PF, told poloff on July 14 that a “third force” was
coalescing and expected to emerge publicly within two months.
The force, which so far lacked a leadership structure, would
likely be composed of disaffected ZANU-PF elements largely
aligned with Emmerson Mnangagwa, disenchanted war veterans,
independent MP and former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo,
and selected MDC elements. The group would be geared to
contest the presidential election in 2008, and would stand on
a platform of political moderation, economic reform, and
rapprochement with the international community. Mbalekwa
gave the MDC credit for opening the political system but said
the third force would be much better positioned to take
advantage of this given its ties to local opinion-makers.
Mbalekwa said Manangagwa (to whom he is related) would likely
remain within ZANU-PF for the time being rather than join
this third force. However, he noted that Mnangagwa had “wide
support” within Zimbabwe and openly wondered how the West
would react to a Mnangagwa presidency. End Summary
Impetus Behind Third Force
¶2. (C) According to Mbalekwa, Mugabe’s cynical manipulation
of last year’s presidium vote and the subsequent purges
associated with the Tsholotsho meetings and party primaries
had convinced many in ZANU-PF that change within the party
would be impossible as long as Mugabe remained in charge.
Moreover, he continued, Operation Restore Order and the
country’s continued rapid economic decline were further
eroding public support of the party and deepening internal
dissatisfaction with the leadership. Accordingly, growing
numbers of disaffected ZANU-PF had been collaborating and
were getting prepared to launch a “third force” – an
¶3. (C) Mbalekwa was coy on who within the party was involved
because of their purported sensitivity about being identified
“too soon.” However, he did confide that the group included
many loyal to Emmerson Mnangagwa, including five of the six
provincial chairs dismissed over the Tsholotsho affair
(excluding ex-Matabeleland South Chair Lloyd Siyoka).
Mbalekwa also said Jonathan Moyo, “a very smart man”, was
playing a central role. He added that the group had been
reaching out to selected MDC members but not to the MDC as a
party; he expected several prominent MDC members to join the
group. Many of the war veterans jettisoned by ZANU-PF in
recent purges also were involved. Mbalekwa said the group as
a whole has yet to create a formal structure or to identify a
Timetable for Moving Forward
¶4. (C) Given the centrality of power in the office of the
president, Mbalekwa said that the group was gearing its
calendar and strategies single-mindedly for a presidential
election in 2008. They were going to demand elections
immediately, but this was just a tactical ploy to stymie
ZANU-PF plans to consolidate presidential and parliamentary
elections in 2010 by constitutional amendment later this
year. (Note: Jonathan Moyo publicly called for immediate
elections at a Crisis Coalition-organized public panel on
July 7. End note.) The group was not likely to field
official candidates in next year’s urban council elections,
although some council candidates might be aligned with or
sympathetic to the group.
¶5. (C) Mbalekwa said he expected the group to emerge
publicly within two months. He allowed that some thought
this was too soon, given that the group was still trying to
muster commitments and would quickly be targeted by
entrenched ruling party interests once they went public.
Several factors outweighed these concerns, however. First,
entrenched interests already had targeted them and stripped
most of overt political power. Moreover, Operation Restore
Order and the worsening national economic decline made this a
particularly opportune time in terms of heightened public
resentment of the regime. In addition, the elections were
“only 30 months away”, he noted, and developments in Zimbabwe
had a way of taking unexpected turns that could overtake
their plans. Zimbabweans were conservative by nature, he
emphasized, and needed time to be persuaded on an alternative
path. Finally, the ruling clique (i.e. the Mujuru faction)
for now believed it “had won” through the past year’s purges
and sweeping election victory, and was relatively complacent.
¶6. (C) Mbalekwa reported that a Mnangagwa-aligned group had
nearly broken away from the party six months ago over the
ruling clique’s “counter-coup” in the presidium vote. (Note:
Mbalekwa had told the Ambassador at that time that Karanga
and young Turk elements were prepared to “secede” from the
party. End note.) At that time, however, the group
calculated that they lacked the focused objectives and
organizational wherewithal to capture the public’s confidence
in time to have a significant impact on the March elections.
Furthermore, parliamentary elections would not have changed
the balance of political power in any event given the
President’s control of the government and all its resources.
Accordingly, they had decided to wait for a more propitious
time – now was that time.
¶7. (C) Throughout the discussion, Mbalekwa was very cagey
about Mnangagwa’s role in the group’s plans. (Note: Just
before last year’s presidium vote, Mbalekwa published a
lengthy letter in an independent newspaper “outing” Mnangagwa
as a Vice-Presidential candidate and urging his election over
Joyce Mujuru. Mnangagwa is Mbalekwa’s cousin and long-time
political patron. End note.) He characterized Mnangagwa as
a “very guarded and quiet” man by nature, but stressed that
they were confidants. Mbalekwa said Mnangagwa would be
careful about his association with the group and would likely
remain with ZANU-PF even when the group went public.
¶8. (C) Mbalekwa said Mnangagwa would cautiously go about his
business within the government and party, even as the ruling
clique continued overt efforts to marginalize him. Even
after “demoting” him at the Party Congress, they had cost
Mnangagwa his parliamentary seat by shifting four key wards
to an adjacent constituency just four days before the
election despite Mnangagwa’s personal pleas to Mugabe.
