Movement for Democratic Change secretary-general Welshman Ncube told United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Joseph Sullivan that conducting a war against the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front with petrol bombs would be suicidal.
Sullivan met with Ncube to counsel the MDC strongly against initiating violence saying besides losing moral high ground in such a scenario, the MDC would be playing on ZANU-PF’s proven turf and would not win a violent battle with the ruling party.
The party’s intelligence chief Solomon Chikowero told Sullivan that the party rank and file were ready for violent action against the government and were just waiting for the green light from the MDC leadership to proceed.
Ncube stressed that the MDC leadership was committed to peaceful change, saying that conducting a war against ZANU-PF with petrol bombs would be suicidal.
He acknowledged that elements of his party had been planning certain “insane things” such as bombing bridges and electrical installations.
When this was brought to his attention, he immediately spoke with deputy secretary-general Gift Chimanikire, who supervised the party’s intelligence and security directorates, and told him to rescind any orders that might have been given for violent action.
Viewing cable 03HARARE628, MDC ELEMENTS STILL CONTEMPLATING VIOLENCE
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 02 HARARE 000628
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR J. FRAZER
LONDON FOR C. GURNEY
PARIS FOR C. NEARY
NAIROBI FOR T. PFLAUMER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/01/2013
SUBJECT: MDC ELEMENTS STILL CONTEMPLATING VIOLENCE
REF: HARARE 516
Classified By: Political Officer Audu Besmer for reasons 1.5 b/d
¶1. (C) On March 26, MDC Secretary-General Welshman Ncube
assured the Ambassador that the party remains committed to
peaceful change, while acknowledging that some party elements
had been planning bombing attacks prior to the March 18-19
stayaway. Solomon Chikowero, the MDC Head of Intelligence
said, however, that some in the party rank and file were
still prepared to launch violent action against the
Government, and were awaiting the green light from MDC
leadership to proceed. End Summary.
Ambassador with MDC Secretary-General
¶2. (C) The Ambassador, accompanied by Polchief, met on March
26 with MDC Secretary-General Welshman Ncube to counsel
strongly against the MDC’s initiation of violence. The
Ambassador emphasized that in addition to losing the high
moral ground in such a scenario, the MDC would be playing on
ZANU-PF’s proven turf and could not win a violent battle with
the ruling party. Ncube stressed that the MDC leadership
remains committed to peaceful change, saying that conducting
a war against ZANU-PF with petrol bombs would be suicidal.
He acknowledged that elements of his party had been planning
certain “insane things” prior to the stayaway, such as
bombing bridges and electrical installations. When this was
brought to his attention, he immediately spoke with deputy
Secretary-General Gift Chimanikire, who supervises the
party’s intelligence and security directorates, and told him
to rescind any orders that might have been given for violent
¶3. (C) Ncube said the party would not be ready to launch the
next phase of mass action when a March 31 ultimatum deadline
expires. (Note: After the successful March 18-19 stayaway,
the MDC issued a list of demands the Government must meet by
March 31 or face further civil unrest. End Note.) The party
is now coordinating with civic organizations such as the
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the National
Constitutional Assembly, and would likely need until the
second or third week in April to do the necessary
mobilization. Asked what form the next phase of mass action
would take, Ncube said the party wanted to organize protests
that were sustainable and ongoing, not one- or two-day
affairs. Prolonged stayaways and street demonstrations in
the high-density suburbs were the most likely actions. In
the beginning, however, the MDC would not organize
large-scale demonstrations in the city center, in order to
minimize the possibility of security service attacks on
members of the public and to avoid gathering large numbers of
party activists in the same place.
Violence – A Contingency Plan?
¶4. (C) In a separate conversation with Poloff on March 26,
Solomon Chikowero, the MDC Head of Intelligence, said plans
for violent activities are in place and that they are simply
waiting for the green light from the MDC leadership, which is
to meet on March 28 to decide what to do when the MDC
ultimatum expires on March 31. Chikowero said there was a
feeling within the MDC that whether they engaged in
stayaways, demonstrations, or more violent activities–the
response from the GOZ was the same: detentions, arrests,
beatings, tortures and rapes. He expressed the sense of some
within the MDC that they had exhausted their options and were
left with only violent means to pressure the GOZ into a
dialogue on political change.
¶5. (C) Chikowero suggested that parastatal Zimbabwe Unified
Passenger Company (ZUPCO) buses would be prime targets for
attack, and that avoiding injuries would be important.
Chikowero did not mention other specific targets, but his
subordinates had elaborated on this topic in previous
conversations with us (reftel).
¶6. (C) Poloff reiterated that if the MDC engaged in violence
that the U.S. and others in the international community would
have no choice but to distance themselves. Organized
violence was not the hallmark of a legitimate democratic
political party. Poloff suggested there were many other
peaceful ways to motivate political change. Poloff suggested
that the recent stayaway had already bolstered Zimbabweans’
confidence in their ability to influence political change.
Violent activities would only invite a more violent crackdown
on the part of government, as we saw in the aftermath of the
March 18-19 stayaway.
¶7. (C) Chikowero agreed in principle that non-violent
activities were a good idea, and that violent activities
could backfire politically, but he said that the final
decision would be made above his head. He also said
non-violent stayaways and protests, though more desirable,
were more complicated to organize in a reasonable amount of
time, and according to him, less likely to succeed.
Chikowero said discouraging stone throwing was a lost cause
with MDC supporters on the street who have been beaten
repeatedly by security forces.
¶8. (C) Chikowero said the “soldiers” currently carrying out
the retribution campaign against MDC supporters are National
Youth Service members, “green bombers” led by war vets who
re-entered the military in 2001. He claimed that none of
them are regular soldiers. Chikowero said that his office
could compile a list of the war-vets cum soldiers, and other
information on which military units have supplied the
camouflage uniforms, military vehicles and weapons.
Chikowero was speculating, but he suggested that it was
likely the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which comprises
elements of the police, military, and Central Intelligence
Organization, was coordinating, or was at least complicit in
¶9. (C) We believe that Welshman Ncube is committed to
achieving political change peacefully and hope that other
senior MDC leaders share this view. His obvious discomfort
in discussing this topic, however, raises some question about
the commitment of other MDC leaders to the path of
non-violence. It is noteworthy, that the MDC has issued no
public statement condemning the sporadic violence that
occurred during the March 18-19 stayaway. Such a statement
would send a clear message to the increasingly frustrated
rank and file that the party was opposed to violence of any
sort. Instead it appears that attacks on ZANU-PF interests
are being kept in reserve as a contingency plan, and
cultivated by lower-level officials and supporters who
themselves see few other viable options. So far, those
elements have heeded the leadership’s stand down orders, but
it is impossible to predict how long their commitment to the
party leadership will outweigh their frustration with the
regime. We will continue to stress in our interactions with
MDC leaders our conviction that violence is not the way
Who is Chikowero?
¶10. (C) Chikowero is an impressive figure, a former Air Force
paratrooper and intelligence officer who served in Somalia,
Mozambique and various posts within Zimbabwe. A military
court imprisoned him in 1991 for refusing to follow orders
during operations in Mozambique, which he described as using
junior soldiers as cannon fodder. He was released in 1996
and declined an offer to re-join the Air Force to instead
team up with the fledging MDC a couple of years later. Since
joining the MDC he has been arrested about eleven times, and
tortured twice within the past year. He said the tortures
have only hardened his resolve against the current regime.
He is widely regarded in ZANU-PF circles as being at the
center of plans for MDC-sponsored violence, and is watched
closely by the security services. End Comment.