MDC MPs admitted support for party is more of opposition to ZANU-PF


Movement for Democratic Change Members of Parliament from Matabeleland- Moses Mzila-Ncube, Thokozani Khupe and Abednico Bhebhe- together with members of civil society told United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell just before the 2005 parliamentary elections that the MDC was going to win in Matabeleland but added that support for the party stemmed primarily from opposition to the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front more than the appeal of any MDC platform.

They said that there was deep resentment of ZANU-PF by the Ndebele over the massacres of the 1980s and the region’s economic and political marginalisation by the government ever since.

The Ndebele were so used to oppression that no amount of intimidation would make them vote ZANU-PF.

The MPs, however, conceded that discredited hard-line Information Minister Jonathan Moyo had achieved inroads among the Ndebele by delivering tangible goods — computers, blankets, clinics — to populations that heretofore had gotten nothing from the ruling party but intimidation.

ZANU-PF had, therefore, shot itself in the foot by punishing his success and reasserting the dominance of ZANU-PF’s Ndebele heavyweights such as John Nkomo and Dumiso Dabengwa, who were loathed as sell-outs by most Ndebele.


Full cable:



If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Reference ID






2005-02-15 05:04

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 04 HARARE 000229







E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/11/2010




Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.4 b/d


1. (C) SUMMARY: During the Ambassador’s visit to Bulawayo

February 7-8, MDC and civil society figures reviewed the

election environment in surrounding Matabeleland, a

historically marginalized region that is the principal home

to Zimbabwe’s leading minority Ndebele tribe (about 15

percent of the population). In contrast to other areas of

the country, police in the region were reported to be

stepping up efforts to restrict public assembly. However,

opposition and civil society interlocutors said they were

proceeding with public meetings with or without official

approval. Consistent with national trends, ruling party

militia and war veteran elements were maintaining low

profiles and anti-MDC violence was markedly reduced compared

to prior pre-election periods. Most predicted that, unless

the GOZ engineered a violent anti-opposition crackdown,

ZANU-PF would not win more than six or seven seats out of 21

in Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South. Some

complimented the Secretary’s designation of Zimbabwe as an

outpost of tyranny and asked what its implications were for

U.S. policy. END SUMMARY.


Violence Down; Fear Remains



2. (C) The Ambassador met on February 7 with a group of MDC

MPs from Matabeleland: Moses Mzila-Ncube, Thokozani Khupe,

and Abednico Bhebhe. On February 8 he met with a civil

society group: Peter Khumalo, a prince of the Ndebele royal

family and businessman; Nigel Johnson, Catholic priest and

Station Manager of Radio Dialogue; and George Mkhwananzi,

member of the National Constitutional Assembly — all three

officers of the USAID-funded Bulawayo Agenda. The MPs

offered an optimistic appraisal of the party,s election

prospects in Matabeleland on the heels of the party,s

official re-entry into the race the previous week. The MPs

and civil society prepresentatives agreed that

anti-opposition militia and war veteran activity in rural

districts were markedly less than earlier campaigns and

continued not to be a problem in urban areas. The MPs

reported that some war veterans and village headmen were

being discreetly supportive of the MDC despite relentless GOZ

efforts to co-opt them with perks and pledges of assistance.


3. (C) Mzila-Ncube described the atmosphere in his rural

South Matabeleland constituency as notably more restive over

the weekend, however, with people fearing a possible

escalation of violence consistent with past contested

elections. Local ruling party structures were conflicted:

their leaders consistently called for non-violence and

tolerance, but they feared certain election defeat if they

were not allowed to resort to intimidation as in the past.

All agreed that there remained an atmosphere of fear,

particularly in the rural areas, as most of the electorate

remained skeptical of the ruling party’s public commitment to

non-violence. Indeed, they all forecast a sudden “snap” of

violence in rural areas if ZANU-PF leaders began to think it

was in real danger of losing. However, all were confident

that Bulawayo was too public a venue and too solidly

pro-opposition to experience any significant violence.


