Eddison Zvobgo Jnr, one of the political players in Masvingo, said seven years ago that the departure of President Robert Mugabe could spell the end of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front but at the same time it would bring an overwhelming sense of national relief.
Zvobgo said ZANU-PF’s dysfunctional internal environment could lead to a destabilising power struggle but asserted that there might be enough sense of mutual interest for key players to get behind a new leader.
“They’re not stupid,” he said.
He complimented vice President Joice Mujuru, to whom he acknowledged he was aligned, as a “common sense” managerial type who could muster sufficient consensus.
He added, however, that whether she could win over competing aspirants such as Mnangagwa would depend on the correlation of forces at the time and her ability to give competitors sufficient stake in a new power structure.
Zvobgo noted that the overwhelming sense of “national relief” at Mugabe’s passing might also play to Joice Mujuru’s advantage.
He urged the international community to be ready when Mugabe left the scene and not to miss the opportunity to get behind somebody who could get the country on the road to much needed national recovery.
Neither the country nor the international community could “afford to dither when our long national nightmare ends”, he said.
Viewing cable 05HARARE1290, ZVOBGO ON RULING PARTY DYNAMICS
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 001290
AF/S FOR B. NEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2010
SUBJECT: ZVOBGO ON RULING PARTY DYNAMICS
Classified By: Ambassador Christopher Dell under Section 1.4 b/d
¶1. (C) Eddison Zvobgo, Jr., an astute player in the ruling
party’s younger generation and son of Robert Mugabe’s late
principal intra-party rival, on September 12 told the
Ambassador that the ruling party was essentially biding its
time until its octeganarian leader passed from the stage.
Zvobgo, who was recently installed in the party’s Masvingo
provincial hierarchy, asserted that the party remained
relatively unified despite personal rivalries for now and
characterized ethnic tensions as overblown. Personal
rivalries could spell the party’s doom after Mugabe’s
departure but key players could line up behind Joyce Mujuru,
about whom Zvobgo had relatively complimentary words. Zvobgo
urged the USG to continue to engage the ruling party and to
step up its humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe. End summary.
Party Resigned to Unpopular President
¶2. (C) Over lunch at the Residence, Zvobgo told the
Ambassador that ZANU-PF was essentially a conservative,
nationalist party. But for Mugabe, its members were not
ideological but aligned according to perceived competing or
mutual personal interests. Zvobgo claimed that “99.9
percent” of the party recognized the “madness” of GOZ policy,
which had been an unmitigated failure essentially since
independence. Policies that brought the stock market to a
standstill were only the latest example of gross incompetence
stemming from the top. He asserted that only Mugabe carried
the “baggage” of his legacy within the party; those who
assumed charge upon his departure could be expected to
jettison that legacy and quickly re-orient the party more
toward the West.
¶3. (C) Compounding people’s frustrations and low morale was
that nobody had a sense about how policy was even being made,
Zvobgo added. He related that on meeting retired General and
Minister for Indigenization and Empowerment Josiah Tungamirai
shortly before he died last month, Tungamirai had his head in
his hands lamenting the party’s complete lack of
transparency. Tungamirai had said that even though he was
then a senior party figure who sat in the politburo and the
cabinet, he didn’t have a clue about how decisions were being
made. The party’s complete lack of transparency was
“politically traumatic” to the party’s membership, Zvobgo
¶4. (C) According to Zvobgo, Mugabe’s advancing age fueled
such a cautious posture among politicians at every level that
meaningful debate was absent. Mugabe remained quite fit but
everybody “could smell succession” and refused to risk their
necks by taking any position that might raise the President’s
ire. Zvobgo laughed at those who ridiculed Finance Minister
Murerwa for not confronting the President on basic economic
mismanagement when nobody confronted the President
meaningfully on any issue. At the same time, players quietly
postured and devoted political energies to undermining each
other while avoiding attention themselves. Emmerson
Mnangagwa’s example underscored to all what happened when one
shows too much ambition too soon.
¶5. (C) With most national policy set from the top,
politicians were left consigned to the role of ward-healer,
trying to deliver local services to their constituencies,
Zvobgo noted. This made them as dependent as ever to GOZ
ministries who commanded what little resources remained, thus
reinforcing the obeisance demanded by patronage.
Party Unity Despite Rivalries
¶6. (C) Zvobgo painted a picture of relative party unity at
the top despite the frustration and clash of personal
interests. He asserted that purported ethnic divisions
within the party were overstated and sometimes magnified by
posturing individuals looking to get purchase in their
attacks on rivals. In fact, aside from Solomon Mujuru, who
lacked ambition to be President, Mugabe had never kept any
individual or group close to him for the whole period since
independence, Zvobgo maintained. Mugabe’s skill in balancing
competing personalities while keeping them off balance
sometimes pushed others to try to exploit ethnic tensions
that weren’t really there.
