Why ZANU-PF and MDC were willing to talk as far back as 2003


The Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front and the Movement for Democratic Change had totally different motives for wanting to negotiate, ostensibly to end the political and economic crisis in the country according to the United States embassy.

ZANU-PF seemed willing to engage in talks for short-term political gain, presumably with a view to stalling or ultimately co-opting the opposition as it had done with the Zimbabwe African People’s Union.

The MDC, on the other hand, had devoted most of its efforts to inducing its adversary to the table, without appearing to have a well-defined plan after that.


Full cable:


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Reference ID






2003-09-30 10:18

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 04 HARARE 001976










E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/28/2013




Classified By: Political Officer Win Dayton, under Section 1.5(b), (d)


1. (C) SUMMARY/INTRODUCTION: With signals from ZANU-PF and

MDC suggesting that they may be preparing to resume

negotiations, Embassy offers this inventory of factors likely

to play on each party’s negotiating posture during the run-up

to and in the conduct of talks. To date, neither party

appears to have a long-term strategy for negotiations.

Mugabe’s party seems willing to engage in talks for

short-term political gain, presumably with a view to stalling

or ultimately co-opting the opposition. The beleaguered MDC

has devoted most of its efforts to inducing its adversary to

the table, without appearing to have a well-defined plan

after that. Under these circumstances, negotiations may

prove a slippery slope on which either could lose traction

quickly. Notwithstanding the severe imbalance of power

between the parties, where they go may depend on the

negotiators’ ability to find an unprovocative process away

from the public glare and to decouple personalities and

shrill positions from actual interests. END



Talks on Talks



2. (C) The parties in recent months have been behaving

somewhat more civilly to each other publicly and privately.

This can be attributed in part to an increasingly important

contest for international opinion. ZANU-PF,s immediate

objectives are two-fold: a lifting of Zimbabwe’s suspension

at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in

December, and re-engagement by international financial

institutions that will be critical to the recovery of

Zimbabwe’s collapsed economy. The MDC leadership is trying

to foster atmospherics conducive to induce ZANU-PF to return

to the negotiating table, its only potential path to

political power. At the same time, it is actively courting

greater sympathy among regional African leaders who have been

the mainstay of Mugabe,s limited international support.


3. (C) The intrinsic significance of merely starting talks

complicates the process of getting the parties to the table.

The ruling party’s ambivalence toward talks stems from

competing insecurities: it is desperate to retain its

historical control in the face of waning popularity, even as

it tries to burnish its international image.   It views talks

both as an unwarranted threat to its power and a means to

enhance international recognition. As a result, the party

sends mixed signals on its enthusiasm for talks; most

observers feel it intends to time the commencement of talks

to maximize benefit from the international community, fully

intending to stymie any meaningful subsequent progress.


4. (C) While the MDC is pushing publicly to get the talks

re-started, its enthusiasm is tempered by fears among rank

and file that the party could be swallowed in a “government

of national unity” by ZANU-PF, just as ZAPU was.   The MDC

has rejected ZANU-PF preconditions for talks and asserts that

all issues presented by each side should be on the agenda.


5. (C) Two recent developments cast a pall over gradually

improving atmospherics: the government’s closure of

Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, and government

efforts to bring international humanitarian food relief

efforts under its control. While not linked directly by

either to prospects for talks, the developments undermine the

government’s credibility on its willingness to brook

alternative bases of authority within the country.


6. (C) A number of events ahead on the calendar may further

affect the parties’ posture on talks:


— ZANU-PF,s Party Congress, currently scheduled for

December, and local intra-party elections to be conducted in

the run-up to the Congress, could have an impact on the

party’s posture toward inter-party talks with the MDC,

especially if they address leadership succession issues.


— Resumption of Tsvangirai’s treason trial (now scheduled

for October 27) and adjudication of the MDC’s election

petition (November) may further have an impact on prospects

for talks.


— The bishops continue their efforts to facilitate

resumption of talks, recently pushing party representatives

to join in a retreat. Although neither party seems prepared

to have the bishops act as formal mediators, the parties use

them to pass messages and to promote confidence-building.


— The parties also are engaged in periodic discreet talks on

a new constitution that would be elemental to any overarching

resolution of issues addressed by inter-party talks.


ZANU-PF Interests



7. (C) The ruling party’s assessment of its own interests is

inextricably linked with its sense of identity: a liberation

party continuously ruling the country for all of its 23 years

of existence. Its rapidly eroding popularity presents a

world too radically different for many party members to

absorb. At one level, the party’s centralized leadership by

one man means that its perceived interests are intertwined

with Robert Mugabe’s. Chief among his personal objectives

are physical and financial security, the continued supremacy

of ZANU-PF, and “survival of his liberation legacy” — all

are interrelated. Re-engagement by the international

community — especially international financial institutions

— is a ruling party priority, but secondary to its continued

political dominance.   Looming larger as a priority for party

members is arresting the economy’s disastrous slide, which

imperils the party’s tenuous popularity and the welfare of

the members, their families, and their constituencies.


MDC Interests



8. (C) The five-year old party’s umbrella covers a host of

disparate interest groups united principally by opposition to

continued ZANU-PF rule. Accordingly, the MDC’s imperatives

at this stage generally are political, and its economic and

social agendas remain rather unspecific, secondary, and

dependent for now on achieving its immediate political

objectives. While a new election conducted freely and fairly

is foremost among party objectives in the short and long

term, assurances of the proper political and electoral

environment are even more important than setting a very early

election date. Much of the party’s short-term objectives

revolve around public relations at home and abroad, physical

safety concerns, and fighting rear-guard actions against

ZANU-PF legal and media attacks.