Within the past few weeks, he alleged, Mnangagwa’s strident
urging of the Politburo to shift tack on economic policy met
a mute response even though many present shared Mnangagwa’s
¶9. (C) Mbalekwa reported that most ZANU-PF elements in the
nascent third force historically had been aligned with
Mnangagwa but many were disappointed over his passiveness as
the ruling clique proceeded with its purges of Mnangagwa’s
senior supporters. Indeed, Mnangagwa’s influence had been
the decisive factor in forestalling a “secession” after the
Party Congress, he said. Urging that Mnangagwa nonetheless
had “wide support” within Zimbabwe, Mbalekwa asked about
likely Western reaction to Mnangagwa as a leader in view of
his “historical baggage” (referring to his senior role in the
Matabeleland suppression/massacres of the 1980’s).
¶10. (C) According to Mbalekwa, the group’s platform would be
political moderation, economic reform, and rapprochement with
the West. He emphasized that the group was Western-oriented
in its approach and, given the depths to which the economy
had plunged, placed high priority on re-engagement with the
IFIs and rehabilitating Zimbabwe’s investment climate. It
recognized the centrality of rationalizing land reform and
intended to work out a compensation plan for dispossessed
white farmers and possibly to adjust land distribution to
enhance agricultural productivity. International assistance
would be critical in providing adequate compensation and
developing a land use model that would gain investor
¶11. (C) Mbalekwa added that for the time being, the group’s
long term objectives would only be props in its top priority:
engineering the end of Mugabe’s presidency. Until there was
a change in leadership, conditions would continue to
deteriorate and fuel rhetoric to drive change. An early task
would be to engineer popular opposition to constitutional
amendments designed to prolong or perpetuate the ruling
clique’s control of the presidency.
¶12. (C) Mbalekwa said that the ruling party’s patronage
system was the group’s biggest obstacle. Key potential
supporters in the ruling party were reticent to overtly join
or support the group for fear that they would lose their farm
and other perks of party favor. The nation’s economic
implosion fueled resentment but rendered everybody more
vulnerable. He noted, for example, that Daniel Shumba, the
ex-provincial chair of Masvingo and telecom magnate, was a
pivotal player in the group but would have to avoid public
association as long as he had key telecom license
applications pending. Others would be similarly timid,
possibly undercutting perceptions of how wide the group’s
support and influence actually were.
¶13. (C) Financial resources and economic straits common to
the entire populace were another handicap, Mbalekwa added.
Petrol shortages, for example, would limit face-to-face
interactions between players and with potentially key
constituencies. (Note: During the lunch, Mbalekwa took a
returned phone call from “Jonathan” in which he pleaded that
he was “on empty” and needed to access at least “two
barrels”. End note.) Myriad symptoms of the economic crisis
absorbed everybody’s attention, diverting their time and
resources from political activities.
Whither the MDC?
¶14. (C) Mbalekwa credited the MDC with key improvements to
the political environment that the group intended to exploit.
Thanks to the MDC’s “forcing” the GOZ to accept SADC
election principles in the regime’s bid for international
acceptance, public assembly was less restricted, the media
was more accessible, and political violence was considerably
reduced. However, his group would be in a much better
position than the MDC to exploit such openings because,
unlike the MDC, most of the principals had deep roots in
rural communities and enjoyed the confidence of chiefs,
headmen, district administrators and other local
opinion-makers. Rural populations wanted change, he
concluded, but would be more inclined to back a third force
made up of trusted, familiar faces than the MDC, which was
too unfamiliar or “foreign-aligned” to many rural audiences.
¶15. (C) According to Mbalekwa, the group was not interested
in allying or merging with the MDC but was collaborating with
unnamed selected members, who Mbalekwa expected would join
them when the time came. Among those were key Ndebele. In
this regard, he feared that South African President Mbeki was
trying to foster an alliance between MDC Secretary-General
Welshman Ncube and Politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa. As an
aside, Mbalekwa reported that MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai
had recently sought a private meeting with Mnangagwa but
Mnangagwa had demurred.
¶16. (C) Mbalekwa maintained that his resignation from
ZANU-PF last month had been undertaken entirely on his own
initiative. He feared that prior discussion would have
resulted in concerted party pressure to prevent his
resignation. He said he intended the “unprecedented”
resignation to inspire others to leave the party, especially
Mnangagwa. He said the response augured well; many inside
ZANU-PF had been supportive and were following his situation
closely. The GOZ already had acted swiftly in response to
his resignation, seizing equipment from his farm. Even then,
the personnel who supervised the seizure were apologetic and
supportive personally – indicative of popular sentiment
behind his move, he argued. The ex-senior CIO official said
he had not been physically threatened but, as he had sold all
of his principal assets (e.g., Harare nightclubs) to support
his farm new near Gweru, he was economically vulnerable.
¶17. (C) The continued failures of the ZANU-PF government,
especially its mismanagement of the economy, and a
self-absorbed MDC,s inability to capitalize politically,
have clearly opened the door for a “third force” in
Zimbabwean politics. What shape that third force takes is an
open question. While others, especially in civil society,
likely have a very different conception, Mbalekwa clearly
sees such a force as a vehicle for Mnangagwa, especially if
the latter ultimately loses the succession struggle within
ZANU-PF. Mbalekwa may think that has already happened;
Mnangagwa clearly doesn,t.
¶18. (C) If a third force does begin to emerge from within
ZANU-PF, the ruling Zezuru clique of Mugabe and the Mujurus
can be expected to use every means available to suppress it,
including the sort of financial punishment meted out to
Mbalekwa ) and to Moyo before him. However, given the
continued decline of the economy, it is no longer at all
clear that the ZANU-PF patronage system has enough resources
at its disposal to enforce discipline, leaving only one other
sure option ) repression. We are frankly encouraged that
despite the risks some here, albeit few in number so far,
seem finally willing to stand up to the regime.