Why the MDC’s “final push” of 2003 failed


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The Movement for Democratic Change’s “final push” of June 2003 failed because people were not yet ready to undertake high-risk activist behaviour in defiance of the Robert Mugabe regime.

Experience in other countries had conclusively shown that political defiance against a violent regime required careful planning and preparation.

Once the concept of non-violent strategies and community defence had been grasped by a critical mass of people, time and experience were still needed to increase the capacity and confidence of communities to act.

“As in other effective non-violent political struggles, a strategy of selective resistance comprising small, local actions must cumulatively grow into a resistance movement that encompasses more and more areas of society,” embassy officials commented in a cable released by Wikileaks.

“The USG should support this more patient course of social transformation in Zimbabwe. While it may not be the immediate solution to the current political impasse in the country, it can gradually bring greater pressure to bear on the regime, channel discontent in positive directions and promote future democratic development.

“On the other hand basing U.S. expectations for change in Zimbabwe on a sweeping, organized or spontaneous near-term campaign of non-violent mass action is a dubious strategy,” the cable says.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 03HARARE1511, FUTURE STRATEGIES FOR MASS ACTION IN ZIMBABWE

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

03HARARE1511

2003-07-28 08:34

2011-08-30 01:44

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

280834Z Jul 03

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001511

 

SIPDIS

 

AF FOR A/S KANSTEINER AND PDAS SNYDER

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/25/2008

TAGS: EAID KDEM PGOV PHUM ZI

SUBJECT: FUTURE STRATEGIES FOR MASS ACTION IN ZIMBABWE

 

 

Classified By: CLASSIFIED BY THE R.E. Whitehead DUE TO 1.5 (b)

 

1. (C) Summary: Experience gained from last June’s &Final

Push8 attempt at mass action has altered the strategic

vision for those promoting and organizing non-violent protest

in Zimbabwe. An accurate assessment of the situation and

temperament of the Zimbabwean population points away from a

&Serbian style8 mass uprising that aims at the immediate

downfall of the ZANU (PF) regime. More realistically, civil

society and the MDC have concluded that they must plan for a

longer-term struggle that engages and empowers the population

to undertake a lower intensity but sustained campaign of

peaceful protest, defiance, and non-cooperation to

demonstrate the regime,s lack of popular support and thereby

encourage negotiations and democratic reforms. As in the

cases of organized political resistance movements in other

countries, a successful mass action campaign in Zimbabwe will

require long-term strategic planning, widespread grassroots

training in non-violent action, and a phased approach of

low-risk, confidence building actions leading gradually to

larger and stronger acts of political defiance. A hasty

campaign of mass action risks failure and is not the best

course of action at this time. End Summary.

 

2. (SBU) Non-violent resistance has been embraced by most

proponents of democratic reform in Zimbabwe as the best

strategy for influencing the course of a political transition

and for preparing Zimbabweans to defend themselves against

future state oppression. The opposition party, trade unions,

and civil society organizations have over the last six months

employed many mass action tactics, including marches,

strikes, and a street art campaign. Except for the MDC and

ZCTU-called strikes that were widely observed across the

country, the mass actions to date have been relatively small,

localized, and focused on selective political issues, such as

the protests organized around the international cricket

matches in Bulawayo, the Mother,s Day march organized by

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), and the religious services

for victims of human rights held by Archbishop Pius Ncube.

cc).

 

3. (SBU ) The MDC-led &Final Push8 campaign in June, 2003

attempted unsuccessfully to escalate this nascent but growing

pattern of selective resistance to a mass movement of popular

political defiance that would challenge the authority of the

GOZ. The nationwide strike, the passive aspect of the mass

action, was an overwhelming success with as much as 90% of

businesses closed in major urban areas during the course of

the week. However, the disappointing turnout for the planned

street marches illustrated definitively that the population

was not yet prepared to suddenly undertake high-risk activist

behavior in defiance of the regime. Subsequent analyses of

the &Final Push8 by the MDC and civil society observers

concluded that more groundwork would be required for such

ambitious action to succeed. Experience in other countries

has conclusively shown that political defiance against a

violent regime requires careful planning and preparation.

First and foremost, prospective participants must understand

what is expected of them; they must have enough successful

experience with non-violent mass action that fear is lessened

or controlled; and they must have well-trained, disciplined

street-level organizations and leadership to guide them.

