Details of a “surreal” three hour meeting in which an “alert, articulate” and “defiant” Mugabe expressed his views to US diplomats are contained in a classified US embassy cable leaked to whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
The previously unreleased cable, obtained exclusively by Media24 Investigations, describes Mugabe as “possibly the healthiest 85-year-old in Zimbabwe”, “clearly stuck in the past” and “desperate to re-engage with the world and to be treated as an elder statesmen”.
Dated June 2 2009, and bearing the subject line: “Tea with Mugabe”, the confidential 16-page cable records a “marathon” meeting between Mugabe, Zimbabwean government officials, the former US ambassador to Zimbabwe – James McGee – and US Democratic Party congressman Donald Payne.
Questioned by McGee about Jacob Zuma’s government, Mugabe “sighed that he didn’t think (the ANC) treated Thabo well, particularly as he was in the midst of helping Zimbabwe”. While describing Mbeki as “judgemental and calculating and cautious with policies”, he said, “to us (Mbeki) is a great man”.
‘Zuma will have to take from the whites’
According to the cable: Mugabe “noted that the South African people want to see their social needs attended to”.
“While Zuma has made promises, it remains to be seen if they will come true. Mugabe opined that in order to fulfil his campaign promises, Zuma will have to take from the haves – the whites – and give to the have-nots. The question, Mugabe believed, is if they (the whites) are willing to share their businesses with blacks.
He said it was "easier" in Zimbabwe where there are "not that many whites", but "South Africa has four million whites…plus the Indians.”
Mugabe remarked that South Africa “truly is a rainbow nation”.
The meeting – which was conducted at Mugabe’s official State House residence in Harare on 30 May last year was the first between US diplomats and Mugabe in over a year. Welcoming his guests he commented that “Zimbabwe hadn’t had many visitors lately”.
‘Victim of international abuse’
Then he launched into an “hour-long monologue” in which he painted himself “as the victim of international abuse and broken promises” and embarked on a “longwinded rehashing of Zimbabwe’s history”.
He talked “non-stop…without so much as a sip of water or a clearing of the throat”, declaring at one point that “we want to engage with the world”.
Growing “increasingly adamant and agitated”, Mugabe asked: “In the context of all the countries in the world – are we really the worst?”
Discussing the country’s mineral wealth and rich uranium deposits, Mugabe giggled and said “Zimbabwe doesn’t intend to ‘go nuclear’ like some countries have done”.
Payne then “gently and masterfully praised Mugabe for his liberation credentials before confronting him about human rights abuses”.
Describing himself as having been a “fan” of Mugabe as a young man, Payne said he had followed the Zimbabwean president’s “distinguished” career since its beginnings “but noted that he is now concerned about the things he reads”.
Payne said there was a stark "dichotomy between the compassionate statesman who fought for freedom…and the current government that now allows police to beat black women who dare protest”.
Did not confirm or deny abuses
According to the cable, “Mugabe sank into the couch and appeared expressionless and somewhat stunned.
“At the mention of police beating women, he responded with a puzzled look. "Which women? Where did they get them from?”
Mugabe “neither confirmed nor denied the abuses” but “responded well to Payne’s gentle confrontation”.
Then he piped up: “Well, I think we deserve some tea.” A “white-gloved butler emerged and began the very formal process of serving tea”.
After the butler poured water over the guest’s hands into a bowl and offered each guest a clean towel to dry their hands, the butler served tea, parmesan bread sticks, dinner rolls, sausage and a beef/onion dish.
Mugabe took his tea with milk and a few bread sticks but did not eat anything else.
