Tsvangirai said MDC leaders staged arrests to show courage


It’s out. Movement for Democratic Change leaders, and those from civil society, deliberately get arrested in order to demonstrate courage and leadership to their benefactors and supporters.

This was revealed by none other than the party leader himself Morgan Tsvangirai when he met United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell on 8 September 2005.

Tsvangirai told the ambassador that though the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front had won a two-thirds majority in Parliament, it was treading on soft ground and some ruling party members were beginning to question whether the end was near.

It was, however, naïve to think that President Robert Mugabe would become a democrat and step down. He was prepared to die in office.

However, some ZANU-PF members, including parliamentary whip Joram Gumbo, had been reaching out to the MDC citing “irreconcilable differences” within the regime.

During his tour of the country he sensed that the government’s “burn the house down” mentality – as evidenced by Operation Restore Order – had left the Zimbabwean people increasingly demanding a change.

The MDC had to capitalise on this sentiment, he said, by demonstrating courage and proving -both domestically and internationally- that the democratic fight was still alive and relevant.

Tsvangirai said that the opposition should not be a “debating club” and asserted that MDC leaders might have to be arrested at demonstrations to give the public confidence in their leadership.


Full cable:


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Reference ID






2005-09-09 10:53

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.


091053Z Sep 05

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001271







E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/09/2015







Classified By: Ambassador Christopher Dell for reasons 1.5 b/d


1. (C) Summary. In a September 8 meeting with the

Ambassador, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) President

Morgan Tsvangirai said that ZANU-PF’s hold on power was

fragile and that he envisioned a more confrontational MDC

as a means to boost the public’s confidence in the

opposition and to exploit the opening created by GOZ

mis-steps over the last three months. There may be a need

for MDC leaders to be arrested, he said, in order to

demonstrate the party’s courage and leadership. Noting

that the MDC had been conducting a permanent parliamentary

campaign for the past five years, Tsvangirai admitted that

the party needed to retool and invest in training the party’

s lower-rung cadre and in its communication network,

especially in the rural areas. The Ambassador reiterated

US willingness to support Zimbabwe’s democratic forces in

appropriate ways. Tsvangirai noted that continued debate

over whether to participate in Senate elections and

differing views over the agenda for the MDC’s party

congress to be held early next year may, however, divert

the party’s attention from these institution building

moves. End Summary.



ZANU-PF Down, But MDC in Need of Courage



2. (C) Tsvangirai told the Ambassador that ZANU-PF was

treading on fragile ground and that some ruling party

members were beginning to question whether the end was

near. He pointed to the international community’s

condemnation of Operation Restore Order and divisions

amongst Mugabe’s traditional African backers as evidence

that the regime was increasingly isolated. Tsvangirai said

it was, however, na e to think that President Mugabe would

become a democrat and step down. Instead, he said Mugabe

is prepared to die in office. Meanwhile, some ZANU-PF

members, including parliamentary whip Joram Gumbo, had been

reaching out to the MDC citing “irreconcilable differences”

within the regime. Tsvangirai said that these talks might

produce a union that could work together in parliament or

contest the next election.


3. (C) Tsvangirai said that during his on-going travel

around Zimbabwe he sensed that the GOZ’s “burn the house

down” mentality – as evidenced by Operation Restore Order –

has left the Zimbabwean people increasingly demanding a

change. Rather than being squashed by the GOZ’s brutality,

the people were incensed and “challenged.” The MDC has to

capitalize on this sentiment, he said, by demonstrating

courage and proving – both domestically and internationally

– that the democratic fight is still alive and relevant.

He said that the opposition should not be a “debating club”

and asserted that MDC leaders might have to be arrested at

demonstrations to give the public confidence in their



4. (C) The MDC has been in election campaign mode for five

years, but now was the time to focus on the party’s

institutions, according to Tsvangirai. Noting the need

both to renew the party and to confront the regime, he said

that his top priorities now were to train the party’s

lower-level cadres and build a “rapid-response”

communication network. The lack of investment in training

beyond the party’s top leadership has left the majority of

its personnel with “wishy-washy” campaign skills.

Meanwhile, the party was losing the propaganda war.

Tsvangirai agreed with the Ambassador’s suggestion to tap



into Zimbabwe’s “bush network,” saying that the urbanites

displaced by Operation Restore Order might give the party a

useful beachhead into the rural areas. Rather than destroy

the MDC’s urban base, Tsvangirai agreed with the Ambassador

that “the virus” of the urban opposition was now being

spread into the rural communities.