These pre-requisites for successful mass protest are all in

the early stages of development in Zimbabwe.

 

4. (C) Zimbabwe does not have a history of non-violent

political mobilization or widespread civic participation and

organization. The few times that specific grievances have

resulted in spontaneous street action, such as the July 1960

protests against the Whitehead government or the 1998 food

riots, the population has been violently suppressed. Many

older Zimbabweans also too clearly remember the brutal

methods which both the UDI Government and liberation forces

used against those whose political allegiance was suspect.

Political violence over the last three years has reaffirmed

the ruthlessness of the government in the minds of the

people. Such liberal use of force has created a climate of

fear and powerlessness among all sectors of society that must

be overcome before a successful nation-wide resistance

campaign can be effectively launched. As a major

complicating factor, the organizational structures of society

do not reach very deep. Even the unions have historically

neglected to organize and empower their members at the level

of the shop floor. The Rhodesian government and the Zanu

(PF) regime both discouraged independent social groupings and

institutions. Civil society organizations in general are

consequently relatively new, weak, and focused on advocacy

rather than activism. Thus, people at the grassroots have

very little experience of and very little institutional

support for organizing collective action.

 

5. (C) Bridging the gap between fear and action will require

a civic education campaign designed specifically to spread

the idea of non-violent action and to impart skills of

community organizing. Several civic groups as well as the

MDC expect to focus their efforts on this critical training

process over the coming months in hopes of producing a core

of disciplined and committed non-violent activists and

community organizations capable of defending their political

space and constitutional rights. In recognition of the need

for very basic capacity building, the goals of such training

have been broadened from narrow partisan organizing to

general community empowerment. In addition to a focus on

strengthening geographical communities, it is also envisioned

that existing organizations, such as student groups, local

church groups, and unions will be targeted for more systemic

training and organizational strengthening. In keeping with

this new strategic focus, public calls for mass action will

most likely decline in the near term although small, limited

actions will continue. Low-risk, community-based activities

such as street-art and graffiti messages, “resistance” music

creation and dissemination, community “clean-up” campaigns,

community meetings and small, localized marches are planned.

Organizers hope that through such activities, communities

will become more comfortable engaging the authorities and

gain experience in organizing themselves for political

actions and exercising their political rights.

 

6. (C)   Coordination between the civics and the opposition

party will likely impact the speed at which this plan for

broad civic education and grassroots organizing can occur.

Over the last few months, informal links have developed

between the MDC mass action committee and civil society

groups working on mass action strategies. Although there is

some lingering mutual suspicion of one another’s motives and

disagreement over strategic focus and tactical approach, i.e.

short-term vs. long-term objectives and top-down vs.

bottom-up organizing, information sharing about activities

and objectives has increased. Because the MDC suspects that

civil society is organizing another political party and civil

society believes that the MDC is only interested in co-opting

them for partisan objectives and hijacking their scarce

resources, it has been difficult for them to forge close

links.   After the “Final Push,” civil society mass action

organizers, who disagreed with such a quick escalation of

mass action but supported the effort against their own better

judgement, indicated that they will not support any similar

actions in the near future. However, MDC’s own experience

with the “Final Push” finally convinced them of the need to

move more slowly and deliberately. Thus, MDC and civil

society are now moving along separate but parallel tracks

that can be mutually supportive as long as

information-sharing continues.

 

7. Comment: (C) Once the concept of non-violent strategies

and community defense is grasped by a critical mass of

people, time and experience will still be needed to increase

the capacity and confidence of communities to act. As in

other effective non-violent political struggles, a strategy

of selective resistance comprising small, local actions must

cumulatively grow into a resistance movement that encompasses

more and more areas of society. The USG should support this

more patient course of social transformation in Zimbabwe.

While it may not be the immediate solution to the current

political impasse in the country, it can gradually bring

greater pressure to bear on the regime, channel discontent in

positive directions and promote future democratic

development. On the other hand basing U.S. expectations for

change in Zimbabwe on a sweeping, organized or spontaneous

near-term campaign of non-violent mass action is a dubious

strategy.

 

 

 

SULLIVAN

(270 VIEWS)

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1
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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