Public Assembly Occurring Despite Constraints



4. (C) The three MPs asserted that police and the CIO in

Matabeleland were playing an increasingly disruptive role in

their efforts to reach the people. Khupe was scheduled to

appear in court February 10 to answer charges associated with

her arrest last month with 80 supporters for an alleged

violation of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). Bhebhe

was late for the lunch because he had to meet with police in

connection with their “investigation” of his attendance at a

“Burial Society” meeting, also a possible POSA violation.

Still, all agreed that some junior police supported the MDC

and many more were sympathizers; senior levels, however, were

pro-ZANU-PF and thoroughly politicized and all levels were

constrained by career considerations. Mzila-Ncube emphasized

that official harassment in any event was hardly

insurmountable and cited the courage of Iraqis voting last

month as an inspirational example for Zimbabweans in enduring

and overcoming their own obstacles to democracy.


5. (C) Given constraints posed by police restrictions and

the party,s lack of access to the media, the MDC MPs said

their party was being creative in its efforts to connect to

the people. In addition to approved rallies at established

venues, unauthorized meetings were led from the back of

pick-up trucks, which allowed for quick dispersal if

necessary. Meetings at the homes of constituents were popular

and could accommodate as many as 50 people at a time. In

rural areas, business centers and pubs were gathering areas

that could be used for political communication on an

impromptu basis. House-to-house canvassing was important,

albeit risky, and Khupe said she was planning an ambitious

personal letter campaign. All emphasized the importance of

VOA’s “Studio 7” (an hour-long Zimbabwe-specific program),

which they said was widely heard in rural areas, and were

pleased with the Ambassador,s news that it would be expanded

to include two programs per day for the pre-election period.


6. (C) The civil society interolocutors said civil society

groups were also managing to meet publicly in spite of

official obstacles. Khumalo said Bulawayo Agenda organized

about one public forum per month, bringing together party and

community figures to address topical issues. Police often

denied applications for meeting authorizations, sometimes on

specious grounds. They imposed conditions to reduce

participation, such as requiring meetings be conducted during

working hours, and typically sent police representatives to

monitor each meeting. Ruling party figures were invited but

rarely showed up, presumably because they were barred by

their superiors or feared a hostile audience. In any event,

people were quite outspoken during the meetings and did not

appear to suffer retribution. Personal relationships were

important as NGOs pursued their objectives, according to Fr.

Johnson, and some NGOs, including Bulawayo Agenda, were

tentatively building relationships of growing two-way trust

with selected authorities.


Town Square Test



7. (C) The three Bulawayo Agenda participants agreed that

President Bush’s “town square” test could be met in some

parts of Zimbabwe but not others. In Bulawayo, the urban

masses were sufficiently numerous and unanimous in their

loathing of the government that one could speak relatively

freely. Group expressions of speech could be exercised

without retribution — but often only with official approval.

Rural areas were a different story altogether, and even in

Harare the atmosphere seemed considerably more chilled,

perhaps because there was so much traffic between

ZANU-PF-dominated Mashonaland and the city. In any event,

the well-publicized arrests of people for innocuous criticism

of the President in public areas made people think twice,

even if they were not common occurrences. Ever-restrictive

laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the

Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA),

and the pending NGO bill similarly chilled free speech even

if they were not enforced rigidly.


Campaign Issues



8. (C) The three MDC MPs reported that they would be pushing

GOZ failure to address basic needs – food, health, shelter,

jobs – in its campaign. ZANU-PF,s threat to individual

security based on its historical reliance on violence also

would be highlighted. Convincing people that their vote was

secret and mattered would also be an important campaign



priority. The opposition also would expose land reform as a

fraud, although Mzila-Ncube conceded that the party had not

fully come to grip with how to address the diverse challenges

of land reform. People understood the ruling party,s effort

had been a complete failure but the MDC had not offered a

coherent, comprehensive alternative. The civil society group

warned that hunger was a growing problem; children on the

Hwange Road were now hand-signalling their hunger to all

passers-by and the situation was even worse in the remote

areas around Binga.

