MDC on hectic travel


The Movement for Democratic Change had a hectic travel ahead of the 2005 elections which covered Southern, North and East Africa as well as Europe and the United States.

Party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Gibson Sibanda were scheduled to travel to South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal and were expected to receive training on media strategy from an American organisation the International Republican Institute one of whose former employees was Tsvangirai’s special advisor.

The delegation was also expected to travel to Brussels, London, Oslo and Stockholm before flying to the United States.

From the Us the delegation would swing to Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania before returning to Zimbabwe.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2004-11-08 14:47

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 001842







E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/08/2009





REF: (A) HARARE 1787 (B) HARARE 1562


Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.5 b/d


1. (C) SUMMARY: Movement for Democratic Change

Secretary-General Welshman Ncube on November 4 updated poloff



on the developing itinerary of opposition party leaders,

including regional travel and a planned trip by him and Party

President Morgan Tsvangirai to the United States in

mid-November. He said the party was finalizing a slate of

candidates for possible participation in next year’s

parliamentary elections, which were still scheduled for

March. He reported positive developments suggesting a

continuing opening of campaign space for the opposition but

dismissed South African Government suggestions that the

ruling party was preparing to re-engage in inter-party talks

on constitutional change. END SUMMARY.


Opposition’s Hectic Travel Schedule



2. (C) Ncube reported that Tsvangirai and party

Vice-President Gibson Sibanda were scheduled to be in South

Africa November 4, and to meet with heads of state in Nigeria

November 6, in Ghana November 8, and in Senegal on November

10. (Note: The delegation also is slated to receive media

strategy training from IRI while in West Africa. End note.)

They hoped to secure meetings with the presidents of

Botswana, Lesotho, and Burkina Faso during that period as

well, but scheduling details had yet to be worked out. Ncube

indicated that the party was getting the cold shoulder from

SADC troika member Lesotho, possibly because of the rapport

between Foreign Minister Mudenge and the Lesotho foreign

minister, who Ncube said had been classmates.


3. (C) After covering southern and western Africa, the

delegation would be joined by Ncube for visits to Brussels,

London, Oslo, and Stockholm before travelling to the United

States. During the U.S. leg, dates for which were yet to be

determined, the delegation hoped to visit the State

Department, Capitol Hill, the MDC’s Washington Office and

Zimbabwe emigre elements, among other interlocutors. The

delegation would then swing by Ethiopia (where they hoped to

engage the African Union), Kenya, and Tanzania by early

December before returning to Zimbabwe.


4. (C) Ncube singled out the Obasanjo meeting as

particularly important. He said Obasanjo indicated that he

wanted to remain engaged on Zimbabwe, notwithstanding past

frustrations. As the African Union Chair, he could be

particularly helpful in engineering a meaningful AU election

observation group. Moreover, Nigeria could keep Zimbabwe on

the Commonwealth’s agenda, notwithstanding Zimbabwe’s

withdrawal from the organization, and had leverage through a

bilateral relationship that was important to Zimbabwe.


Campaign Space Opening Up?



5. (C) Ncube reported that he and Deputy Secretary-General

Gift Chimanikire would be advancing the party’s domestic

agenda while the President was abroad. They planned to be

addressing rallies and meeting with party district and ward

structures in the Midlands in the next few days. Police were

becoming notably less obstructive with respect to party

meetings. Instead of disapproving applications on specious

grounds or never responding and then closing meetings down,

police generally were approving meeting requests around the

country, with few exceptions. When applications were

disapproved, it was usually with some apparent justification

and without prejudice to reschedule or to relocate.

(Comment: This appeared to continue a trend first reported by

Tsvangirai aide Gandhi Mudzingwa in July, ref B. End



comment.) Local organizers still faced intimidation and

disruptions by local ruling party elements, but not as widely

as before or with quite the apparent level of official



6. (C) The Secretary-General did not comment on prospects

for MDC participation in the March election or on the party’s

recent call to delay the election. Nonetheless, he allowed

that the party was proceeding with efforts to complete its

slate of candidates to participate in the election. The

party had identified candidates in about 85 of the 120

parliamentary constituencies. Most of the remaining

selections were in the Mashonalands (East, West and Central)

with a few left in Harare and Manicaland as well.


Bennet Case Implications



7. (C) Ncube said the eligibility of recently incarcerated

MDC MP Roy Bennet to stand for election was murky (ref A).

The constitution conditioned an MP’s ineligibility on a

criminal sentence exceeding six months being imposed by a

court, not Parliament (which imposed Bennet’s sentence). Of

more immediate concern, though, was Bennet’s possible

expulsion from the body and the holding of a by-election

before the March national elections. An MP can be expelled

from the body if he is absent without adequate cause (an

issue that would be debatable in Bennet’s politically charged

case) for 21 consecutive days that Parliament is in session.

