Mugabe’s potential successor according to Tsvangirai


Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai said talks between his party and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front were being hampered by the succession battle within ZANU-PF because each aspiring successor wanted to be seen as the one able to deliver President Robert Mugabe the longest stay in power.

He was commenting after the imminent collapse of the dialogue between the two parties that was being promoted by the bishops from Manicaland.

Tsvangirai named Mugabe’s potential successors as Emmerson Mnangagwa, Solomon Mujuru, Simba Makoni and Sydney Sekeramayi whom he said was a compromise candidate.

He dismissed party chairman John Nkomo as lacking any constituency.


Full cable:


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Reference ID






2003-08-28 14:55

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 06 HARARE 001711









E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/22/2013










1. (C) SUMMARY: A series of meetings between political

players here and HIRC Africa Subcommittee staffer Malik Chaka

illuminated the tentative state of play of various efforts to

get ZANU-PF/MDC talks resumed. ZANU-PF Chairman John Nkomo

highlighted improvements in the political atmosphere and

emphasized the ruling party’s willingness to undertake

dialogue with the opposition — after a few obstacles were

removed. For its part, the MDC leadership conceded that

ZANU-PF had made some positive moves but indicated that

Mugabe’s party still appeared unwilling to consider

meaningful change. These and other meetings, including one

with members of the bishops troika, indicate that the

bishops’ initiative most likely is dead as a potential formal

mediating mechanism, although the parties continue to talk

quietly in other channels about getting dialogue going —

directly and through the South African Government. Although

ZANU-PF appears to be dragging its feet for now, it may yet

agree to commencement of some form of talks before the end of

the year — presumably strategically timed for maximum

domestic and international public relations benefit. The

cordial tone and relatively open access extended by the

government to Chaka may signal government interest in a less

hostile relationship with the USG. END SUMMARY.


Nkomo Underscores ZANU-PF Interest in Talks



2. (C) ZANU-PF Chairman John Nkomo warmly welcomed Chaka and

Ambassador Sullivan to his office for an hour-plus meeting

August 20. Nkomo asserted that the worst was over in

Zimbabwe and that all parties recognized the need to

collaborate in addressing the country’s difficulties.

ZANU-PF was not “anti-opposition,” he explained; aside from a

few issues such as land redistribution, the parties were

separated only by a difference in focus that was magnified by

rhetoric. This generated unnecessary tension that already

had absorbed too much time and resources.


3. (C) Nkomo emphasized that ZANU-PF and MDC representatives

were talking on an individual basis. Negotiating teams

already were in place, although “structure was still

preliminary” and commencing formal talks now would be

premature. Litigation initiated by each side hampered

efforts at constructive engagement. Nkomo maintained that

resolution of the legitimacy issue needed to precede talks —

“on what basis can we relate if we are not recognized?”

Nonetheless, both parties were contributing to improving

atmospherics that would eventually support commencement of

dialogue. The opposition’s appearance in parliament was an

example of such measures and evidenced that the parties were

talking. “To the outside, we appear enemies; when we meet,

we are not enemies.” Nkomo dismissed the sometimes shrill

voices on both sides that opposed dialogue as a misinformed,

irrelevant minority. Mugabe himself wanted to see the

impasse resolved. Contradicting his own earlier assertion

that talks were premature, he said talks could restart any



4. (C) Turning to the bishops’ initiative to jump start

political dialogue, Nkomo essentially confirmed the bishops’

chronology of exchanges between the party and the bishops

(ref B). As to their substantive role, however, ZANU-PF saw

the bishops only as facilitators of dialogue; they were

welcomed “between the parties” but not as formal mediators.

The churchmen had exceeded their brief in soliciting agendas,

according to Nkomo. For now, ZANU-PF would continue to talk

to them and hoped they would foster a positive atmosphere for



5. (C) Nkomo acknowledged a constructive role for South

Africa in moving toward dialogue. He had met with Thabo

Mbeki three weeks before and knew the SAG had received

delegations from both sides. For his part, he had assured

Mbeki that things were moving, ZANU-PF had accepted a church

role, and intra-parliamentary relations were productive.


6. (C) Nkomo stressed that the political environment was at

the root of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. Policies lacked

cohesion and both domestic and international players had lost

confidence in Zimbabwe. Regulatory systems were collapsing

and businesses were paralyzed by uncertainty. Nkomo opined

that rains could yet save Zimbabwe, but that the starting

point for sustainable recovery in any event was to stem the

collapse in confidence — this had to start with progress on

the political front. Zimbabwe was part of the globalized

community and needed international assistance. The GOZ was

working discreetly at the ministerial level to inquire at the

IMF and World Bank about possible prescriptions for

re-engagement and he was confident they would return once

political progress was firmly established. Nkomo

akcnowledged the importance of NGO work in Zimbabwe and

elaborated on recently announced adjustments to humanitarian

relief distrubition channels (reported septel). In the

meantime, resource constraints stemming from economic crisis

complicated politics. After alluding to earlier U.S. and

U.K. commitments to fund land redistribution, Nkomo

acknowledged the need to review progress and mistakes in land

reform. In this regard, the Utete Commission report under

review would help guide future action.


