Tsvangirai advisor speaks about challenges to MDC


Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s special advisor Gandi Mudzingwa said the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front was opening political space for the MDC but the party was now in a dilemma on how to exploit these new opportunities without conceding their right to participate or boycott the coming elections.

He said the party had also received assurances from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo that he would talk to South African President Thabo Mbeki about a negotiated settlement.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2004-12-23 13:03

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 002071







E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2009





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


1. (C) SUMMARY: MDC Secretary for Presidential Affairs

Gandhi Mudzingwa on December 15 updated poloff on MDC

priorities and activities in the run-up to the March

parliamentary elections. He identified steps ZANU-PF had

taken that were leading to a more open political

environment, but said the progress to date was insufficient

and that the MDC faced a dilemma as a result: how to

exploit these new opportunities without conceding their

participation in the elections. He reported that Nigerian

President Obasanjo recently told opposition leader Morgan

Tsvangirai that he would engage South African President



Mbeki and Mauritius President Berenger about Zimbabwe and

favored a negotiated settlement. Mudzingwa also said that

Tsvangirai did not want to put off a visit to Washington



until February, when he may need to be immersed in

campaigning, but recognized the need for flexibility. END



The Dilemma of Opening Political Space

——————————————— ——-


2. Mudzingwa noted that the regime’s moderating public

tone was being matched by some opening of political space:


— He confirmed previous reports that the party generally

was more successful in getting its public political

gatherings approved by the police nationally, although

significant problems remained. (Note: A few days later,

police denied approval for major MDC meetings in Harare and

Chitungwiza and police broke up a meeting Tsvangirai was

holding in Masvingo. End note.)


— In many areas, police were enforcing the law in a less

obviously partisan manner. Police had arrested 18-20

ZANU-PF perpetrators of violence during the last six to

eight months, an unprecedented level of enforcement against

the ruling party at the local level. Mudzingwa asserted

that at least a couple of ZANU-PF partisans had been

convicted and other prosecutions were going forward.

(Note: The vast majority of those arrested for political

violence over the past few years have been MDC members but,

like those ZANU-PF members arrested over that period,

detainees usually had charges dropped, were acquitted, or

were released upon payment of a fine. End note.)


— The GOZ had not withheld food or other assistance on a

partisan basis “for months.” (Note: A visiting team from

Human Right Watch told poloff last week that the

organization had been unable to confirm any reports of the

GOZ using food as a “weapon” since the first half of the

year. End note.)


— The MDC was having a greater impact in Parliament. The

ruling party still controlled the legislative agenda but

was exhibiting more inclination to compromise.


— In this vein, ZANU-PF had agreed to some (not all)

potentially significant compromises on the election bill,

including one provision that would require opposition

parties to get access to the state media.


— Minister for State Security Goche had told MDC Shadow

Minister for Youth Affairs Nelson Chamisa that “a decision

had been taken” to permit the independent daily newspaper,

The Daily News (TDN), to publish again. (Note: Publisher

Strive Masiyiwa three days later reportedly sold TDN to the

newspaper’s management team, headed by Editor Sam Nkomo.

End note.)


— The party leadership was pleasantly surprised that

Tsvangirai retained his passport and ability to travel —



an important asset for a party. (Note: The GOZ had seized

Tsvangirai’s passport in connection with his first treason



trial, preventing his international travel for over a

year. Upon his acquittal the GOZ returned the passport and

so far has opted not to retain it during the pre-trial

portion of his second treason trial. End note.)


3. (C) Mudzingwa stressed that these positive developments

cumulatively did not come close to giving the MDC a fair

chance in March. The MDC thus faced a dilemma: how to

exploit the new opportunities that had opened up without

conceding MDC participation in the elections. The party

had yet to decide whether to participate and was hoping for

more concessions but any public acknowledgement of

progress, however insufficient, risked giving ZANU-PF and

SADC additional ammunition in their efforts to depict the

elections as free and fair. The dilemma was vexing party

tacticians. Mudzingwa said the party, for example, had not

planned a media campaign yet, although it would be able to

“within days” once a decision had been taken to pursue

one. (Note: We have been unable to confirm a Washington

Times report on December 21 that the state-controlled

Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation had recently refused to

air MDC campaign advertising. End note.)


Key Factors for MDC : Community Empowerment …

——————————————— —————



4. (C) Mudzingwa said that a key to electoral success for

the MDC lay in empowering communities — giving citizens a

sense that they could act politically without retribution.

Whether the opposition would re-enter the election race

would hinge on several factors all of which boiled down to

one thing: the political will of the ruling party to let

the MDC connect with the electorate. For instance, while

the opposition was demanding the repeal of repressive

legislation it recognized that more important in the short

term was how the GOZ applied the laws. He claimed that MDC

Secretary-General Welshman Ncube and Justice Minister



Patrick Chinamasa had discussed a practical accommodation,

which would permit each side to go forward without losing

face. Mudzingwa added that voter education and “peace

committees,” which would mediate between the parties at

local and national levels, were also potentially critical

to community empowerment.


… And GOZ-ZANU-PF Separation



5. (C) Another central issue for the MDC in weighing a

return to the race would be the extent to which state

machinery could be divorced from ruling party control.

Having the GOZ resources behind ruling party efforts,

including the impunity for ruling party violence, was a

huge practical and psychological obstacle for the MDC,

particularly in the rural hinterland. The GOZ’s use of

food and other official largesse for political advantage

may have lessened but still presented a problem for the

election environment. The GOZ was, for instance, now

taking its limited largesse and distributing broadly it in

key districts to reinforce the message that the ruling

party was delivering the goods.


Obasanjo Engagement



6. (C) Reporting on Tsvangirai’s mid-December trip to

Nigeria, Mudzingwa said President Obasanjo had undertaken

to approach South African President Mbeki and Mauritius

President Berenger about the Zimbabwe situation. According

to Mudzingwa, Obasanjo said he wanted to see a “political

solution” not a “legislative one” in Zimbabwe. This meant

some negotiated interim arrangement, an approach that was

acceptable to Tsvangirai. However, the MDC doubted the

ruling ZANU-PF party’s political will to reach such a

negotiated solution.   Obasanjo and Tsvangirai agreed that

a greater degree of tolerance between the parties and more

open political space would be primary factors in generating

progress in Zimbabwe.


Tsvangirai’s Washington Visit





7. (C) Turning to Tsvangirai’s planned visit to

Washington, Mudzingwa advised that the Tsvangirai’s

calendar revolved around the elections, a date for which

had yet to be announced. If it were scheduled in the first

two weeks of March, Tsvangirai may be compelled to remain

on the campaign trail in Zimbabwe throughout February and

would then prefer to visit Washington in late January.

That said, he understood the scheduling challenges posed by

inauguration and other Washington priorities and would

remain as flexible as possible; the Washington visit was a

high party priority.





8. (C) The MDC cannot have its cake and eat it too: to

retain credibility with the electorate and in the region,

it will have to hazard pursuing the limited opportunities

presented by the GOZ, even if that would superficially

bolster the ruling party’s case for legitimacy with SADC.

The opposition’s dilemma alludes to a related USG policy

challenge: is there a point at which our leverage and

credibility will be served by acknowledging positive GOZ

gestures while maintaining credible pressure for further

meaningful change?




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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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