Distractions Ahead



5. (C) Tsvangirai noted that his plans to strengthen the

party’s ranks and media connections might be undermined by

ongoing debate regarding participation in the Senate and

the MDC’s party congress scheduled for February or March of

next year. Alluding to these hurdles, Tsvangirai said it

would be a struggle to ensure that the party does not turn

on itself. He said he was opposed to the MDC’s

participation in the Senate, but noted that some MDC

members may be inclined to participate in the upcoming

election and that the party’s posture on the Senate may

prove to be divisive. He called the Senate an unnecessary

diversion from the real national issues and questioned how

winning a few seats in the largely powerless Senate would

help the MDC advance its fight against the regime. Perhaps

a bigger distraction will be the MDC’s party congress next

year. Tsvangirai said that preparation for the congress

was likely to divert the party’s attention away from

national issues and institution-building plans.


6. (C) Responding to the Ambassador’s question regarding

the political fortunes of the “third force” alternative to

both ZANU-PF and the MDC, Tsvangirai doubted the movement’s

prospects, saying that its proponents lack popular

support. Suggesting that the third force was

personality-driven, Tsvangirai said there was a need for

unity against Mugabe’s regime. Even Jonathan Moyo – the

third force’s leading mouth – could only go so far in his

criticism of the government, Tsvangirai said. Tsvangirai

suggested the GOZ tolerated Moyo, for now, but was prepared

to crack down should he air too much of its dirty laundry,

or present a genuine threat.



Role of the International Community



7. (C) When asked by the Ambassador for ways the

international community could help the opposition,

Tsvangirai said other countries needed to condemn Operation



Restore Order and follow through on the UN

recommendations. UN Special Envoy Tibaijuka’s report,

Tsvangirai cautioned, must not remain as simply debating



points. He even suggested that the EU bring a case before

the International Criminal Court to prosecute the regime

for launching Restore Order. Once again saying that South

African President Mbeki had failed to encourage dialogue in

Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai said the international community

needed to find some face-saving means to push forward on

prospects for interparty talks, folding Mbeki into a

larger, constructive process and thereby extricate him from

his own failed role.


8. (C) Tsvangirai reiterated a proposal made earlier to

Ambassador Frazer (reftel) that the prospects of lifting US

financial and travel sanctions could be dangled to entice

regime leaders to defect. The Ambassador replied that the

proposal was premature; in order for it to work, ZANU-PF

leaders had to calculate that the end of Mugabe’s reign was

near and before we could think about an approach like this

we would probably want to increase the pressure and sense

of isolation these individuals felt they were under.






9. (C) Tsvangirai’s analysis and recommendation for the MDC’

s renewal appear to be right on. Operation Restore Order

and the UN’s subsequent report have ignited criticism

domestically, in the west, and within other African

capitals that are increasingly seeing Mugabe as a

liability. Equally spot on, political and campaign savvy

is limited to the MDC’s upper rung and the opposition is

falling behind in the propaganda war, highlighting the need

for increased training and focus on communications,

especially in rural areas.


10. (C) Despite the probity of his analysis, Tsvangirai

fell flat on specific action steps for his party. Echoing

professed party priorities he has propounded continuously

since the disappointing “final push” effort of 2003, his

commitment to party rebuilding and more effective

confrontation ring somewhat hollow. Indeed, his goal of

looking inward to rebuild to some extent conflicts with his

stated need to demonstrate the party’s relevance by

directly and publicly confronting the regime. This

juggling act will be further complicated by the impending

divide over the Senate – MDC middle-weights may be eagerly

eying Senatorial paychecks – and the upcoming party



11. (C) The MDC is battered and bruised after five years

of fighting losing electoral campaigns and producing few

results. Emerging talk of the third force hints to the

public’s frustration with the MDC. Tsvangirai seems seized

with the imperative to demonstrate domestically and

internationally that the MDC remains a credible force in

Zimbabwean politics. At the same time, continued inaction

seems certain to accelerate a perception that the MDC is

drifting toward further irrelevance. To reverse this, it

needs to be more effective at tapping into what Tsvangirai

claims to be mounting public anger, strengthening its own

structures and finding ways to chip away at ZANU’s cohesion

and unity.



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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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