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.
Viewing cable 03HARARE1511, FUTURE STRATEGIES FOR MASS ACTION IN ZIMBABWE
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
AF FOR A/S KANSTEINER AND PDAS SNYDER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/25/2008
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.
¶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
¶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