MDC takes over urban councils


The Movement for Democratic Change gained control of the major urban centres in the 30-31 August 2003 mayoral and urban council elections gaining control of six of the country’s seven largest urban centres.

The party won 135 seats against the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front’s 132 but 44 of the seats that ZANU-PF won were uncontested after MDC candidates were prevented from registering and running.

The council seats which MDC won represent about 1.5 million people, whereas the council seats that ZANU-PF gained represent only about 500,000 people.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2003-09-30 06:22

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 001973









E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2013




REF: A. HARARE 01935

B. HARARE 1731

C. HARARE 1555

D. HARARE 1491


Classified By: Political Officer Audu Besmer for reasons 1.5 b/d


1. (C) SUMMARY: Saddled with the responsibility to provide

services in often far-flung communities, new MDC mayors’ and

councils’ effectiveness will be constrained by legal battles,

a lack of resources, and the threat of interference from the

Ministry of Local Government. The MDC’s victories in recent

mayoral and urban council elections represent notable

political victories, but it is unclear how prepared the

opposition party is to exploit them. So far, the government

has continued to hamstring the MDC mayor of Harare but has

not acted significantly against newly elected officials. END



MDC Municipal Gains



2. (U) Though the overall voter turnout in the August 30-31

mayoral and urban council elections was low, the MDC won six

out of eight mayoral slots and 135 urban council seats to

ZANU-PF’s 132 (Ref B). The modest margin of MDC’s majority

of urban council seats understates its relative popularity

vis-a-vis the ruling party. First, of the 132 seats that

went to ZANU-PF, 44 were uncontested after MDC candidates

were prevented from registering and running (Ref D). In

addition, the MDC had important wins in the largest

population centers — six of the nation’s seven largest urban

centers.   The council seats which MDC won nationwide

represent about 1.5 million people, whereas the council seats

that ZANU-PF gained represent only about 500,000 people.

(Comment: Comparatively large councils appear to be skewed in

favor of ZANU-PF strongholds. End Comment.)


Harare Mayor Hemmed in by Legal Wrangles,

Limited Party Support



3. (C) On September 17, the High Court deferred a decision

on Minister of Local Government Ignatius Chombo’s application

to confirm a provisional order barring suspended MDC Mayor

Elias Mudzuri from performing council duties – effectively

solidifying the Mayor’s suspension (Ref A). Mudzuri has been

trying to meet with councilors and other partners informally,

at least to keep abreast of city business; it is unclear to

what extent he will continue those efforts given this recent

ruling. He is still living in the official residence, and

has the official car and fuel, but is not receiving his



4. (C) The head of the Ministry-appointed commission to

investigate Mudzuri, Jemison Kurasha, told poloff on

September 20 that the problem between the Minster and the

Mayor was not simply a personal one but a cultural one as

well. The Minister and Mayor appeared to clash over

patronage in the culture of corruption within Harare’s city

government. The commission, though in existence since April,

first called Mudzuri in for an interview only on September

19. Kurasha said they should issue their report in a month

or so; however, Mike Davies, Chairman of the Combined Harare

Residents’ Association (CHRA), said there was absolutely no

pressure on the commission to complete its investigation.


5. (C) Compounding Mudzuri’s difficulties are his strained

relations with the MDC leadership. In a conversation with

Ambassador Sullivan on September 17, the Mayor criticized the

party leadership for not doing more to support him. He

complained that they were largely quiet about his travails

publicly, and had done nothing to rein in the Deputy Mayor.

According to MDC Director for Presidential Affairs Gandi

Mudzingwa, a close protege of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai,

the MDC leadership had questions about the professionalism of

Mudzuri’s decisions on hirings and firings, and tender awards

while he was in office. Mudzingwa suggested that at the very

least Mudzuri might have been overzealous – incontinently

angering ZANU-PF officials.


6. (C) In August, Chombo postponed indefinitely elections for

a new Deputy Mayor – previously scheduled for that month –

pending the outcome of an investigation into Mudzuri’s

activities as mayor. This was generally viewed as a maneuver

to keep the current MDC (but GOZ-friendly) Deputy Mayor in

office and effectively controlling the city’s affairs.

Mudzuri told Ambassador Sullivan on September 17 that the

Deputy Mayor had refused to communicate with him for some

time. The Ministry of Local Government also attempted to

suspend six Harare city councilors, the new heads of several

important committees, in a move seen as intended to undercut

the MDC-led administration of city affairs and to prevent a

vote on a new Deputy Mayor. On September 11, the High Court

ruled against the Ministry and nullified the councilors’



7. (C) A September 25 council meeting descended into a

shouting match and was prematurely adjourned over the

suspension and reinstatement of three council employees.

Davies said Deputy Mayor Sekesai Makwavarara recently

reinstated the suspended employees with the support of a

GOZ-friendly faction of about 10-12 councilors led by Mt.

