The Movement for Democratic Change was left with no option but to organise mass action to force President Robert Mugabe out after the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front leader insisted his party would not participate in inter-party talks until after the courts had ruled on the MDC’s legal challenge of the presidential elections.
ZANU-PF had called for the suspension of the talks because of the court challenge but one of the facilitators Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had said the talks would continue even if he had to come to Harare to make this happen.
Mugabe, however, insisted that his party would not participate.
MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai said mass action now appeared to be the only feasible alternative left for the opposition party.
“We have come to a stage where non-violent action has to be taken. It is evident that mass action is unavoidable. It is now inevitable,” Tsvangirai said.
“The people are refusing to accept Mugabe as their president and as a responsible leadership we are going to channel their emotions in a positive way that will resolve the crisis this country is in.”
His advisor Gandi Mudzingwa said the objective of mass action would be to make the country ungovernable and create an imperative for an election rerun by forcing Mugabe from office.
But he conceded that the party needed at least six months to prepare the groundwork.
Political analyst Brian Raftopoulos said that the MDC did not have the muscle to mount effective mass action.
ZANU-PF, he said, had succeeded in neutralizing influential civic groups that were key to a successful mobilisation effort and had the MDC and its leadership very much on the ropes.
Viewing cable 02HARARE1219, TSVANGIRAI VOWS MASS ACTION; MUGABE WARNS MDC
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 001219
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR JENDAYI FRAZER
LONDON FOR CGURNEY
PARIS FOR CNEARY
NAIROBI FOR PFLAUMER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/21/2012
SUBJECT: TSVANGIRAI VOWS MASS ACTION; MUGABE WARNS MDC
REF: A) HARARE 1151 B) HARARE 1136 AND PREVIOUS
Classified By: political section chief Matt Harrington.
Reasons: 1.5 (B) and (D).
¶1. (C) The talks between ZANU-PF and the MDC have collapsed
for now, as President Mugabe insisted the ruling party would
not participate until after the courts rule on the
opposition’s legal challenge of the presidential election
results. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai subsequently declared
that mass action is now unavoidable and inevitable since the
population is “combative and defiant” and refused to
recognize Mugabe’s legitimacy. The objective of mass action
would be to make the country ungovernable and force a new
election, but an MDC advisor said the party needed at least
six more months to lay sufficient groundwork for such an
effort to be successful. An independent political analyst
thought that the MDC would not be able to sustain effective
mass action and should concentrate instead on strengthening
its own structures, devising appealing policy alternatives,
and intensifying efforts to build bridges to the continent,
particulary to South Africa. Taking these steps, while
letting food shortages and economic decline take their
inevitable toll on the current government, might be the best
of Tsvangirai’s narrowing options. End Summary.
Interparty talks collapse
¶2. (C) After several days of energetic attempts by the
South African and Nigerian facilitators to jump start the
nascent dialogue between ZANU-PF and the MDC, it appears that
the talks have collapsed before they ever really began. As
reported in reftels, the ruling party requested a suspension
of the dialogue (which had, to date, produced only an
agreement on agenda items) until the MDC’s legal challenge of
the election results was completed, and President Mugabe
refused to budge from this position in a subsequent
discussion with the facilitators. We understand that MDC
leader Morgan Tsvangirai plans to phone Nigerian President
Obasanjo, presumably to follow up on the latter’s promise to
travel to Harare personally to ensure continuation of the
¶3. (C) Prominent political analyst (and occasional advisor
to the MDC leadership)Brian Raftopoulos told us that the MDC
needs the talks more than the ruling party. The dialogue
gives the MDC visibility, and the longer the opposition party
is out of the public spotlight, the more they lose
credibility and relevance.