¶7. (C) Zvobgo noted that long significant factional
rivalries in Masvingo were subsiding. “For whatever
reasons”, the party leadership had installed elder party
maverick Dzikamayi Mavhaire and himself to run the party’s
provincial structures. Zvobgo noted that Tungamirai had been
the party’s de facto senior figure in the province, but his
passing did not leave any official vacancy (other than his
parliamentary seat) and so would not likely trigger factional
infighting. Like most throughout the country, people in
Masvingo were absorbed with basic issues of food and housing
and were uninclined to political action.
¶8. (C) Zvobgo dismissed the “third force” as a mere
expression of frustration with the dysfunctional political
environment. Those behind talk of a third force could stake
out no political territory on a Zimbabwean political map that
lacked an ideological left or right. They might gain
sympathy in the short run but could not gain adherents for
the long haul. Ruling party supporters would not eschew the
perks of the patronage system and opposition supporters would
be too angry to join the likes of Jonathan Moyo, the third
force’s most public advocate to date. In any event, he
maintained, any momentum behind the third force would come
principally at the expense of the MDC, whose existence would
ultimately be threatened should the third force emerge.
Mugabe Departure Will Trigger Uncertainty, National Relief
¶9. (C) The ruling party’s dysfunctional internal environment
could lead to a destabilizing power struggle on Mugabe’s
departure, Zvobgo observed. He conceded that this could
spell the end of ZANU-PF but asserted that there may well be
enough sense of mutual interest for key players to get behind
a new leader. “They’re not stupid.” In this regard, Zvobgo
complimented Vice President Joyce Mujuru, to whom he
acknowledged he was aligned, as a “common sense” managerial
type who could muster sufficient consensus. Whether she
could win over competing aspirants, such as Mnangagwa, would
depend on the correlation of forces at the time and her
ability to give competitors sufficient stake in a new power
¶10. (C) Zvobgo noted that the overwhelming sense of
“national relief” at Mugabe’s passing may also play to Joyce
Mujuru’s advantage. In the same vein, Zvobgo urged the
international community to be ready when Mugabe left the
scene and not to miss the opportunity to get behind somebody
who could get the country on the road to much needed national
recovery. Neither the country nor the international
community could “afford to dither when our long national
Urges Bilateral Engagement
¶11. (C) Zvobgo said he knew “good people” in most of
ZANU-PF’s provincial structures and urged that we remain
engaged with them. He offered to be helpful in facilitating
meetings and communications. He further appealed to the USG
to continue to respond to Zimbabweans humanitarian needs,
especially food and housing. In this regard, he inquired if
there was any way to make special arrangements to get food to
Masvingo, where hunger was particularly acute.
¶12. (C) The Ambassador reiterated USG commitment to provide
humanitarian assistance, notably in the areas of food and
HIV-AIDS, without regard to political considerations. The
GOZ’s refusal to request assistance or even acknowledge its
need for food prevented much needed food assistance from
going forward. Without a specific appeal from the GOZ, we
could not target food deliveries to Masvingo or anywhere else
in the country. The Ambassador suggested that Zvobgo
influence the GOZ to adopt a more constructive approach.
¶13. (C) The Ambassador expressed further frustration and
bafflement over the GOZ’s relentless pursuit of ruinous,
self-destructive policies, which was a significant impediment
to rehabilitating relations. Operation Restore Order, for
example, represented a major setback and had to be evaluated
by the international community as a possible crime against
humanity. He cautioned Zimbabwe against viewing the IMF’s
recent six-month reprieve against expulsion as any kind of
victory. Real turn-around at home and in Zimbabwe’s
international image would require major and sustained
economic and political reform.
¶14. (C) Zvobgo is a confident, affable and accessible
interlocutor. His exchanges with the Embassy have been
devoid of the sterile political rhetoric that infect
exchanges with most in the ruling party. He offers candid
and insightful reads of the political situation here.
Well-connected inside and outside of his party, he told
emboff at an earlier meeting that he followed the returns of
the 2002 presidential election at the South Africa home of
telecom magnate and GOZ critic Strive Masiyiwa, rooting for
the MDC. He sees effective delivery of services to local
constituencies, particularly in Masvingo, as a key to
political advancement and frequently seeks resources to
advance this objective in meetings.
¶15. (C) Tensions between ruling party leaders and factions
are difficult to evaluate but we agree with Zvobgo that
Mugabe can keep the party as cohesive as he needs to for now.
The allegiance of Zvobgo (like Mnangagwa, a Karanga) – and
ex-Finance Minister Simba Makoni (a Manyika) – to the
dominant Mujuru/Zezuru faction suggests the primacy of
personal connections and patronage networks over ideology or
ethnic allegiance in the posture of the country’s next
generation of prospective leaders.