Pleasant councilor Chris Mushonga. The council’s executive

committee, which has authority for hiring and firing,

authorized the suspensions over the past year but not the

reinstatements. Davies said there are about 10-12 councilors

who are toeing the MDC line, and an additional 20 or so who,

probably from inexperience, are susceptible to political

pressure. Of the 45 Harare city councilors, 44 are from the

MDC, one is from ZANU-PF.


Mayor Working Again in Chegutu



8. (C) On July 31 the previous ZANU-PF-dominated city council

of Chegutu voted to suspend MDC Mayor of Chegutu Francis

Dhlakama and to withdraw all benefits of his office (Ref C).

But the High Court on August 6 decided that the suspension

was illegal. The Mayor took a vacation, and on September 1

was physically threatened by the then Deputy Mayor when he

tried to return to work. Dhlakama spoke to Minister Chombo,

who in turn called the Chegutu Deputy Mayor and ordered him

to allow Dhlakama to return to work.


9. (C) The Ministry of Local Government had audited the

previous council’s books and in a July report exposed rampant

corruption. The report implicated members of the previous

Chegutu council who Dhlakama said were involved in a scam to

skim tax funds without the blessing of ZANU-PF higher-ups

(Ref C). According to Dhlakama the Minster approved the

auditing procedure because he wanted to root out rogue

corruption. The audit was more damning than the Minister

expected, however, and it raised questions about the

Minister’s own connections to some of the malfeasance. As a

result, the GOZ has taken no corrective action except to

effectively replace the entire council with a new ZANU-PF one

in the August local elections (Ref D). (Comment: It is

possible that Chombo facilitated Dhlakama’s return as Mayor

to ameliorate a backlash against ZANU-PF in Chegutu from the

audit. End Comment.)


MDC Municipal Strategy/Seminar



10. (C) On September 20, three MDC provincial heads met with

eleven existing and newly elected MDC mayors in Matopos

(outside Bulawayo) for a strategy seminar. The newly elected

Mayor of Gwanda (Matabeleland South), Dr. Thandeko Mnkandhla,

said that the seminar covered basic topics such as how to

work with the city council, mayoral authority under the Urban

Councils Act, and advice on cooperating with the Ministry of

Local Government while not submitting to irregular

Ministerial demands. Bulawayo Mayor Japhet Ncube told us

that the mayors agreed they should avoid fights with the

Ministry which could disrupt city operations, since it would

be the MDC mayors who would be blamed for the resulting

paralysis of city government. Earlier this month, Mudzingwa

said the basic message would be to stick together, not to

lose focus, and to choose carefully how to react to likely

GOZ interference to disrupt civic administration. (Note:

Although the Minister stated publicly that he would be

meeting with all new mayors, so far, he has yet to call any

meetings with the MDC mayors. Furthermore he has not

responded to invitations from MDC mayors to attend their

inauguration ceremonies. End Note).


11. (C) A common concern at the seminar was the abhorrent

financial situation each Mayor inherited from the previous

ZANU-PF mayors – all their city treasuries were in the red –

and how to deliver basic city services while in debt. (Note:

The August 30 – 31 elections were the first in those towns

which the MDC contested since the party was formed in 1999.

End Note.) MDC leaders stressed that the mayors should focus

on visible deliverables, and seek outside assistance from

NGOs and Embassies, as the traditional grants from the

Ministry were unlikely to be forthcoming or sufficient. All

acknowledged that with today’s inflation, local taxes on

residents would not cover the cost of basic city services.





12. (C) In many ways, municipal politics can be expected to

reflect the larger relationship between the parties here,

with the ruling party employing legal and administrative

harassment and its command of the purse-strings to undermine

MDC effectiveness. (The Urban Councils Act gives wide scope

for the Ministry of Local Government to intervene in

municipal affairs.) Although the Ministry of Local

Government has been relatively inactive against most newly

elected, MDC-led municipalities so far, that may change once

it has taken the measure of each and evaluated respective

vulnerabilities. Some local officials may attract ruling

party efforts at co-opting; given the difficult operating

environment and constituency pressure to deliver, some will

likely be enticed, which could contribute to intra-party

tensions. As the capital city, Harare’s MDC presence can be

expected to attract special pressure from the ruling party,

as evidenced by Mudzuri’s continuing woes.


13. (C) Municipal politics will be an increasingly important

battleground. Because so many municipal seats are occupied

by the opposition, both parties recognize that relevant

municipalities can be taken as a laboratory for the MDC’s

capacity to govern. In the finger-pointing between

municipalities and the Ministry that inevitably will emerge

over municipal services, media management will be crucial to

the MDC in getting its message to the electorate. The

silencing of The Daily News and other government suppression

of independent media will handicap MDC efforts in that

respect. The MDC leadership’s relative lack of support for

Mayor Mudzuri — the most powerful elected position held by

the MDC — is curious. The missed opportunities to make more

political hay of the Mayor’s plight may be attributed in part

to personality differences, but may also reflect troublesome

institutional neglect by a distracted party.



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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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