MDC Leaders Warily Pushing for Talks



7. (C) Ambassador Sullivan’s lunch for Chaka on August 21

was attended by MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai, Vice

President Gibson Sibanda, Secretary General Welshman Ncube,

Deputy Secretary General Gift Chimanakire, and Director for

Presidential Affairs Gandi Mudzingwa. The MDC leadership

reported that they were seeing more openness and

communication from ZANU-PF. Justice Minister Patrick

Chinamasa had been the one to propose and work for MDC

attendance at Mugabe’s parliamentary address. Inter-party

relations had improved in parliament, where MPs were being

given some latitude in reporting views out of committee, for

example. On the campaign front, police had facilitated

Tsvangirai’s stumping efforts in Victoria Falls, and “Green



Bombers” intimidating MDC activists in Gwanda had been

arrested. Nonetheless, ZANU-PF intimidation and/or

harassment continued at varying levels throughout the

country, especially in rural areas, and risked reaching a

self-sustaining level.


8. (C) As to the substance of inter-party contacts, Ncube

cast as “unreal” ZANU-PF’s four principal demands —

irreversability of land reform, non-interference by

international community, recognition of the role of the

liberation struggle, and “sovereignty.” ZANU-PF

interlocutors characterized issues raised by MDC (e.g.,

democratic processes, fuel crisis, inflation) as “symptoms”

and not necessarily appropriate for talks at this stage.

Ncube remarked on the consistency of ZANU-PF interlocutors on

substance, notwithstanding the ad hoc appearance of different

channels of communication. Tsvangirai asserted that

ZANU-PF’s apparent hesitancy was most likely calculated and

not reflective of significant division in its ranks.

Nonetheless, as long as succession was an open question,

mutual suspicions and divergent self-interest of ZANU-PF

principals would be a potential impediment to meaningful

dialogue. It was in the interest of each aspiring successor

to be seen as the one able to deliver Mugabe the longest stay

in power. No formal negotiating teams had been set by either

side, aside from the potential to carry over the composition

of last year’s suspended talks.


9. (C) Elaborating on ZANU-PF succession, Tsvangirai

observed that the possibly imminent demise of Vice President

Mudenza (reportedly on life support) could prompt a

“restructuring excercise” with implications for succession.

Mugabe’s appointment could indicate his chosen successor, but

such a forced choice would only be accepted by the party

until the next election. Tsvangirai identified potential

successors as Parliamentary Speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa,

Solomon Majuro, former Finance Minister Simba Makoni, with

Defense Minister Sidney Sikeremayi as a possible compromise

candidate; he dismissed John Nkomo as lacking any important

constituency. In any event, he predicted ZANU-PF would rally

around a compromise candidate if one were named.


10. (C) Speculating about South Africa’s intentions,

Tsvangirai asserted that Mbeki “knew that time was flying.”



Most SAG efforts appeared geared to getting progress underway

before the Commonwealth heads of government December meeting

(CHOGM) in Abuja, presumably with a view to having Zimbabwe’s

suspension lifted. Support continued to be strong within the

Commonwealth for Zimbabwe’s continued suspension but the

South Africans already were preparing to have the suspension

on the CHOGM agenda. The South Africans were becoming

frustrated as “promises were not being kept,” however, and

perhaps it was time for Mbeki to assert himself personally.

Tsvangirai said he thought that SAG direct pressure on Mugabe



could be decisive in getting ZANU-PF to the table, but the

MDC leadership present was uncertain how far the SAG intended

to push in that regard. Like others, the South Africans were

constrained by ZANU-PF succession issues — “the transition

within a transition.” Ncube concluded that the suspension

would continue if the CHOGM consultations were private, but

that public positions could prove problematic. He counted

Ghana, Botswana, and Kenya in the camp for continued

suspension, and suggested that Nigeria’s decision on whether

to invite Mugabe to the meeting could indicate which way the

wind was blowing.


11. (C) The leadership noted a tension between its sense

that the public was not ripe for renewed mass action and

rank-and-file pressure to forego negotiation for a more

provocative posture. The cash crisis could spark unrest in

rural areas, where most people lacked any other medium of

commerce. In any event, concerted mass action would likely

alienate South Africa at a particularly inopportune time.

The leadership said they quietly hoped that the Zimbabwe

Confederation of Trade Unions (ZCTU) would decide in upcoming

meetings to take some form of overt action that would press

the government (and the South Africans) without the MDC

having to serve as lightning rod.


