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MDC was preparing for a Tsvangirai conviction

The Movement for Democratic Change was reportedly preparing for the possibility of a guilty verdict on its leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was facing treason charges for allegedly plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe, but there appeared to be no concrete plans apart from boycotting the 2005 elections and proposed mass action.

United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Joseph Sullivan said a guilty verdict would force a decisive challenge to the MDC which could spark outrage particularly among a restive and youthful party rank and file.

But he was not sure whether such outrage would overcome the apathy, disillusionment, and alienation that had overtaken the Zimbabwean populace.

He said that though the MDC had intellectual firepower and grass roots support, it lacked a leader of national stature to take Tsvangirai’s place as a presidential figure.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2004-07-20 16:00

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.


201600Z Jul 04

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001201









E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/19/2009




REF: (A) HARARE 1157 (B) HARARE 1149


Classified By: Political Officer Win Dayton under Section


1. (C) SUMMARY: The MDC is preparing for the possibility

that its President, Morgan Tsvangirai, will be found guilt

of treason in a verdict scheduled to be issued July 29.

Tsvangirai told the Ambassador July 19 that the party woul



boycott elections and not negotiate with the ruling party

should he be convicted; mass action was a possibility. If

found guilty, Tsvangirai faces the death penalty and could

be incarcerated for a lengthy period while his appeal is



2. (C) Tsvangirai told the Ambassador that he had recentl

met with the MDC leadership to discuss contingencies in

connection with the scheduled July 29 announcement of a

verdict in his treason trial. If a guilty verdict is

would likely boycott next March’s scheduled parliamentary

election and would refuse to negotiate with the ruling

party until the conviction were overturned. The party

already was taking soundings regarding a possible

mobilization for mass action in response to a conviction.

Tsvangirai emphasized that he did not plan to go into exil



to save himself from imprisonment or a possible death

sentence. The party was in touch with others in the regio

and intended to send a delegation to Mauritius to meet wit

other government representatives on the margins of the SAD

summit next month. (NOTE: We understand that MDC

Secretary-General Welshman Ncube is planning to attend the



Democratic National Convention and participate in a world

leadership forum and that Shadow Minister of Justice David

Coltart has been in Washington this week. END NOTE.)


3. (C) According to Tsvangirai, a conviction might be

followed by consideration of mitigating circumstances

before final sentence were pronounced. It was difficult t

predict how long such consideration could take, or how lon

an appeal to the Supreme Court would take. However, the

state could incarcerate Tsvangirai upon rendering a guilty

verdict and could hold him without bail.


4. (C) Turning to electoral reforms, Tsvangirai reported

that Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa and Ncube had

spoken a few days earlier. Chinamasa indicated that the

GOZ wanted the MDC’s support for proposed electoral

reforms. Tsvangirai said he feared that the bishops and

civil society (ref A) may be giving the GOZ the impression

that they and the MDC would be satisfied with narrow

electoral reforms without normalization of the election

environment by ending restrictions on public assembly and

expression. Tsvangirai emphasized that the party might

support the reforms as necessary steps but regarded them a

wholly inadequate to the task of correcting Zimbabwe’s

fundamental imbalance of power. He was concerned that the

ruling party would exploit civil society’s and some MDC

members’ positive statements on the reforms to walk back

from key issues such as the repeal of laws repressive of

basic freedoms.


5. (C) Tsvangirai said he had seen a second draft to the

SADC election principles being honed for adoption in

Mauritius. He reported that they were largely consistent

with the original norms and standards adopted by the SADC

commit more to each government’s discretion. He said that

the GOZ would be working hard to nail key provisions down

to its advantage in a gathering scheduled in Victoria Fall

next week.

It would be important for NGOs and the

international community to keep SADC’s feet to the fire on

these matters.


6. (C) COMMENT: A guilty verdict — possibly compounded b

a death sentence — next week could force a decisive

challenge on the opposition. The MDC and civil society

have been unable to get traction with the public on effort

to stimulate mass action since the “final push” more than

year ago. A provocative trial verdict would spark outrage

particularly among a restive and youthful party rank and

file. Whether such outrage would overcome the apathy,

disillusionment, and alienation that have overtaken the

Zimbabwean populace at large over the past year, though,

remains problematic. Though not lacking in intellectual

firepower and grass roots support, the party lacks a leade

of national stature to take Tsvangirai’s place as a

presidential figure.


7. (C) COMMENT (CONT’D): A sham conviction also would mar

the ultimate blow to Zimbabwe’s once respected judicial

system. Judges and legal scholars have told us for the

last several years that the one blow the judiciary would

not take would be to convict a clearly innocent person of

capital crime. In recent months these same legal scholar

have been less certain that this remains the case.

8. (C) COMMENT (CONT’D): Shackling Tsvangirai with a

conviction, incarceration, and even execution, would be

consistent with President Mugabe’s overarching priority to

crush the opposition at all costs and his current disdain

for western opinion.   Provoking an MDC boycott, which

would offer some in the region cover to endorse the resul

of a meaningless election, may be precisely what the

ZANU-PF leadership has in mind. At a minimum, a convicti

would disqualify Tsvangirai as a presidential candidate f

all purposes and, with the opposition in disarray, might

allow the ruling party to move the presidential election u

from 2008 to a combined presidential-parliamentary electi

in 2005, as reportedly pushed by South Africa and the MDC

itself. Such a choreographed affair would be in keeping

with historical ZANU-PF tactics of aggressively building

political chips to cash in later when the GOZ perceives t

Tsvangirai’s fear of mixed signals, we are satisfied that



the bishops and civil society attach appropriate priority

on the insufficiency of proposed electoral reforms. We do

not discount the possibility, however, that the ruling

party would disingenuously distort and exploit their

balanced critiques to party advantage, particularly in

exchanges with South African and regional players.


9. (C) COMMENT (CONT’D) The GOZ’s efforts to influence th

AU (ref B) on human rights and SADC (ref A) on election

standards underscore the importance it attaches to regiona

opinion. Indeed, its follow-through on a Tsvangirai

verdict may yet be influenced significantly by regional if

not domestic reaction.



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