Finance Minister Tendai Biti told United States embassy officials that the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front was too preoccupied with the succession of President Robert Mugabe to engage rationally in the political process.
He said he had asked Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa when the old man would leave and had been told that Mugabe intended to resign in December.
He also criticised his party boss Morgan Tsvangirai for being too close to Mugabe and for lacking a strategic plan for the MDC in government.
He thought ZANU-PF was weak and that the MDC should be more assertive with a reform agenda.
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SUBJECT: BITI ON CURRENT ISSUES
Classified By: CDA Katherine Dhanani for reason 1.4 (b) and (d)
¶1. (SBU) Minister of Finance Tendai Biti told the American
Business Association of Zimbabwe (ABAZ) that Zimbabwe was at
a cross roads; continued progress depended on successful
completion of the constitutional process and resolution of
ZANU-PF succession, the land issue, and Global Political
Agreement (GPA) outstanding issues. He also briefly reviewed
some of his recent actions as Minister of Finance.
Separately, he discussed MDC internal politics and ZANU-PF
succession, and the threat on his life. END SUMMARY.
¶2. (C) Biti addressed the monthly meeting of ABAZ on July
¶29. He met with Pol/Econ chief on July 28.
A Political Crossroads
¶3. (SBU) Biti prefaced his remarks to ABAZ by noting that
economic progress and development depended on political
reform. Averring that Zimbabwe was at a crossroads, he
pointed to four problematic areas: ZANU-PF succession, land,
outstanding GPA issues, and the constitution and elections.
Resolution of all of these was important to the progress of
the new government.
¶4. (C) Biti said that ZANU-PF was preoccupied with
succession to President Robert Mugabe. Until this was
resolved, it would be difficult for ZANU-PF to act as a
mature party and engage rationally in the political process.
(NOTE: In our conversation with Biti on July 28, he said he
had recently talked with Minister of Defense Emmerson
Mnangagwa regarding defense forces needs. In the course of
the conversation, he asked Mnangagwa when “the old man” would
leave. Mnangagwa responded that Mugabe intended to resign as
ZANU-PF head in December at the party congress. Biti
acknowledged that “we’ve heard this before,” and it would be
imprudent to give this too much credence. END NOTE.)
¶5. (SBU) Turning to land, Biti said it was imperative that
private land title exist for purposes of investment and
credit markets. He noted that the GPA called for a land
audit; it was important that this be done as soon as possible
to eliminate multiple farm ownership.
¶6. (SBU) Biti noted that a number of GPA issues remained
outstanding, including the appointments of Reserve Bank of
Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General
Johannes Tomana He observed that Prime Minister Morgan
Tsvangirai would meet with South African president Jacob Zuma
this week to discuss the GPA and that SADC would likely
consider outstanding issues in August or September.
¶7. (SBU) Finally, Biti discussed the constitutional process.
He said the Kariba draft (which he helped write) had been
designed as an interim constitution for the last elections,
and it was never contemplated that it would be a permanent
document. Now that there was a process to adopt a new
constitution, it was important to get it right. Of primary
importance was a term limitation on the executive to avoid
the African syndrome of presidents serving in perpetuity.
Qthe African syndrome of presidents serving in perpetuity.
Without discussing timetables, Biti stressed the need to have
new elections after the adoption of the constitution.
On the Economic Front
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¶8. (C) According to Biti, legislation has been prepared and
will be introduced in the next couple of weeks to restrict
the quasi-fiscal activities of the RBZ and to circumscribe
the powers of the governor. Additionally, an independent
auditor will be established. Privately, Biti told us that he
had discussed the legislation with Mugabe and that passage
was assured. Next, he said he would seek to revise the tax
¶9. (C) Biti reiterated his public comments that the Zimbabwe
dollar would not return in the foreseeable future. Zimbabwe
was making plans to abandon the current multi-currency regime
and to adopt either the U.S. dollar or the Rand. The
advantage to the Rand was that it could eventually be a
regional currency. Biti said he had discussed the matter
with Mugabe and intimated that a decision had been made. He
said a decision would be announced in November.
¶10. (SBU) Biti was asked whether a $23 million judgment by
the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment
Disputes in favor of Dutch farmers who had brought a claim
against the GOZ for expropriation of farms in violation of a
Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement would
permit the attachment of Air Zimbabwe planes. After joking
that this might not be a bad thing–the airline was losing
$500,000 per week–Biti said he had made provision for
compensation to the farmers in his budget.
¶11. (SBU) Biti was also asked whether he would provide
compensation to Zimplats and other mining groups which had
had their foreign currency accounts raided by the RBZ. He
replied he considered the RBZ and not government to be
liable; he would consider a small government contribution,
but his main focus was in helping mineral developers operate
efficiently in the future by establishing reasonable taxes
Politics and a Death Threat
¶12. (C) In our private conversation on July 29, Biti
criticized Tsvangirai for being too conciliatory toward
Mugabe and for lacking a strategic plan for the MDC in
government. He thought ZANU-PF was weak and that the MDC
should be more assertive with a reform agenda. We noted that
Tsvangirai had made a strong statement at the launch last
week of the Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation, and
Integration in which he emphasized the necessity of complying
with the GPA and noted that political violence continued.
Biti said he had prepared Tsvangirai for his speech. He
commented that recent meetings of the MDC Standing Committee
(10 or so top officials) had been unusually contentious.
Nelson Chamisa and he in particular had urged Tsvangirai to
be more assertive.
¶13. (C) Biti said he was learning each day how powerful the
finance ministry was. He had taken unilateral actions such
as the removal of duties on imported newspapers and would
continue to act to liberalize the economy. As to political
reforms, he downplayed repeal or modification of AIPPA and
Qreforms, he downplayed repeal or modification of AIPPA and
POSA; these acts had been substantially and positively
modified in 2008. Although Gono’s continued presence at the
RBZ was a thorn in his side and symbolically demonstrated
lack of progress under the new government, Gono had been
almost completely marginalized. By far the most important
area for reform, in his opinion, was the media. He noted
that Parliament was in the process of constituting a new
media commission, and he expected the media environment to
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¶14. (C) Biti said he took the death threat against him
earlier this week (a bullet and threatening note were
delivered to his residence) seriously. His wife and young
son had recently joined him from South Africa and he was
considering moving to a more secure neighborhood. After
having just told us of some of his political differences with
Tsvangirai, Biti said that after receiving the threat he
immediately drove to Tsvangirai’s house to inform him. He
remarked that Tsvangirai responded to him not as a party
president to a secretary general, but as a father to a son.
¶15. (C) State media reports have attempted to exploit
differences within the MDC as dissension that could lead to
weakening of the party. Biti is ambitious and undoubtedly
sees himself as the heir apparent. And he does differ with
Tsvangirai on tactics. But he and others realize that
Tsvangirai is the only MDC leader with genuine national
stature and we see no challenge to his leadership or
weakening of the party. It is true that the MDC needs to be
more focused and strategic. Biti, Chamisa and others are
constructively and forcefully making this point.
¶16. (C) While Biti has been critical of Tsvangirai’s working
relationship with Mugabe, he himself has realized that
diplomacy is sometimes the better part of valor. The
relationship he has established with Mugabe permitted Cabinet
approval of his initial budget and has helped him gain
support for the RBZ legislation.