12. (C) The leadership detailed its strategy for the

election petition, scheduled to go to court on November 3.

The presiding judge had yet to be named but would certainly

be controlled by the government; thus, a final decision

against the petitioners was certain. The best the leadership

could hope for was that its compelling case would be openly

aired and that the court would find for petitioners on some

potentially high-profile pre-decisional procedural motions.

Media management would be important, and the party would

undertake to get coverage through South Africa even if the

international press were excluded from local proceedings.

Facing the threat of a contempt order for allegedly trying to

influence the court’s decision, MDC would be very sensitive

and cautious in its media strategy. Tsvangirai predicted

that ZANU-PF, anticipating potentially embarrassing

developments at the hearing, could be expected to generate

positive publicity in late October, perhaps with a push to

get some kind of talks going. The case could drag on for

months as part of ZANU-PF’s strategy of bleeding the MDC

through legal fees (the MDC’s biggest budget line item).


Makoni Optimistic About ZANU-PF Reform



13. (C) In a meeting on August 21 with Chaka and Ambassador

Sullivan, former Finance Minister Simba Makoni sounded upbeat

on the prospect for political progress in Zimbabwe. Echoing

Nkomo, he asserted that the root cause of Zimbabwe’s crisis

was “the way we have done our politics.” Economic problems

were symptoms of “political malaise.” According to Makoni,

ZANU-PF membership was nearly united in support for change

but lacked a clear scenario through which to effect such

change. He concluded that a Gorbachev-style opening directed

from the top seemed unlikely. More likely, ZANU-PF would

choose Mugabe’s successor, who would effect a more

constructive economic and political agenda. Makoni said that

inter-party dialogue may yet succeed, but that ZANU-PF

succession was most likely to be the key to national

reconciliation and recovery. Makoni devoted most of the

remainder of his comments to the economy (reported septel).


Coltart Sees Unchanging ZANU-PF



14. (C) MDC MP and Shadow Secretary for Legal Affairs David

Coltart met with Chaka and emboffs on August 24 and sketched

his views of ZANU-PF in the context of recent developments.

According to Coltart, ZANU-PF’s intolerance of opposition was

deeply ingrained and went far beyond Mugabe. He predicted

that ZANU-PF would swallow the MDC in a government of

national unity even if Mugabe were gone. Notwithstanding

differences between ZAPU and MDC, ZANU-PF’s absorption of

ZAPU in 1987 remained an applicable lesson today. ZANU-PF

successor aspirants would likely stick together after Mugabe

in spite of their occasionally divergent personal interests

and views, and Vice-President Muzenda’s passing would not

trigger significant divisions within the party. In any

event, there were reasonable interlocutors, such as John

Nkomo, within the ruling party.


15. MDC’s prospects were better than ZAPU’s, Coltart

concluded, with the absence of cold war and apartheid and

because the economy was no longer sustainable. Furthermore,

ZANU-PF, in spite of relatively strong party discipline, was

largely reactive and capable of great “stupidity.” The

party’s resort to the treason trial and Tsvangirai’s

detention, its handling of Cricket World Cup publicity, and

attempts to control humanitarian food relief were just some

recent examples. The key to countering ZANU-PF’s intolerant

nature lay in reinforcement and construction of institutional

balances within government and civil society.


16. (C) As to recent evidence of a thawing in inter-party

relations, Coltart conceded that there had been superficial

improvements, including more free campaigning. Violence

levels seemed down, although areas such as his home district

Bulawayo had seen relatively violence-free elections before.

Even without violence, however, ZANU-PF continued to resort

to underhanded tactics that compromised the election’s

freeness and fairness. In Bulawayo, for example, the

election registrar only shared election rolls with the MDC

very late and after weeks of requests; one of the five rolls

remained outstanding just one week before the election.

Distribution of food and other benefits also was as

politicized as ever, with ZANU-PF cards necessary for receipt

of government-supplied maize on a widespread basis throughout

the country.


17. (U) Coltart reported that he intended to be in an

inter-party Zimbabwean delegation traveling to the United

States to participate in a Parliamentarians for Global Action

event, and planned to be in Washington September 15-16.


Churchmen on Fostering Atmospherics



18. (C) In a meeting with Chaka and poloffs on August 23 at

the residence of President of the Evangelical Fellowship of

Zimbabwe Bishop Trevor Manhanga, Manhanga and President of

the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference Bishop Patrick

Mutume detailed obstacles to resumption of political

dialogue. They said that ZANU-PF continued to engage with

them, notwithstanding the Justice Minister’s critical

outburst and Nkomo’s vacillation about their role. In

private, ZANU-PF interlocutors asserted that legitimacy, the

election contest, and the MDC’s foreign connections

constituted obstacles to commencement of talks. The bishops

dismissed ZANU-PF’s public assertions that there had been no

agreement about submission of agendas but recognized that

ZANU-PF was not now prepared to move forward on their

initiative. According to the bishops, the party was

handicapped by the dissonance of senior officials’ individual

interests and an inability to resolve its succession issue.

