Nkomo arranged bishops’ meeting with Mugabe


Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front national chairman John Nkomo together with secretary for information Nathan Shamuyarira arranged for bishops who were trying to mediate between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change to meet President Robert Mugabe.

This was disclosed by one of the bishops Trevor Manhanga when he met United States embassy officials.

Manhanga said the bishops met Mugabe for two hours but he spent 45 minutes criticising “familiar targets”.

He then became amiable and told the bishops that the impediments to the talks were the MDC election challenge, MDC views of his legitimacy, and the MDC’s “parroting” of foreign perspectives.

He was, however, interested in dialogue and encouraged the bishops to relay his interest to the MDC and see what might ensue.


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Reference ID






2003-08-12 07:00

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.


120700Z Aug 03

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001599









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




REF: (A) HARARE 1594 (B) HARARE 1571 (C) HARARE 1532




1. (C) SUMMARY: On behalf of the bishops’ troika (reftels),

Trevor Manhanga of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe on

August 8 gave Charge a status report on the bishops’

initiative to get political talks renewed. Manhanga

dismissed criticism of the initiative by certain ZANU-PF

elements and asserted that Mugabe himself continued to be

open to the effort. Emphasizing that Mugabe personally had

encouraged the bishops to canvass the international

community, Manhanga inquired about USG views generally and

benchmarks for international re-engagement in particular. He

advised that he would seek quiet facilitation of the process

by other Africans, including the South African Government,

which had offered to be supportive. The bishops continue to

wait for ZANU-PF’s overdue submission of proposed agenda

items for the talks. END SUMMARY.


2. (C) At the bishops’ initiative, Manhanga called on the

Charge at the Embassy August 8 to exchange views on the

bishops’ effort to bring MDC and ZANU-PF to the negotiating

table. At the outset, Manhanga expressed appreciation for

USG concern and assistance in exploring options for political

reconciliation in Zimbabwe. He apologized for the absence of

his colleagues, who were unable to break away from

commitments in Mutare. He said the group was seeking to meet

separately with Ambassador Sullivan (presently on leave), the

British High Commissioner, and other international

representatives. Certain ZANU-PF elements would try to use

such contact to attack the process but Mugabe himself had

urged them to meet with the international community,

including the British and South Africans. Thus, such calls

were “discreet” but “not clandestine.” He observed that, in

any event, Zimbabwe’s problems could not be addressed in

isolation and that there would be stages at which advice and

assistance from the international community would be helpful.



3. (C) By way of background, Manhanga recounted that the

bishops’ initiative was born several months ago, when several

began discussing what could be done about the country’s

political polarization and rapid economic collapse. At that

time, they approached several ZANU-PF senior officials, among

whom was ZANU-PF Information Secretary Nathan Shamuyarira,

who promised to convey their interest to Mugabe. They

subsequently met further with Shamuyarira and Chairman John

Nkomo, who arranged a meeting with Mugabe. The Mugabe

meeting lasted two hours. After 45 minutes of criticizing

familiar targets, Mugabe became “very amiable” and made clear

that he supported a dialogue. Mugabe described three related

impediments to talks: the MDC election challenge, MDC views

of his legitimacy, and the MDC’s “parrotting” of foreign

perspectives. He encouraged the bishops to relay his

interest to the MDC and see what might ensue.


4. (C) The following week, the bishops met with Morgan

Tsvangirai and other MDC principals. The MDC group



identified familiar objectives: level playing field,

reduction of political violence, etc. They said they were

prepared to drop the issue of legitimacy and the court

challenge, although they would preserve the challenge for

now. The bishops relayed the positions to Shamuyarira and

the parties agreed to submit proposed agenda items.


5. (C) Manhanga confirmed press reports that the bishops had

intended to hold the MDC agenda letter (ref B) unopened until

ZANU-PF submitted its letter and review them for the first

time together. He reported that Tsvangirai had apologized

for the press leak of the MDC submission, which he conceded

came from an MDC source. Manhanga did not know who leaked

the document or why it had been leaked.


6. (C) Manhanga said that free and fair elections were a

long term objective for the bishops, but that atmospherics —

political arrests, disrupted rights of assembly, etc. —

would have to be addressed first. The bishops did not intend

to raise such issues, which invariably would be addressed by

the process in any event. For now, though, time was required

to get conditions ripe for an election, including

constitutional and electoral “dispensations.” As to

potential power-transferring or power-sharing mechanisms,

Manhanga said these would be up to the parties.


7. (C) Referring to internal ZANU-PF divisions, Manhanga

said that Mugabe,s choice of party moderates to engage on

the initiative indicated Mugabe,s sincerity and was a good

sign. In any event, however, any ZANU-PF “roadmap” was

likely to be “fractious” at best. Emphasizing the potential

importance of affording Mugabe a “dignified exit,” Manhanga

urged that interested parties not permit details on the fate

of “one man” obstruct a process that could yield benefits for



8. (C) According to Manhanga, the bishops were seeking

certain African luminaries who might influence Mugabe

constructively. He opined that Kenneth Kaunda might be able

to exert a positive influence, for example. Mandela and

Mbeki would be inappropriate, although the South African

government already was being supportive. In an August 4

visit to the bishops, an Embassy counselor reported that the

South African government was pleased with developments and

urged that the bishops advise if it could be helpful.

Manhanga said that they would go to the South Africans and

other Africans for help if ZANU-PF dragged its feet past

August 13 (August 11 and 12 are local holidays) on the agenda

submission. Getting some kind of “irrevocable momentum” soon

was crucial; the longer the initiative,s status remained in

“the twilight zone,” the easier it would be for opposition

efforts to gain traction.


9. (C) In concluding, Manhanga emphasized the importance of

international support for the process. At this nascent

stage, some identification of international benchmarks tying

specific events to stepped up international engagement would

offer important incentive to the players. “What has to

happen for good will and positive actions to be shown?” It

might help significantly if the bishops could convey such

information to Mugabe, Manhanga asserted. He inquired about

USG views.


10. (C) The Charge said that the USG hoped to see the

process take off. He related USG support for the bishops,

longer-term objective of free and fair elections and

concurred that establishing conditions to permit such

elections was crucial. The USG would monitor progress

carefully and do what it could to help within the constraints

of its strained relationship with the government. In view of

certain elements of ZANU-PF,s hostility to the USG and their

rejection of the bishops, role, USG posture would remain

discreet for now.


11. (C) COMMENT: Manhanga probably is right that momentum

will need to be established swiftly if the troika,s efforts

are to bear fruit. Even if they wither, Mugabe may yet

pursue other avenues of dialogue — ones over which he feels

he maintains more control. Mugabe may indeed be prepared to

consider the possibility of stepping down, but we remain

skeptical that he and his closest supporters have abandoned

hopes of scripting a ZANU-PF succession scenario of some





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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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