Police tear-gassed about 4000 people led by ZANU-PF militia and war veterans who had besieged the Grain Marketing Board depot in Bulawayo demanding transparency in the distribution of maize.
Movement for Democratic Changes secretary-general, Welshman Ncube, who was also the Member of Parliament for Bulawayo North East, said the demonstrators had told him that they were frustrated and despondent over the lack of food in the city.
The demonstrators told a news reporter that maize was only going to top ZANU-PF politicians.
Viewing cable 03HARARE30, FOOD CLASHES IN URBAN AREAS
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000030
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR J. FRAZER
LONDON FOR C. GURNEY
PARIS FOR C. NEARY
NAIROBI FOR T. PFLAUMER
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: FOOD CLASHES IN URBAN AREAS
¶1. SUMMARY: Last week, police, national youth service
members, and ordinary citizens clashed over food in two of
Zimbabwe’s most populous cities–Bulawayo and Chitungwiza.
The two incidents signal an increased level of tension
surrounding food availability and access, particularly in the
case of Bulawayo where ZANU-PF youths and war veterans
attacked the Grain Marketing Board depot. END SUMMARY.
BULAWAYO: ZANU-PF VS. ZANU-PF – A BATTLE FOR ACCESS
¶2. On January 2, police tear-gassed about 4000 people–led
by ZANU-PF militia (Green Bombers) and war veterans–who had
besieged the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depot demanding
transparency in the distribution of corn, according to the
independent newspaper The Daily News. Daily News reporter,
Chris Gande, told us that the demonstrators had complained to
him that the corn was only going to the top ZANU-PF
¶3. Thirty-nine people were arrested on Friday, January 3,
placed in custody and were being arraigned on Monday, January
6, when PolOff spoke with Gande. Gande said the Green
Bombers and war veterans tried to hold another demonstration
near the courthouse on January 6 but were dispersed by riot
police. Gande also claimed riot police and roadblocks had
been deployed on roads leading to the courthouse. (NOTE:
PolOff has not been able to corroborate this last claim. END
¶4. Welshman Ncube, MDC Secretary-General and MP of Bulawayo
North East, told us the demonstrators were attacked by police
at the GMB depot. Ncube said demonstrators told him they
were frustrated and despondent over the lack of food in the
CHITUNGWIZA: ZANU-PF VS. POLICE – A BATTLE FOR CONTROL
¶5. In Chitungwiza, ZANU-PF youth attacked police manning a
corn meal queue at an area shopping center on January 5.
According to Executive Mayor of Chitungwiza, Misheck Shoko,
the youths wanted to control the distribution of the corn
meal. Members of the public helped the police fend off the
Green Bombers, who sought refuge in a nearby church. After
getting reinforcements from the church members, the Green
Bombers returned and attacked people and shops
¶6. In a telephone conversation with PolOff, Shoko said he
had spoken with police and asked them why they had not
arrested anyone. The police claimed they could not arrest
the youths and church members because they were outnumbered
and would be overwhelmed. Shoko also told PolOff that some
members of the church had been arrested after they went to
the police station claiming that the MDC instigated the
melee. Shoko–who witnessed the entire event–said there
were no discernible MDC members in the area–just ordinary
residents trying to buy corn.
¶7. PolOff asked Shoko about the mood in Chitungwiza and
whether he thought additional food disturbances might be
expected. Shoko said the situation is very tense but that he
does not think riots will happen in the near future. He said
the army is patrolling the shopping center in question and
that people are too afraid to be at the forefront of a battle
with the police or armed forces. Even though Shoko did not
believe riots were imminent, he did think that one day the
GOZ would be unable to control the frustrations and
desperation of area residents and riots would ensue.
¶8. Although independent press reports somewhat overplayed
these incidents, the food clashes over the last week suggest
a growing popular frustration with food shortages and with
profiteering by ruling party politicians with access to
scarce supplies. The Bulawayo incident with ZANU-PF
supporters marching on the ZANU-PF-run GMB to demand
transparency in distributions is most likely indicative of
the sentiments of a larger proportion of the ruling party
constituency. In Chitungwiza, the intervention of ordinary
residents on behalf of the police suggests a diminishing
threshold for willingness to confront their tormentors. The
incidents in Bulawayo and Chitungwiza reveal the potential of
growing food queues as likely flashpoints for civil unrest.