Under the current parliamentary schedule (assuming he could

not get a court order freeing him earlier), that would occur

in mid-December for Bennet. That would still probably leave

inadequate time to conduct a by-election before March. In

quiet inter-party negotiations, ZANU-PF had proposed to

release Bennet from jail in return for his expulsion from

Parliament and a declaration of his seat’s vacancy. Ncube

indicated that the Parliament didn’t have the authority to

expel him under current law, but that Bennet and the MDC

would likely accept his suspension for the remainder of the

current term in return for his release. Ncube said that the

ZANU-PF offer underscored its interest in trying to get a 2/3

majority before the parliamentary election so it could amend

the constitution to its liking without MDC support. (Note:

If ZANU-PF is able to capture Bennet’s seat, it would still

be one seat short of a 2/3 majority. End note.) Ncube was

not optimistic about Bennet’s chances for release under a

high court petition scheduled to be heard on November 9.


ZANU-PF Temporizing on Talks



8. (C) According to Ncube, ZANU-PF was still dragging its

feet on long-standing discussions about a package of

constitutional amendments. Since the MDC publicly announced

in July its conditional suspension of participation in

elections, the ruling party had backed off from the package

tentatively agreed between Ncube and Minister for Justice,

Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Patrich Chinamasa. Ncube

said that Chinamasa told him that Mugabe himself had scotched

further ZANU-PF efforts on the matter. According to

Chinamasa, Mugabe had said that the MDC was “taking them for

a ride” and would end up reneging on any agreed amendments or

demanding more at the last minute.


9. (C) Ncube maintained that the MDC remained interested in

rekindling talks but had little faith in the ruling party’s

sincerity. The opposition privately had made it clear to

ZANU-PF counterparts that the constitutional talks were not

linked to the issue of election participation; they would

vote for the agreed constitutional changes even before making

a decision to participate in the election. Ncube said that

Tsvangirai had conveyed that message to Mugabe in a letter.




10. (C) Ncube said that SAG interlocutors told the MDC that

Mugabe had undertaken to Mbeki on the margins of the UNGA in

September that inter-party talks on the constitution would be

revived soon. SAG sources later said that the politburo was

scheduled to meet on November 3, when Mugabe would bless the

recommencement of talks. However, Chinamasa has been unable

to confirm any of this to Ncube. When they last spoke

earlier in the week, Chinamasa told Ncube to talk to Minister

for Security Nicholas Goche, who has since been unavailable.

Ncube concluded that these developments were consistent with

the ruling party’s long-term strategy of using “talks on

talks” to string out the SAG and the MDC, appearing to be

willing to talk without ever talking meaningfully.




11. (C) The ruling party’s overarching priority remains to

win the March elections and win big – big enough to amend the

constitution on its own. Nonetheless, the party is stepping

up efforts to market its election internationally, at least

to the region and its developing world “friends.” The MFA

convened diplomats from Non-Aligned Movement embassies on

November 1 to brief them on election-related developments.

At the briefing, Foreign Minister Mudenge rejected MDC

demands that the election be delayed and casitigated the EU

for planning to condemn Zimbabwe with an UNGA resolution

“based on stale reports from three years ago,” a move he

alleged indicated that they had prejudged the election. He

maintained that Zimbabwe had the region’s strongest

opposition party and was ahead of most of SADC in

implementing SADC’s electoral principles – proof of the

Government’s commitment to multiparty democracy. The

reportedly meek response from the audience and muted reaction

from regional counterparts will fortify ruling party

confidence in its strategy.


12. (C) The GOZ can be expected to make additional marginal

(but not decisive) improvements in the electoral environment,

as the gradual opening of campaign space indicates. The

electoral bill’s modest reforms received their second reading

in the Parliament and elicited little outcry in a recent

sparesly attended public hearing conducted on the bill by the

parliamentary committee; they will likely pass in the coming

weeks, in time to be implemented for the March election. The

GOZ reportedly is working on election-related media access

rules, but ministers have proclaimed publicly that they will

apply only to parties contending in elections – an implicit

(and mostly disingenuous) enticement for the MDC to

participate. The MDC will be challenged to take advantage of

these openings to rekindle hope and energy among an

electorate that appears increasingly resigned to a ruling

party victory.


13. (C) The MDC leadership hopes that its ambitious travel

agenda will burnish its image at home and abroad, will

generate more regional pressure on the GOZ, and will

stimulate party fund-raising efforts, particularly with the

growing Zimbabwean diaspora. The strategy is not without

costs, however. The party will be without much of its

leadership at home for a lengthy and potentially important

period in the run-up to elections, potentially handicapping

its ability to exploit the small openings being afforded it

as the ruling party dresses up its election administration.

Moreover, the public posturing with Western governments is a

double-edged sword — it may bolster flagging morale among

party faithful but it plays into the hands of the GOZ

propagandists, who exaggerate the party’s western orientation

in playing to unaligned domestic and regional audiences.

Finally, few things raise the hackles of travel sanctioned

ruling party officials more than high profile opposition

globe-trotting. Tsvangirai’s publicized meetings abroad

could provoke a backlash, including an effort to go after

Tsvangirai’s passport again in connection with purported



treason charges. We do not discount the possibility that a

backlash could touch us as well; a ZANU-PF official once

indicated privately to us that reports he had received from

the ANC that the USG was funding MDC travel, if true, could

adversely affect bilateral relations.



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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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