The economic crisis was distracting, especially with ruling

party figures striving to exploit the evolving environment at

opposition expense. Publicity and a partisan press further

hindered efforts to bridge differences. Sensationalist

coverage of Mugabe’s Heroes Day speech (ref A), for example,

ignored his markedly moderate tone and scaled back rhetoric,

and missed an opportunity to project positive atmospherics

conducive to dialogue.


19. (C) The bishops said they were undeterred by ZANU-PF’s

cold shoulder and were still operating under Mugabe’s

invitation to see what they could do (ref B). They asserted

that atmospherics were improving between the parties, who

seemed to be posturing toward some re-engagement albeit with

different degrees of enthusiasm. Particularly encouraging

were recent developments in their Mutare district. The two

received a very warm welcome at a local ZANU-PF public event

conducted the night before with all senior local officials

and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa in attendance. (As an

aside, the bishops lamented that Chinamasa was the only

government minister from Manicaland, leaving Manicaland

essentially unrepresented in the government.) All speakers

publicly recognized the bishops’ attendance with gratitude

and Manhanga was invited to offer a closing benediction.

Chinamasa had appeared somewhat taken aback by their presence

and offered a moderate statement with only one back-handed

reference to the churches’ association with foreign

interests. Separately, the bishops had gotten all three

candidates for mayor in the August 30-31 election to agree

publicly to abide by a code of conduct, with the churches’

acting as intermediaries to help resolve complaints.   The

bishops’ were taking the initiative at the local level with a

view possibly to introducing it more widely in future

elections if it proved successful.


20. (C) On the international front, the bishops advised that

President Mbeki was ready to meet with them but they wanted

first to have progress to show for their efforts.

Nevertheless, if nothing developed soon, they would visit him

for assistance.   With a view to further inducing Mugabe to

move forward, they again (ref B) inquired what developments

would permit the international community to resume a more

normalized relationship with Zimbabwe.





21. (C) The Chaka staffdel offered a well-timed opportunity

to engage a host of key participants privately on the status

of Zimbabwe’s talks on talks. The broad and high-level

access afforded Chaka — surprising and unmatched in the past

year — may bear testament to interest among the ZANU-PF

leadership in projecting the impression that it is serious

about political dialogue and Zimbabwe’s international

relations. At the same time, the party has yet to indicate

definitively that it will commence talks or, much less, on

what terms. Certainly, the breadth and generality of the

issues framed by the parties (e.g., “legitimacy,” “free and

fair elections”), while potentially polarizing, leave room

for finesse and resolution should both parties muster the

will to talk. Nkomo’s concession that political progress

must precede economic recovery echoes a long-standing

conclusion of many regime critics, but it is not at all clear

that the belief is shared by his boss. Indeed, Mugabe’s

personal views on succession remain a decisive but still

uncertain factor in the talks equation.


22. (C) Whether ZANU-PF’s temporizing is a conscious

strategy or reflective of internal indecision, the ruling

party appears so far to sit in the catbird’s seat on the

timing of talks. For its part, the MDC can be expected to

continue pressing for talks but might later seek to hold out

for concessions if it perceives ZANU-PF wants the talks badly

enough. Weakening the MDC’s hand is the reality that Mugabe

and his inner circle appear to be impervious to the suffering

associated with country’s political impasse and economic

collapse. The government’s interest in its Commonwealth

status and future re-engagement by international financial

institutions is real but not ultimately decisive. It remains

unclear how assertive South Africa is being with the regime,

or how the regime would respond to various degrees of South

African pressure.


23. (C) Even if ZANU-PF’s professed interest in meaningful

talks is entirely disingenuous, its nascent efforts at a more

cooperative posture are a potentially positive incremental

development. It is becoming more acceptable for long-cowed

ZANU-PF elements to be seen with and to talk with regime

critics. This opening, which may encompass diplomatic and

civil society circles as well, may subject the ZANU-PF to

greater influence from the outside and stimulate more genuine

debate within the party, although this is not a given.

Cross-party confidence-building at a personal level may begin

to take on a life of its own regardless of party leadership

intentions — an objective underlying in part the bishops’

indefatigable efforts.


24. (C) This weekend’s scheduled parliamentary by-elections

and mayoral and urban council elections (septel) will offer

another potential benchmark by which to measure inter-party

relations and atmospherics for talks. The government’s

response to international outcry over announced adjustments

to humanitarian food distribution procedures (septel) will

further indicate its sensitivity to international opinion and

the extent to which it is willing to exploit the politics of




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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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