Makumbe says MDC has to keep the fire burning


Political scientist John Makumbe advised the Movement for Democratic Change not to waste too much time and resources in campaigning in the 2002 local government elections but it still had to contest to “keep the fire burning”.

Makumbe‘s comments came after calls for the MDC to boycott the elections after it was only able to field 646 candidates for the 1438 council seats that were available because of the obstacles that had been put by the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front government.

Party secretary-general Welshman Ncube said the national executive had discussed the possibility of boycotting the polls but had decided that the party owed it to its supporters and candidates who had put their lives on the line to participate.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2002-09-12 14:19

2011-08-30 01:44


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 03 HARARE 002087




E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/12/2012





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

B) and (D).


1. (U) Action request — see para 10.





2. (C) Nationwide rural council elections are scheduled for

September 28-29, and the Government of Zimbabwe has used all

the means at its disposal to block genuine competition from

the opposition MDC. Aspiring MDC candidates have been

arrested on frivolous charges, assaulted, forced to flee

their residences, and subjected to unfair nomination

requirements. As a result, the MDC has been able to field

only 646 candidates for more than 1400 contested seats. The

MDC is seeking a judicial order to delay the elections,

citing the widespread physical abuse and procedural

manipulation. The government has used every trick in the

book to block nomination of MDC candidates, while claiming in

its media mouthpieces that the MDC’s failure to nominate

candidates is evidence of the party’s declining popularity.

This outrageous process has descended to the level of low

farce, and the Department may wish to consider issuing a

statement critical of the Government’s ongoing efforts to

subvert democracy so brazenly. End Summary.


Local council elections — when, what, and where

——————————————— —


3. (U) Elections for 1438 rural council seats nationwide

will be held September 28-29. Rural councils do not have a

great deal of authority in Zimbabwe’s centralized system of

governance. They do collect some funds via assessment of

“development levies” and manage small amounts of resources at

the local level. The primary significance of the elections,

however, is the political message that will be sent by the

outcome. The ruling party is determined to demonstrate that

it continues to have rural areas locked down. For its part,

the MDC will want to show some penetration of ZANU-PF’s

traditional geographic stronghold.


Violence and harrassment



4. (U) According to a September 3 press statement issued by

MDC Elections Director Paul Themba-Nyathi, more than 20

aspiring MDC councillors have been “assaulted, harassed, and

tortured” in the run-up to the council elections. In one

incident, the party’s deputy organizing secretary for

Midlands South, Anthony Chamahwinya, was hospitalized after a

severe beating at the hands of ZANU-PF supporters on

September 1. At the time of the attack, Chamahwinya

reportedly was distributing nomination papers for his party’s

prospective candidates. An MDC candidate in Mount Darwin

south, in Mashonaland Central province, was abducted by

alleged members of ZANU-PF’s youth militia and has not been

seen since. Some candidates have withdrawn from the race in

the face of such intimidation, understandably fearing for

their lives. 36 candidates in Midlands South have pulled

out, while 10 have abandoned races in Masvingo province. In

addition, according to Themba-Nyathi, more than 70 MDC

candidates and key party officials involved in the campaign

have been arrested on trumped-up charges, mostly in

Manicaland and Mashonaland Central provinces. An unspecified

number of candidates and party officials have been forced to

flee their homes, while those who have braved the threats of

violence are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to

campaign openly. According to press reports, 63 MDC

candidates in Manicaland have withdrawn from the race, citing

assaults and intimidation.


Nomination skulduggery



5. (U) Election officials have also erected significant

obstacles in the candidate registration process itself.

Large numbers of MDC candidates have been disqualified on

frivolous grounds, after they failed to present supporting

documentation not required by Zimbabwean law. (The “Rural

District Councils Act” requires only that candidates prove

they are Zimbabwean citizens, registered voters, and

residents of the ward in which they are running.) The most

common tactic was to demand presentation of long birth

certificates on September 5, the national day of nomination.