ZANU-PF Party Discipline



9. (C) The party’s historically rigid party discipline

hinges on Mugabe’s unchallenged authority atop the party and

on a siege mentality vis–vis the outside world. The few

who have challenged party orthodoxy in recent years found

themselves quickly cast outside any circle of influence.

Such career- and fear-motivated discipline has proven a

double-edged sword: it has fueled unswerving loyalty to the

boss’s word while stifling potentially constructive debate

over courses of action that Mugabe is perceived to favor. As

formidable as the discipline has been historically, the

extent to which it would survive Mugabe’s passing remains an

open question. Indeed, growing obsession over succession

complicate party discipline as pretenders to the crown

posture and seek to undermine each other’s credibility before

Mugabe and within the party.


MDC Party Discipline



10. (C) Like ZANU-PF, the MDC has a top-heavy structure, and

nobody stands as a potential challenger to Morgan Tsvangirai.

ZANU-PF efforts to contribute to party divisions secretly

and in clumsy media campaigns do not appear to be having

meaningful impact. Nonetheless, the party’s relative youth

and breadth make it much less disciplined than ZANU-PF.

Confidentiality appears to be a particular challenge, as when



the party significantly set back the so-called bishops,

initiative by leaking its own agenda prematurely to the

press. A similar leak on constitutional discussions was

another instance of MDC difficulties over confidentiality.

Complicating party discipline is tension between the

leadership and rank-and-file over whether to pursue

negotiation (favored by the leadership) or to take more

provocative measures such as stay-aways and demonstrations.

Tsvangirai has publicly warned that the party could take to



the streets again if the government continues to avoid coming

to the table; however, the MDC leadership remains wary about

repeating the disappointing stay-away efforts of early June.

Balance of Power



11. (C) Challenging the prospects for meaningful

negotiations will be a severe imbalance of power. At

ZANU-PF,s disposal is an ability to pass and implement laws

to perpetuate its command of the levers of power through its

control of the legislature and ministries. Its use of

government machinery for political purposes is comprehensive;

it has politicized everything from academic tenure to food

distribution. The party strongly influences the judiciary

and can control the progress of key political cases, if not

always their outcome.


12. (C) No match for the ruling party on resources, the MDC

nonetheless has something ZANU-PF craves: popular domestic

support. In spite of intimidation, economic duress, and

manipulation of voter rolls, the MDC spanked ZANU-PF in the

August mayoral and urban council elections. Signaling

potential trouble for MDC leverage, however, was very low

voter turnout and apparent public apathy. Another key card

in MDC’s hand is its connections to the international

community, particularly among donor nations. There is a

sense among players on both sides that the MDC would be able

to “deliver” international re-engagement with Zimbabwe upon

some degree of rapprochement.


Separating People From the Problem



13. (C) Deep polarization throughout society here and a

personalization of political issues are major impediments to

the negotiating environment. Both sides have contributed to

this, with the two sides, vying media outlets often favoring

rhetoric, exaggeration, and personal vilification over

objective substantive analysis. Indeed, the politics of

personal attack — evidenced by MDC’s petition to have

Mugabe’s election overturned and the Tsvangirai treason trial

— are central to each side’s overall game plan. Many on

both sides view their contest as a winner-take-all zero-sum

game, reinforcing a pervasive distaste for compromise. For

many in the MDC, any discussion of specific issues is

secondary to the imperative of Mugabe’s removal from power.

Others appear willing to accept some face-saving transition

and focus on shaping institutions to assure a system of

functioning checks and balances after Mugabe has departed —

whenever that may be. For its part, ZANU-PF,s posture

toward the MDC has been dominated by personal animus toward

Tsvangirai and his challenge to Mugabe’s and ZANU-PF,s claim



of the right to rule based on its liberation credentials.

Much of this probably is strategic, as the MDC lacks other

figures who command national stature.


Quest for Common Ground



14. (C) The issues raised by each side employ charged

language in the domestic political context and are inherently

polarizing. Nonetheless, conceptually they should be

susceptible to finesse and face-saving resolution if the

parties can muster the political will. After shedding some

of the biased premises from each side’s issues, the parties,

longer term objectives do converge in many ways —

redistributive justice under land reform, for example.

Potentially useful objective criteria for progress may

revolve largely around adjustment of key laws, such as the

Electoral Law, media-related laws, the Public Order and

Security Act (POSA), as well as the leadership of organs

charged with implementation of such laws.


15. (C) The discreet efforts underway on a new constitution

would offer ground for additional important measurable

foundation-laying in a relatively uncharged environment. The

current constitution provides for an executive-dominated,

winner-take-all system. Both sides claim to favor

constitutional reforms that could give parliament and other

institutions greater influence and make Zimbabwe a more

pluralistic environment for a multi-party system. Such

reforms could be structured to better protect and empower a

non-ruling party through its roles in parliament and local



16. (C) Ironically, an interest shared (if not binding)

across party lines is a desire to move Zimbabwe beyond

Mugabe. While many in ZANU-PF are anxious about their

party’s prospects after Mugabe, most recognize that Mugabe’s

continued leadership is a liability for the country and the

party. This is not to suggest that they are prepared to take

action overtly against the strongman who holds them together

in important ways, but they increasingly are receptive to a

process that will usher him into history. While it is

doubtful that any seriously intend to embark on a process

that could meaningfully diminish the party’s grip on the

country, they may be edging toward a slippery slope.



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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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