Throughout the discussions, the Americans keenly studied Mugabe for signs of ill-health. But, while he “could not sit still” and “constantly pulled up his socks”, he “appeared to be a vigorous 85-year-old in superb health”. – Beeld
JUN. 02, 2009
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 HARARE 000456
AF/S FOR B. WALCH
DRL FOR N. WILETT
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
ADDIS ABABA FOR ACSS
STATE PASS TO NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR M. GAVIN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/02/2019
TAGS: PGOV, KDEM, ASEC, PREL, PHUM, ZI
SUBJECT: TEA WITH MUGABE: CODEL PAYNE’S MARATHON MEETING AT
REF: A. HARARE 444
B. 08 HARARE 140
Classified By: Ambassador James D. McGee for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (SBU) On May 30 President Robert Mugabe received
Congressmen Donald Payne (D-NJ), Ambassador McGee, and
staffers at his State House office for a nearly
three-hour-long meeting. Throughout the marathon meeting
Mugabe was alert, articulate, in apparent good health, and
defiant. Congressman Payne gently and masterfully praised
Mugabe for his liberation credentials before confronting him
about human rights abuses. Mugabe neither confirmed nor
denied the abuses. His version of Zimbabwe,s history, which
he explained in an hour-long monologue, painted him as the
victim of international abuse and broken promises — largely
led by Britain and George W. Bush. Despite his defiance,
Mugabe articulated his deep desire for acceptance into the
international community again, although he did not offer to
make any concessions or policy revisions that would lead to
Zimbabwe’s full reintegration in the community of nations.
The meeting covered a wide range of topics including a
discussion of last year’s elections, and finally a friendly
chat over tea about pirates in Somalia, South African
politics, and the global economic crisis. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) On the occasion of the visit of Congressman Donald
Payne (D-NJ), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa
and Global Health, the Ambassador and a group of staffers met
with President Mugabe at State House on May 30. The two-hour
and forty minute long meeting was cordial, despite Payne’s
direct confrontation of Mugabe on human rights abuses. This
was the first private meeting we have had with President
Mugabe since the Ambassador last called on him in February
2008 (ref B). It was also by far the longest of the four
meetings Ambassador McGee has had with the president during
his assignment. President Mugabe was accompanied by Minister
of Agriculture Joseph Made, Americas Division Chief from the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Sengwe, and the MFA
United States desk officer Energy Chawonetka. Congressman
Payne and the Ambassador were accompanied by poloff and
professional congressional staffers Dr. Pearl-Alice Marsh,
Noelle LuSane, and Ted Dagne.
Stuck in the Past: Mugabe’s
Revisionist History Lesson
3. (C) Mugabe opened the meeting by thanking Payne for his
visit, commenting that Zimbabwe hadn’t had many visitors
lately. He then launched into a one-hour lecture explaining
Zimbabwe’s history, from the arrival of British colonials a
century ago, through the liberation war, the Lancaster House
agreement, and up until the present. Although his voice
trailed at times, he spoke clearly and logically and only
turned to Minister Made and Ambassador Sengwe occasionally to
be reminded of specific names and dates. Predictably, Mugabe
Qbe reminded of specific names and dates. Predictably, Mugabe
described land as the "number one grievance" of the people at
the Lancaster House negotiations that led to Zimbabwe’s
independence in 1980. He spoke highly of the willingness of
the Carter administration to help fund land reform. His tone
changed to dismay and embitterment as he described the policy
reversal during the Reagan and subsequent Bush (Bush 1)
administrations that stopped the funding for land reform.
4. (C) Mugabe spoke fondly of George H.W. Bush, noting that
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they became friends when Bush was Reagan’s vice president and
that he later visited Washington at President Bush’s
invitation. Mugabe was dismayed, however, that Bush agreed
only to restore health assistance and not the land reform
assistance he believes was promised at Lancaster House.
Mugabe further bitterly recalled the dismissive letter from
then-Development Minister Clare Short that denied British
responsibility for continued funding of land reform.
5. (C) Speaking more forcefully and loudly, Mugabe went on to
describe former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s response
to Zimbabwe’s fast track land reform. Mugabe explained that
because Blair "couldn’t honestly say Zimbabwe was wrong"
Blair had to "look for the usual thing (to fault Zimbabwe) —
democracy, human rights, rule of law." Frustrated, Mugabe
explained that the Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ) tried to seek
intervention from the EU president at the time, Jacques
Chirac, who refused to hear the issue. "So," Mugabe sighed,
"we were to be condemned by Britain for following tenets of
democracy that they never obeyed. And then the sanctions
6. (C) Reaching this point in history, Mugabe became
increasingly adamant and agitated, as he asked, "in the
context of all the countries in the world — are we really
the worst?" Mugabe then, predictably, said that the Zimbabwe
Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) and sanctions had
caused the suffering of the Zimbabwean people and should be
lifted. He went on to deny turning away from democracy,
recalling that he was in prison for 11 years because he
fought for democracy.
Dismissive Tone Towards MDC
7. (C) Having completed his hour-long history lecture, Mugabe
turned to recent events. He spoke more slowly and carefully
and in a way that subtly dismissed the Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC). For instance, he described the 2008
elections as "controversial" because the MDC and ZANU-PF had
nearly tied. He carefully explained the parliamentary
results by saying that ZANU-PF had a narrow majority in
parliament. (NOTE: This is true only because he included the
Senate in his math, which includes numerous seats that he
personally appoints. END NOTE.) When the MDC refused to
participate in the June 2008 run-off, Mugabe said some
refused to accept the results "for political reasons."
Despite winning the run-off, Mugabe explained that even if he
had wanted to form a government, with only a small majority
in parliament he needed to rely on others. Consequently,
they relied on recommendations from SADC. Mugabe appeared
increasingly uncomfortable in his seat as he explained the
structure of the inclusive government and said it was working
well "so far."
8. (C) He acknowledged that there were a few "sticking
issues" in the agreement — which he described as an
"intermarriage" — including governorships, permanent
Q"intermarriage" — including governorships, permanent
secretaries and ambassadorial appointments. (NOTE: He did not
mention the continued controversial appointments of Reserve
Bank Governor Gideon Gono or Attorney General Johannes Tomana
as outstanding issues. END NOTE.) On the issue of governors,
he said that their appointments were the "prerogative of the
president" but he agreed to make changes in the "spirit" of
the agreement. Although Tsvangirai wants to make the
appointments "now," Mugabe said that would not be fair and
noted that the governors would be given two to three months’
notice before being asked to vacate their seats. (NOTE:
Separately we learned the governors will likely be sworn-in
in August. END NOTE.)
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9. (C) Regarding permanent secretaries, Mugabe said that the
six principals (himself, the two vice presidents, the prime
minister, and the two deputy prime ministers) had
re-evaluated the permanent secretaries in each of the
ministries. He appeared to dismiss the exercise, which he
described as a "review" of the Public Service Commission
(PSC) appointments. (NOTE: The PSC is a semi-independent body
heavily biased towards ZANU-PF. All of the permanent
secretaries, who oversee internal ministerial operations,
have maintained their positions after the review by the six
principals. END NOTE.)
10. (C) Regarding ambassadorships, Mugabe confirmed that new
ambassadors would be a mix of appointments from MDC-T, MDC-M
and ZANU-PF as ambassadors’ terms end or they retire from
diplomatic service. He also noted that Zimbabwe will re-open
its embassy in Dakar, Senegal.
Mugabe on the Economy
11. (C) Turning to the economy, Mugabe opined that while the
sanctions are allegedly targeted, perhaps they are designed
to affect the economy as well. He noted that the
agricultural sector was the mainstay of the economy, and that
manufacturing had suffered recently because of its reliance
on agricultural outputs. Mugabe remarked that Zimbabwe has
rich mining resources yet to be tapped, mentioning gold and
platinum specifically. Regarding diamonds, Mugabe said they
have not yet established exactly where the deposits are.
Finally, while there are uranium deposits in the north,
Zimbabwe doesn’t intend to "go nuclear" like some countries
have done, he commented with a giggle.
Mugabe on Zimbabwe’s Golden Age of Education
12. (C) Mugabe then turned back to his history lesson as he
explained the educational reforms undertaken in the early
1980s. He went on to describe in detail a plan with Cuba to
train math and science teachers that arose from Zimbabwe’s
hosting of the non-aligned countries in 1986. Because
sanctions on Cuba proved to be too much of a burden, the math
and science university was established in Bindura, Zimbabwe
rather than Cuba.
Lift the Sanctions
13. (C) After talking non-stop for over an hour — and
without so much as a sip of water or a clearing of the throat
— Mugabe turned to Congressman Payne and the Ambassador in a
much more engaged fashion. He said he was happy Payne had
come, and summarized the priorities for Zimbabwe: food,
education, infrastructure such as roads, and — above all —
land. He noted that the manufacturing sector is struggling
and that Zimbabwe wants to recover. The way to recover, he
said, is by lifting sanctions. Mugabe continued by declaring
that "we want to engage with the world," as he cited the
international organizations that Zimbabwe ascribes to,
Qinternational organizations that Zimbabwe ascribes to,
including the United Nations and World Bank. He continued,
"we want to play our role as a free Zimbabwe in a free world.
Why should we be punished for sins we’ve not committed?
Perhaps you’ve brought us the flag of freedom to lift
sanctions." He spoke with cautious optimism as he noted that
the "problem" with American sanctions is that you have
congress and the administration, and you don’t know where to
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Payne Praises and Confronts Mugabe
14. (C) After listening attentively, Congressman Payne
finally addressed Mugabe and began by praising him for his
liberation credentials. Payne noted that he had been
Mugabe’s "fan" as a young person and throughout the
liberation movement in Zimbabwe. He recalled that Mugabe had
received significant support from Americans for standing up
to the Rhodesians and fighting for voting rights and
education for Zimbabwe’s blacks. Payne skillfully noted that
he had followed Mugabe’s "distinguished" career since its
inception but noted that he is now concerned about the things
15. (C) Payne continued carefull, saying that all countries
have problems, including the United States, but that we have
a system to clean it up and prosecute wrongdoers. He noted
that we want to see the people of Zimbabwe have a better life
and his tremendous admiration for the Zimbabwean people.
However, the administration will make determinations on
sanctions, but usually it will not make a change until there
is evidence that changes have been made to correct what was
16. (C) Payne cited the Obama administration’s recent changes
to the policy towards Cuba to allow for remittances and
visits as an example that there is a willingness of the new
administration to change old policies. However, Payne noted,
we can’t make changes to the Zimbabwe policy as long as we
continue to see people getting arrested for "no reason." He
noted the "dichotomy" between the compassionate statesman who
fought for freedom that he respects and the current
government that now allows police to beat black women who
17. (C) As Payne confronted him, Mugabe sank into the couch
and appeared expressionless and somewhat stunned. At the
mention of police beating women, he responded with a puzzled
look, "Which women? Where did they get them from?" The
Ambassador and Payne cited Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)
protests as an example of women who have been beaten, and
Mugabe went on the defensive, saying that they were
manipulating and creating problems to seek more donor funds
from their sponsors.
18. (C) Payne continued by commenting that citizens have a
right to agitate and governments have a duty to protect them.
He noted that Mugabe started as a civil agitator and spent
11 years in prison for it. "I was a civil agitator, too. I
wouldn’t be in congress if I hadn’t been a civil agitator."
19. (C) Continuing with his cautious, but firm approach,
Payne noted that the new administrations in Zimbabwe and the
U.S. are an opportunity for change. He explained the "smart
power" doctrine to establish more peace, more justice, and
more smart power. He invited Zimbabwe to be part of these new
attitudes, but said that there have to be some changes in
20. (C) The Ambassador continued by noting that the USG
approach to Zimbabwe had changed in subtle but significant
ways in recent months and reaffirmed our desire to see the
inclusive government work. He described the visit as an
opportunity for dialogue "if we can talk about issues." He
raised the issue of the American-owned property in the Save
Valley Conservancy that is currently under threat (ref A) and
the issues of credit to farmers as issues up for discussion,
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but reiterated that the USG wants to see conditions change.
Payne again reiterated that we share the goal of having
positive relations with Zimbabwe and noted that he and others
in congress want to see the U.S. end isolationist policies.
21. (C) Mugabe responded well to Payne’s gentle confrontation
and noted that "we’ve never taken a decision to have a
hostile relationship with anyone — especially you. You were
there when we started." Payne noted that it is a new day and
there is hope for more dialogue.