“Opposition Will Win Matabeleland”



9. (C) The MPs and civil society representatives were

confident that recent ZANU-PF turmoil would boost opposition

prospects in the election. The MPs lamented the removal of

more constructive ruling party elements from the ZANU-PF

parliamentary slate but asserted that many of the discarded

MPs were actively working against their successor candidates.

At a minimum, their supporters would be less inclined to

vote even if they would not go as far as supporting the

opposition. Any who ran as an independent (as Jonathan Moyo

is rumored to be considering) would divide the ZANU-PF vote,

further enhancing opposition prospects. Civil society

figures agreed that support for the MDC in Matabeleland still

stemmed primarily from opposition to ZANU-PF more than the

appeal of any MDC platform. All agreed that the opposition

would lose no more than six or seven seats of 14 in

Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South and would sweep

Bulawayo’s seven seats.


Ethnic/Tribal Resentments Festering



10. (C) The MPs and civil society leaders asserted that the

contrast between heightened police disruption in Matabeleland

with documented trends of greater openness in Shona-dominated

areas reflected the ruling party’s deep-seated fear of

Ndebele rebelliousness.   Some emphasized the continuing deep

resentment felt by the Ndebele at large over the massacres of

the 1980s and the region’s economic and political

marginalization by the GOZ ever since. They maintained that

the Ndebele were so used to oppression that no amount of

intimidation would make many vote ZANU-PF. Still, they

conceded that discredited hard-line Information Minister

Jonathan Moyo had achieved inroads among the Ndebele by

delivering tangible goods — computers, blankets, clinics —

to populations that heretofore had gotten nothing from the

ruling party but intimidation. ZANU-PF had shot itself in

the foot by punishing his success and reasserting the

dominance of ZANU-PF’s Ndebele heavyweights such as John

Nkomo and Dumiso Dabengwa, who were loathed as sell-outs by

most Ndebele, according to our interlocutors.


11. (C) Mkhwananzi asked the Ambassador why the USG was not

more sensitive to and supportive of Ndebele resistance

against the Shona-dominated GOZ. He argued that ethnic

resentments presented the USG with an opportunity that it

should exploit in trying to press for change in Zimbabwe.

Drawing on the lessons of history, the Ambassador explained

that the USG saw no advantage to fanning ethnic divisions in

Zimbabwe or elsewhere. The key to resolving the plight of

the Ndebele and many other suffering Zimbabweans lay in good

governance and establishment of a government that reflected

the will of all of its people. Mkhwananzi nonetheless later

pressed the issue again, asserting that no Shona-dominated

government, regardless of party, would ever treat the Ndebele



Appreciation for USG Engagement



12. (C) The MPs and civil society leaders expressed strong

appreciation for the Secretary,s public characterization of

Zimbabwe as an outpost of tyranny and stressed its importance

as an emotional boost to a despondent populace that was

beginning to re-energize. Several asked what the statement

would mean in terms of future USG commitment of resources.

The Ambassador stressed the depth of USG commitment to

liberty as exemplified by the Secretary’s and President

Bush’s recent public statements and the USG’s ongoing work

with democratic forces in Zimbabwe.





13. (C) Matabeleland may be where ZANU-PF suffers most for

its Tsholotsho and primaries debacles — whatever local

loyalty Moyo may have bought with his aggressive sales job

appears to have been for naught. Ndebele resentment of the

ruling party is much more apparent from within Matabeleland

than it is from Harare. While the MDC does not appear to be

actively exploiting that ethnic tension, it no doubt will

continue to benefit from it. We also got the sense that the

local MDC MPs are more in touch than many in either party’s

national leadership with the bread and butter issues —

hunger, education, health, jobs — that are central to the

suffering of their constituents. Deeply resentful of the

government, the alienated electorate may produce a surprise

result March 31. However, overt opposition momentum may lead

the ruling party to resort to violence, which could also

prove a key factor in this part of Zimbabwe.



Don't be shellfish... Please SHARETweet about this on Twitter
Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
Email this to someone
Print this page

Like it? Share with your friends!

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.

One Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *