Tsvangirai said Murambatsvina was retribution


Movement for Democratic Change leader said Operation Restore Order, also known as Murambatsvina, was retribution against urban populations for voting against the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.

The MDC won most of the urban votes but saw its representation fall from 57 to 41 while ZANU-PF gained 16 more seats to clock 78 which added with the appointments made by President Robert Mugabe gave ZANU-PF a two-thirds majority.

MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said Murambatsvina was aimed at provoking strife in the country so that the government could declare a state of emergency to help control public reaction to the collapsing economy.


Full cable:


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Reference ID






2005-05-27 09:41

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.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 000737







E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2010




Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.4 b/d


1. (C) SUMMARY: Clashes between residents and police over

the high profile destruction of unauthorized structures

around town and the city’s growing failure to deliver

services have increased political tension in the capital.

Police presence and roadblocks are markedly increasing,

including outside the capital. Some members of the

opposition MDC are involved in the growing urban resistance

to the regime, but the activity for the most part seems to be

spontaneous or directed by citizens groups rather than by the

MDC leadership. END SUMMARY.



Blitz on Informal Sector Sparks Protests



2. (U) On May 18, the City commenced “Operation Restore

Order” – a crackdown against “illegal structures” and the

informal sector generally. According to police reports, more

than 10,000 people have been arrested and hundreds of illegal

structures – vending stalls and makeshift residences – have

been demolished through May 26. While most high profile

demolitions have been in and around Harare, police reportedly

have leveled some flea markets in other locations, including

Bulawayo, Kadoma, Rusape, and Odzi. In addition, the state

media reported that police had arrested hundreds of

additional individuals around the country for illegal gold

panning and other unauthorized activities. Various

government officials publicly attribute the campaign to the

imperative to stem “economic saboteurs” and purportedly

growing illegal activities associated with the outdoor

markets, including everything from forex dealings to rape.


3. (SBU) In response to the crackdown, protests have broken

out around Harare over the past week. In the high density

areas of Chitungwiza and Mabvuku, protests led to violent

clashes between police and city residents on May 20. James

Gadzirayi, spokesperson of the Combined Harare Residents

Association (CHRA) told poloff on May 24 that the street

battles were spontaneous reactions to police demolition

efforts and not the result of pre-planned resistance.


4. (SBU) More clashes erupted on May 25 in Glen View, St.

Mary’s, and Budiriro, resulting in reported damage to

vehicles and buildings, including vandalism of a municipal

office in Glen View. There are unconfirmed reports that a

policeman was killed in one disturbance. Human rights NGOs

so far have been unable to confirm any injuries associated

with the clashes.



Tafara and Mabvuku Disturbances



5. (C) Street battles on the margins of “Restore Order”

follow earlier clashes over rising municipal fees and

non-delivery in low-income areas. At a meeting with poloff

on May 18, CHRA representatives offered an update on

deteriorating conditions in Harare’s high-density areas.

According to the group, some areas have been without water

for two months, had not had trash removed all year, or were

increasingly exposed to open raw sewage. Citizens were

digging wells in filthy areas, contributing to a growing

health hazard. The City rarely, if ever, responded to

resident complaints. The group advised that at the same

time, the City was drastically increasing fees for municipal

services – services that were rarely if ever delivered. The

new fee structures are unaffordable to most residents of

high-density areas.


6. (C) After the Revenue Office announced new illegal

structure fees earlier this month, many residents refused to

pay. According to CHRA representatives, a ZANU-PF women’s

group called a meeting on May 10 to address the matter in

Tafara, a low-income suburb. No ZANU-PF leaders came and

when the meeting began to be dominated by CHRA

representatives, police dispersed the meeting and arrested

three CHRA members. A similar event in Mabvuku, another

high-density suburb was broken up May 11, resulting in 14

arrests. Those detained in each case were charged with

violations of the Public Order and Security Act and released

within two days.


7. (C) CHRA sources report that police presence was quickly

and substantially increased in high-density areas on the

heels of the Tafara and Mabvuku incidents. Non-uniformed

ZANU-PF militia, another growing presence, were harassing –

and sometimes beating – those perceived to be involved in

resistance efforts against the city. In a drive through

Mabvuku and Tafara on May 25, a holiday, poloff observed

uniformed police walking among pedestrians on fairly crowded

streets, but saw no roadblocks in either township or on

commuter arteries to the city. Embassy personnel generally

have noticed a markedly increased police profile and

proliferation of roadblocks around the country during the

past few weeks.