22. (C) At the end of the fairly confrontational discussion,
Mugabe commented, "well, I think we deserve some tea," at
which point a white-gloved butler emerged and began the very
formal process of serving tea. After the butler poured water
over the guest’s hands into a bowl and offered each guest a
clean towel to dry their hands, the butler served tea,
parmesan bread sticks, dinner rolls, sausage, and a
beef/onion dish. Mugabe took his tea with milk and a few
bread sticks but did not eat anything else.
23. (C) Over tea, the conversation mellowed significantly and
Mugabe engaged Payne about his recent trip to Somalia and
asked about the Somali pirates, South Africa, and the global
Mugabe on South Africa
24. (C) Responding to the Ambassador’s questions about the
new administration in South Africa, Mugabe noted that it is
"still the ANC" but sighed that he didn’t think they treated
Thabo well, particularly as he was in the midst of helping
Zimbabwe. Mugabe continued to note that "to us (Mbeki) is a
great man." He told the delegation that he will be giving
Mbeki an award, something that "even Tsvangirai" agreed to.
Mugabe described Mbeki as "judgmental and calculating" and
cautious with policies. In contrast, Mugabe considers Zuma a
"man of the people" who likes to make promises without
necessarily knowing how to fulfill them. He noted that the
South African people want to see their social needs attended
to. While Zuma has made promises, it remains to be seen if
they will come true. Mugabe opined that in order to fulfill
his campaign promises, Zuma will have to take from the haves
— the whites — and give to the have-nots. The question,
Mugabe believed, is if they (the whites) are willing to share
their businesses with blacks. He said it was "easier" in
Zimbabwe where there were "not that many whites," but "South
Africa has four million whites… plus the Indians." He
trailed off, remarking that South Africa "truly is a rainbow
25. (C) As the tea cups emptied, the Ambassador informed
Mugabe that the Congressman was on his way to meet
businessmen and we needed to be on our way. Mugabe seemed to
be enjoying himself as he engaged on Somalia and South Africa
in a non-confrontational and exceedingly normal diplomatic
conversation. He appeared almost sad to see us go. If the
Qconversation. He appeared almost sad to see us go. If the
Ambassador had not ended the meeting, we could have well been
there another thirty minutes.
Mugabe: Possibly the Healthiest
85-year-old in Zimbabwe
HARARE 00000456 006 OF 006
26. (C) Throughout the lengthy meeting, Mugab was alert and
engaged. We noted, however, that he could not sit still.
Although he was seated on a soft, comfortable leather sofa,
he adjusted his weight to the left and right, and then later
sat on the forward edge of the sofa and then slouched to the
back, almost constantly. At times he appeared to be leaning
heavily on the right arm rest, as if to alleviate pressure
from sitting. He also constantly pulled up his socks.
Despite previous rumors of possible throat cancer, we noted
that his voice was fairly strong although he did speak softly
at times during the first hour. Aside from frequent
shifting, he rarely cleared his throat and appeared to be a
vigorous 85-year-old in superb health.
27. (C) This extraordinarily long meeting was surreal, and
Congressman Payne is to be commended for his suave
confrontation of Mugabe. As an older African American who
rooted for the liberation struggle, Payne connected with
Mugabe in a way few probably can. While Mugabe did not
acknowledge or apologize for the human rights abuses, he
didn’t deny the possibility that police had used excessive
28. (C) Mugabe is clearly stuck in the past, as evidenced by
his longwinded rehashing of Zimbabwe’s history. Furthermore,
based on Mugabe’s interpretation of sanctions and his
international isolation, he clearly believes he has done the
right thing along the way and has been betrayed by the West
and their broken promises. His continued refusal to
acknowledge the human rights abuses and stifled political
environment represent a serious disconnect between his view
of the world and the realities the Zimbabwean people struggle
with every day. Nonetheless, Mugabe appears desperate to
re-engage with the world and to be treated as an elder
statesman. He appeared genuinely appreciative and relaxed
when the Ambassador asked for his opinions on South Africa.
Overall, this meeting was a success. In a subsequent dinner
with other western ambassadors serving in Harare, the
ambassadors indicated that perhaps they, too, would seek
meetings with Mugabe and attempt to slowly re-engage with the
recalcitrant leader. END COMMENT.