Mass action “inevitable”
¶4. (C) In a May 18 interview with an independent weekly
newspaper, MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai said mass action
now appears to be the only feasible alternative left for the
opposition party. “We have come to a stage where non-violent
action has to be taken. It is evident that mass action is
unavoidable. It is now inevitable.” He reiterated some of
the points that he made with us on May 14 (reftel), namely
that the party has engaged in nationwide consultations on the
way forward, and that the mood around the country is
“combative and defiant.” He implied that, ultimately, the
achievement of peaceful change depends upon Zimbabweans
themselves, not on the international community. Throwing down
the rhetorical gauntlet, Tsvangirai insisted that “The people
are refusing to accept Mugabe as their president and as a
responsible leadership we are going to channel their emotions
in a positive way that will resolve the crisis this country
¶5. (C) Gandi Mudzingwa, Tsvangirai’s special advisor, told
us on May 21 that the objective of mass action would be to
make the country ungovernable, and create an imperative for
an election rerun by forcing Mugabe from office. Sufficient
groundwork, however, has not yet been laid for mass action to
be successful, according to Mudzingwa. Although the party
had completed consultations with its own structures around
the country, it had only just begun to confer with
broad-based civic organizations — such as the Zimbabwe
Congress of Trade Unions and the Zimbabwe National Students
Association — whose participation would be critical to the
success of such an endeavor. In addition, the MDC must also
concentrate on demoralizing members of the armed forces,
reducing their inclination to fire on protestors, a factor
which will depend in large measure on the passage of time, as
the economy continues to deteriorate and affects soldiers and
their families. Mudzingwa estimated that the party would not
be ready to launch mass action for at least six months.
Asked whether Tsvangirai agreed with that assessment or was
inclined to act much sooner, Mudzingwa said it was unclear,
and that the MDC leader is under tremendous pressure to act.
In a separate conversation, MDC Member of Parliament David
Coltart told us some form of limited mass action was
necessary, as it would send a signal to the region and
international community of continuing unhappiness with the
election outcome. He thought the party could and should shut
down the country for two days, but that anything longer than
that would be unsustainable and would simply play into
¶6. (C) Raftopoulos maintained that the MDC currently does
not have the muscle to mount effective mass action. The
ruling party, he said, has succeeded in neutralizing
influential civic groups that are key to a successful
mobilization effort and has the MDC and its leadership very
much on the ropes. An attempt to organize a broad-based and
sustained anti-government campaign would, therefore, almost
certainly fail, and lead the GOZ to engage in a no-holds
barred effort to crush the opposition leadership.
Raftopoulos thought Tsvangirai might go for broke, anyway,
since he is under enormous pressure to channel the anger of
his supporters and demonstrate the party’s capacity to
deliver, but the consequences of failure are very high. In
order to avoid erosion of its influence and bargaining power,
Raftopoulos believes the MDC must concentrate on
strengthening its organizational structures, regularly devise
dynamic policy positions, particularly on land, maintain its
international stature as a credible alternative to ZANU-PF,
and intensify efforts to build political bridges on the
continent, particulary with South Africa.
Mugabe to “deal with” the MDC
¶7. (U) Meanwhile, President Mugabe’s remarks on May 15 to a
national gathering of ZANU-PF youth made clear that the MDC
must tread very carefully. Using the truculent language
typical of his rantings against his political opposition,
Mugabe said his government would not tolerate further
“nonsense and rubbish” from the MDC. He warned that “if they
choose violence, then we will deal with them effectively,”
and described the organization of mass action as a “dangerous
undertaking” that would not be tolerated. The President
once again cautioned Zimbabweans against allowing the
assumption of power by a party he claimed is funded and
manipulated by the British.
¶8. (C) Morgan Tsvangirai’s latitude for maneuver is
narrowing. He faces on one side large numbers of disgruntled
supporters who are fed up with ZANU-PF’s economic
mismanagement and lawlessness and are leaning heavily on the
MDC to do something to extricate them from increasing misery.
Failure in the near term to demonstrate that the party is a
force to be reckoned with could relegate it to irrelevance.
At the same time, President Mugabe knows that large-scale
demonstrations could quickly get out of hand and lead to
consequences he cannot control. We have no doubt, therefore,
that he will use all necessary force to crush demonstrations
even before they begin. Under these circumstances, we doubt
there is a critical mass of people willing to risk their
necks without some realistic possibility it would lead to
positive change, an outcome which Tsvangirai cannot
¶9. (C) The MDC leader thus finds himself in a box with few
good policy options. His best course of action may be simply
to bide his time, focusing on strengthening his party
organizationally and staying in the public spotlight by
holding regular rallies and proposing appealing, realistic
policy alternatives to those being pursued by ZANU-PF. In
the meantime, worsening food shortages and continued economic
deterioration will generate their own pressures on the
current regime, making Mugabe’s position domestically and in
the region increasingly untenable.