Conditions Deteriorating



8. (SBU) Evidence of growing urban hardship is everywhere.

With the petrol shortage, commuter buses on the road are far

fewer, leading to large crowds of stranded commuters along

roadsides and bus stops all over town. The GOZ compounded

the problem by recently requiring that bus routes go no

further than depots on the edge of town, and not into the

city center. Business contacts tell us that they are having

to provide overnight accommodation for employees no longer

able to commute home reliably. No longer confined

principally to high-density areas, growing trash piles and

water cut-offs have been plaguing Harare’s tony suburbs in

recent months as well.



Organized Civil Disobedience



9. (C) CHRA representatives told us they are organizing

boycotts against payment of all municipal charges and are

planning to clandestinely re-connect water services cut-off

by the City for non-payment. The Association was also

gathering petitions and demonstrating for new mayoral

elections to replace the ZANU-PF-led commission that has been

operating since the MDC mayor and council were dismissed last

year. The representatives said they are coordinating closely

with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), the Legal

Resources Foundation, Amani Trust, the Zimbabwe Community

Development Trust, and, more recently, an association of

informal traders impacted by the crackdown. They noted that

over the past few months, sympathetic local ZANU-PF members

and leaders, police, and municipal figures ave been quietly

collaborating with CHRA, even if they could not be publicly

supportive. ZLHR contacts tell us that they are planning to

file citizens suits against the government over the

crackdown, but so far have had a hard time locating citizens

willing to stand as plaintiffs.



MDC in the Background



10. (C) According to CHRA representatives, the MDC has not

been involved in the planning of any of the citizen

resistance efforts, although MDC members, including members

of parliament, have been involved in some of the citizen

protests and activities. MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai and

other party officials have lashed out publicly against the

crackdown generally, casting it as retribution against urban

populations for voting against the ruling party. MDC

spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi accused the GOZ of trying to

provoke strife so it could declare a state of emergency to

help control public reaction to the collapsing economy. MDC

MP for Glen Norah Priscilla Misihairabwa-Mushonga reportedly

claimed to be weighing legal action on behalf of residents

against the City.



Why Now?


11. (C) The timing and justification for the crackdown

probably stem from several factors. Constant headline

coverage in the state media suggests “Restore Order” is meant

to project GOZ’s purported zero tolerance for illegal forex

trading and the black market for controlled commodities.

Certainly, it is in keeping with the ruling party’s ongoing

designs to expand its control over the economy and

symptomatic of its continued failure to reverse the country’s

economic decline. The crackdown further substantiates the

GOZ’s purported scapegoating of “economic saboteurs” for the

failure of its economic policies, and seeks to portray the

GOZ as “doing something.”


12. (C) The MDC claims the crackdown is retribution for

voting patterns. This may also be part of the explanation.

Certainly the fact that the targeted areas are pro-MDC is a

further spur to the government. There is also speculation in

the independent media that the ruling party is interested in

orienting the nation’s population away from increasingly

restive urban centers to rural areas, which are much easier

to manipulate and control. According to official media

reports, most arrested in Harare are being processed at a

farm outside of Harare and reportedly are being pressed to

return to their rural homes if they have no authorized

business or residence in Harare. ZLHR contacts report that

none have been forcibly relocated, however, and most are

charged with minor offenses and released after payment of a







13. (C) Does this crackdown – coming so quickly on the heels

of another stolen election and compounding the suffering of a

nation reeling from GOZ economic mismanagement – tip the

country closer to change? With the exception of food riots

in 1998, growing privation in the past has provoked more

emigration and creative adaptation than real impetus for

change. However, many local observers note that economic

conditions have never been this bad. Whether the GOZ follows

through in its public commitment to enforce its draconian new

zero tolerance approach may prove to be a pivotal factor.

The crackdown comes in the wake of growing shortages,

including most staples, and the GOZ’s approach seems

deliberately designed to deprive the urban population of its

coping and survival mechanisms.


14. (C) This has led to speculation that the regime is

intentionally driving people to the edge to provoke a

confrontation that will allow it to unleash its still

disciplined police force, which is capable of violence when

the regime feels it necessary. At this point there does not

appear to be an organization effectively channeling public

anger into pressure for political change.   Unless a

responsible leadership emerges, the prospects of increasingly

radical mob activity will grow, and with it the likelihood of

uncontrolled violence.





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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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