United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell, who had denied the simmering differences within the Movement for Democratic Change for more than a year, continued to hope against hope even after the pro-Senate faction fielded candidates to contest the elections defying an order by party leader Morgan Tsvangirai to boycott the election.
Tsvangirai had met leaders of the break-away faction for four hours but they had failed to agree. Dell, however, insisted they should focus on their struggle against President Robert Mugabe rather than their internal differences.
He had been told by Tsvangirai that the MDC leaders had failed to resolve their differences over participating in the elections but they had agreed that their dispute must not outweigh their collective determination to stay united in the struggle against Mugabe.
Dell said that ZANU-PF was likely to use any means at its disposal to prevent a successful boycott and that the MDC needed to be ready. In particular, there were reports that the ruling party would use food as a weapon to encourage voters to turn out. A purple thumb would result in a bag of maize.
He suggested that a hunger strike by Tsvangirai and other MDC leaders might be one way to counteract that tactic.
The ambassador said that the MDC should also try to anticipate Mugabe’s next moves after the election. Mugabe might, for instance, look for a way to distract people from his government’s failures by “discovering” some sort of coup attempt or other conspiracy and in the process try to get rid of subordinates he considered disloyal.
Viewing cable 05HARARE1490, MDC LEADERS LOOKING TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCES, TAKE
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 02 HARARE 001490
AF/S FOR B. NEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2010
SUBJECT: MDC LEADERS LOOKING TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCES, TAKE
FIGHT TO ZANU-PF
Classified By: Ambassador Christopher Dell under Section 1.4 b/d
¶1. (C) In an evening meeting on October 27, MDC President
Morgan Tsvangirai told the Ambassador that his meeting
earlier that day with the MDC,s other leaders had gone well.
They had not resolved as yet the issue of participation in
the Senate elections but had agreed that the struggle against
President Mugabe outweighed their internal differences. The
leadership was to meet again after the weekend at which time
he expected a &face-saving8 solution to the dispute that
would include agreement on an electoral boycott as the first
step in a national program of action. The Ambassador
encouraged Tsvangirai to prepare in advance for President
Mugabe,s counter-moves, such as using food to get out the
vote. He warned that Mugabe might also try to distract
attention from GOZ failures through some radical new
initiative for which the MDC needed to be prepared. End
Intra-MDC Negotiations: Saving Face
¶2. (C) Tsvangirai told the Ambassador that the MDC,s six
senior leaders had met for over four hours earlier in the day
to try to iron out differences over participation in the
upcoming Senate elections. He said that from his perspective
the meeting had gone well. The MDC leadership had not yet
resolved their differences over participating in the Senate
elections but they had agreed that the dispute must not
outweigh their collective determination to stay united in the
struggle against Mugabe.
¶3. (C) Moreover, Tsvangirai said that Brian Raftopoulos, a
well-respected leader of Zimbabwe,s civil society who had
mediated the meeting, told the six that while Tsvangirai
might have committed some technical breaches of the party,s
constitution, his view represented the true wishes of the
party,s rank and file. The other six, all of whom favored
participation, had not disputed this, particularly in the
wake of the nomination process, when nine of the twelve MDC
provinces had backed Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai said the
leadership had agreed to meet again on Monday next week and
to agree on a face-saving way out of their current
¶4. (C) The Ambassador said he hoped such a solution would not
obscure for the other leaders the reality that Tsvangirai,s
had prevailed and that MDC supporters wanted the party to
fight the regime not cooperate with it. Tsvangirai said he
hoped his &Bulawayo colleagues8 would realize just that
following the weekend. They were clearly feeling pressure
from public opinion, even in Matabeleland, and really had no
other good options. The Ndebele people would never
countenance an alliance with ZANU-PF or Jonathon Moyo, and
forming a party on their own made little sense. He also
agreed with the Ambassador,s assessment that they had hurt
their image further by their trip to Pretoria to see
President Mbeki. It had made them look both weak and
Reenergized MDC,s First Step: An Election Boycott
¶5. (C) Tsvangirai said the dispute had actually helped
galvanize the party and its supporters and the key now was to
agree on a national program of action against the regime.
The first step in that national program should be a
successful boycott, which would deny Mugabe the legitimacy he
hoped to attain from the Senate elections. The Ambassador
noted that in that regard that the 26 MDC candidates who had
filed had done Tsvangirai a favor, since otherwise there
would have been no election to boycott. The ZANU-PF
candidates, running unopposed, would simply have been
declared the winners, as had happened in nineteen districts.
The best outcome now, to which Tsvangirai agreed, would be to
convince the candidates themselves to actively campaign for a
¶6. (C) The Ambassador also noted that ZANU-PF was likely to
use any means at its disposal to prevent a successful boycott
and that the MDC needed to be ready. In particular, there
were reports that the ruling party would use food as a weapon
to encourage voters to turn out. A purple thumb would result
in a bag of maize. He suggested that a hunger strike by
Tsvangirai and other MDC leaders might be one way to
counteract that tactic. Tsvangirai said he had also given
this thought and that another approach would be to encourage
voters to take the food but then to spoil their ballots.
After the Election
¶7. (C) The Ambassador said the MDC also should try to
anticipate Mugabe,s next moves after the election. In that
regard, the Ambassador noted the increasing number of reports
that the military and police were demoralized by their poor
salaries and were being downsized to save money. Mugabe
might, for instance, look for a way to distract people from
his government,s failures by &discovering8 some sort of
coup attempt or other conspiracy and in the process try to
get rid of subordinates he considered disloyal.
¶8. (C) Tsvangirai said the reports were true and that the
situation was becoming increasingly dangerous as discontent
within the ranks increased. He was convinced, however, that
if the MDC took to the streets many of the police and
military would refuse orders to break up the demonstrations.
The Ambassador noted that Tsvangirai,s recent speech, in
which he had criticized the government for not providing for
the welfare of the troops, doubtless helped build that sort
of good will.
¶9. (C) Tsvangirai was relaxed and confident that he has
carried the day. With nine of twelve provinces clearly
backing him, we would agree. He believes his rivals within
the MDC, principally the Ndebele leaders, are now in an
untenable situation and will have to climb down from their
position and to that end he is prepared to agree to an
agreement that allows them to do so without being humiliated.
However, his generosity risks being misconstrued by some of
his rivals, who are also committed to fighting the Mugabe
regime, but from within a political system that is rigged
against them. As we have noted before, the regime may be
fragile but the opposition is in no position to capitalize on
its weakness until it resolves its own internal debate over
how best to confront the regime. That debate may finally be
over next week.