Most Zimbabweans have a short-form birth certificate, and it

takes several weeks to coax the longer, more detailed version

out of the Registrar-General’s office. ZANU-PF candidates

either were given adequate advance notice of this requirement

or were not asked to comply. In other cases, election

officials demanded proof of tax payments, while access to the

nomination court was blocked by war veterans and ZANU-PF

supporters in several other instances. Many nomination

centers were moved from government offices to police

stations, an effective intimidatory tactic given the role of

the police in suppressing MDC supporters. (Comment: As the

economy continues to decline and ZANU-PF’s popularity erodes,

the ruling party might use this tactic in future elections,

simply manufacturing reasons to prevent the placement of MDC

candidates on the ballot. End Comment.)

Government spin



6. (U) The ruling party’s comprehensive “campaign” efforts

have succeeded in ensuring that the MDC has been able to

field candidates for only 646 seats, less than half the

number being contested. The Government-controlled media

have, without any apparent sense of shame, heralded this

development as a sign of the MDC’s imminent demise.


To boycott or not to boycott



7. (C) Some observers have urged the MDC to boycott the

election, contending that the party’s participation merely

lends legitimacy to a deeply flawed process. The entire

party leadership, however, appears determined to go forward,

no matter how flawed the process. MDC Secretary-General

Welshman Ncube told us the national executive had discussed

the possibility of a boycott, but had decided in the end that

the party owed it to those supporters and candidates who have

put their lives on the line to participate. The party’s

national elections coordinator insisted to us that a boycott

was never seriously considered, and that participating

demonstrates the party’s commitment to achieving change

through democratic means.   Political analyst John Makumbe

said he had advised the MDC not to waste too much time and

resources campaigning, but that contesting was important

because the party had to “keep the fire burning.”   David

Coltart, a Member of Parliament and the MDC’s Shadow Justice

Minister, told us that the party is seeking a delay of the

elections in the High Court, citing the array of

irregularities to date, but he was not optimistic of a

favorable ruling.


Plans for Observation



8. (C) The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a

coalition of NGOs committed to guaranteeing the integrity of

elections, plans to deploy observers for the rural council

elections. It has applied to the GOZ-appointed Electoral

Supervisory Commission for accreditation of 5,000 observers,

but expects to receive approval for only half that number,

and at the very last minute. Asked where he would recommend

the Embassy send observers, ZESN Chairman Reginald

Matchaba-Hove suggested Matabeleland, Manicaland, and

Midlands, saying those provinces were the only ones in which

the MDC had been able to field significant numbers of






9. (C) These elections are little more than a charade, as

the ruling party has used almost every trick in the book to

tilt the process overwhelmingly in its favor. (The GOZ has

clearly come to the conclusion that giving voters a choice

when food supplies are dwindling might not produce a pleasing

result.) For that reason, we have no plans to mount a

significant in-house observation effort, but likely will send

several Embassy officers to cover constituencies that appear

to be up-for-grabs. We agree that the MDC ought to

participate where it can, so that it continues to be

perceived as a credible democratic alternative to an

increasingly unpopular regime and because it stands the

chance of picking up some seats in rural areas, particularly

the MDC’s stronghold of Matabeleland. The MDC can portray

any inroads it makes into rural areas, no matter how small,

as evidence of expanding popular appeal.


Action request



10. (C) Preparations for the rural council elections have

gotten virtually no coverage from the international media,

and the GOZ has taken advantage of this lack of scrutiny to

make a mockery of the democratic process. Shining the

international spotlight on the violence and irregularities

associated with the local elections could restrain some of

the worst excesses by GOZ supporters and give cover to voters

inclined to cast ballots for the MDC but who are currently

scared to do so. We recommend the Department:


–consider issuing a public statement now expressing serious

concern about the violence, intimidation, and range of

irregularities witnessed to date, and urging the GOZ to

facilitate the registration of all interested candidates. We

might want to tie a refusal to address our concerns to

expansion of targeted sanctions, such as an announcement of

asset seizure;


–encourage regional governments to weigh in with the GOZ,

stressing the importance of holding an election that is

consistent with the SADC norms and standards;


–issue a final statement after the election providing a

judgment on whether it was free and fair. Such an

assessment, of course, will depend on whether the environment

continues to be as destructive as it is now, and on the




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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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