Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested after organising a successful stay-away in which between 80 to 95 percent of the shops were closed.
He was charged with contempt of court for going ahead with the mass action.
His colleague Tendai Biti was also arrested but it was not clear on what charges.
Tsvangirai was, however, released to attend his treason trial.
He was charged with trying to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.
Viewing cable 03HARARE1101, STAYAWAY SUCCESSFUL, DEMONSTRATIONS QUELLED – DAY
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 02 HARARE 001101
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR J. FRAZER
LONDON FOR C. GURNEY
PARIS FOR C. NEARY
NAIROBI FOR T. PFLAUMER
BANGKOK FOR WIN DAYTON
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2013
SUBJECT: STAYAWAY SUCCESSFUL, DEMONSTRATIONS QUELLED – DAY
ONE OF MDC PLANNED MASS ACTION
REF: A. HARARE 1097
¶B. HARARE 1081
Classified By: Political Officer Audu Besmer for reasons 1.5 b/d
¶1. (C) The MDC planned stayaway has been largely successful
with 80 – 95% of shops and businesses closed on June 2 in
Harare and Bulawayo. There was very visible police and
military presence in both cities starting on May 31, with
several arrests and a few reports of beatings. ZANU-PF
members distributed leaflets throughout Harare encouraging
people to go to work, and the police obtained a High Court
ruling on May 31 outlawing the mass action. Police arrested
and released MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai. GOZ forceful
counter measures have succeeded in preventing demonstrations
so far, and leave Mugabe as entrenched as ever after day one
of this mass action, albeit sitting on an increasingly
fragile economic and political situation. End Summary.
Riot Police Disperse Students
¶2. (U) By about 11:00 a.m. riot police with shields and
helmets had dispersed a few hundred students at the
University of Zimbabwe campus with tear gas. Gate guards at
the University’s several entrances refused to allow any
vehicles to enter campus citing the disturbance, and police
later confined students to their dormitories. According to a
student organizer, the students planned to assemble on campus
and march to the city center to join with marchers.
¶3. (U) There were several unconfirmed reports that police
shot at least three people at a demonstration in the
high-density suburb of Highfield. Two were reportedly
killed; one was wounded and is said to be currently receiving
treatment at a local clinic.
Intimidating Police and Military Presence
¶4. (C) During the morning of June 2 there were several other
reports that hundreds and sometimes even thousands of people
were gathering at various locations in the Harare area in
order to demonstrate. Poloffs investigated several of these
locations as the reports surfaced and found no increased
crowds present. At some of these locations there were
significant police presences.
¶5. (C) Over the weekend May 31 – June 1 convoys of tanks and
military vehicles were seen traveling around various areas of
Harare. According to MDC Presidential Advisor Gandi
Mudzingwa, the vehicles, loaded with soldiers, would
generally travel around the high-density suburbs at night and
return to their barracks during the day. Emboffs observed
mounted police patrols during daylight hours on both May 31
and June 2.
¶6. (C) Poloffs observed groups of 5 – 8 police officers on
many blocks throughout downtown Harare in the morning of June
¶2. In Africa Unity Square, the proposed location of a
demonstration, Poloffs observed a group of at least 15
officers. RSO later observed police beating about 30 – 40
people they had detained and had ordered to lay face down on
the sidewalk near the Square. According to Mudzingwa, the
MDC had planned a large demonstration at the Square, but had
subsequently canceled it because transport was not
functioning to bring enough attendees into town.
¶7. (C) During clashes with what appeared to be MDC youth,
police in downtown Harare fired tear gas in the morning of
June 2. The Embassy’s PAS office, located near the MDC’s
headquarters, was contemplating closure at midday on June 2
due to these disturbances, but ultimately remained open.
Also located downtown, the Swedish Embassy closed at
mid-morning on June 2 due to similar fears.
Bulawayo: Demonstrators Dispersed, Stayaway Successful
¶8. (SBU) According to Sheba Dube, head of the Bulawayo
chapter of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), in Bulawayo,
police were present since the early hours of June 2 at
Queen’s Park in the downtown area – the site of a planned
demonstration. Although about 200 people did gather police
reportedly disbursed the crowd beating several people in the
process. Police also arrested about ten MDC officials and
activists from around the Bulawayo area on June 1 – 2; many
were still in custody in the afternoon of June 2.
¶9. (SBU) Dube reported that many shops and businesses in
Bulawayo were reportedly closed in the morning, but some
grocery stores opened in the afternoon of June 2. In general
more than 80% of businesses remained closed with very light
pedestrian and vehicle traffic present in downtown Bulawayo.
¶10. (U) In addition to obtaining the May 31 High Court ruling
outlawing the planned mass action, the GOZ also printed and
distributed leaflets encouraging Zimbabweans to ignore the
stayaway. In the days before the mass action, the government
press reported that the GOZ would revoke business licenses of
companies that did not open and that anyone demonstrating
would be defying the High Court order. The GOZ propaganda
machine also gave major publicity to war-vet threats to
Police Arrest MDC Leaders
¶11. (U) In addition to the arrest of MDC President Morgan
Tsvangirai on the morning of June 2, around midday police
arrested MDC Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, Tendai Biti.
Tsvangirai was charged with contempt of court for going ahead
with the mass action, there was no confirmation of charges
against Biti at the time of writing. Police actually
released Tsvangirai so that he could attend his treason trial
at 10:00 on June 2. There were unconfirmed reports that a
few MDC officials in Bulawayo, and a few MDC MPs in Harare
were also arrested.
¶12. (SBU) Although there were a fair number of people milling
around downtown Harare on the morning of June 2, Poloffs saw
almost no shops open, and only a handful of business open.
Some public busses were running but the commuter bus pick-up
areas had about 15% of the normal crowd present. Other
Emboffs traveled around downtown Harare on the afternoon of
June 2 and found almost no one present.
¶13. (C) By deploying tanks and other intimidating military
hardware and personnel in the Harare area, the GOZ has
succeeded so far in quashing nascent gatherings that could
turn into marches or demonstrations before they have really
gained momentum. The MDC is likely to claim victory for the
stayaway and for the gatherings that were supposed to be
demonstrations, but nothing has yet happened on a massive
scale that would boost public confidence that the time is
shortening for the Mugabe regime. While it is likely the
stayaway will continue for a few more days, and
demonstrations are still possible, the GOZ has demonstrated
on day one, for its part, that it will use whatever force is
necessary to assure that no serious threat to its power can
gain momentum. End Comment.