Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai said the only logical explanation for the government’s Operation Murambatsvina was to provoke a response which it could then crush because the operation did not make sense either politically or economically.
He said the government had never before been more hated nor relied so overtly on naked force to maintain its control. As with commercial farmers and other targets, President Robert Mugabe had defined the urban informal economy as a source of opposition and he was determined to crush it.
However, this time there were more people involved and they were more desperate, with no other options; that Mugabe was sowing the seeds of civil unrest.
United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell said in his experience when people’s survival mechanisms were threatened, as in this case, civil unrest could erupt quickly. The opposition, therefore, needed to ensure that unrest was led soberly.
Tsvangirai agreed completely, noting that while anger was building, it needed to be expressed in a sustainable fashion, not simply erupt spontaneously.
Viewing cable 05HARARE741, MDC HEAD ON GROWING UNREST; WASHINGTON TRIP
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
271147Z May 05
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000741
DEPT FOR U/S BURNS, AF A/S NEWMAN/DAS WOODS
OVP FOR NULAND
NSC FOR ABRAMS, COURVILLE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/27/2015
SUBJECT: MDC HEAD ON GROWING UNREST; WASHINGTON TRIP
REF: HARARE 737
Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.4 b/d
¶1. MDC Head Morgan Tsvangirai met with the Ambassador May 27
to discuss the growing unrest in the country. Tsvangirai
said the GOZ seemed to be trying to provoke a response that
it could crush but may have miscalculated given the numbers
of people involved and their desperation. He said the
opposition, including civil society leaders, had met that
morning to discuss how to help organize the discontent so
that it could be sustained over time and lead to real change.
Tsvangirai said that despite the unrest he was still
interested in visiting Washington the latter half of June,
with the exact date depending on the Secretary,s
availability. End Summary.
Operation Create Disorder
¶2. (C) Tsvangirai said the only logical explanation for the
GOZ,s recent actions (reftel) was to provoke a response that
it could then crush. Otherwise, &Operation Restore Order8
made no sense, either politically or economically. He said
it would inevitably provoke such a reaction. The government
had never before been more hated nor relied so overtly on
naked force to maintain its control. As with commercial
farmers and other targets, Mugabe had defined the urban
informal economy as a source of opposition and he was
determined to crush it. However, this time there were more
people involved and they were more desperate, with no other
options; he was sowing the seeds of civil unrest.
¶3. (C) The Ambassador said it was his experience that when
people,s survival mechanisms were threatened, as in this
case, civil unrest could erupt quickly. The opposition
needed to ensure that unrest was led soberly. Tsvangirai
agreed completely, noting that while anger was building, it
needed to be expressed in a sustainable fashion, not simply
erupt spontaneously. Tsvangirai noted that the people had
erupted in street protests only once in recent years, the
1998 food riots. The Zimbabwean people needed to be
organized and led and to that end he had met that morning
with leaders of civil society to coordinate on how best to
encourage and harness the growing discontent.
¶4. (C) Tsvangirai added that the opposition must avoid
falling into one of Mugabe,s traps. The MDC and its allies
needed to help organize democratic resistance but needed to
avoid the spotlight. There would be no public statements
that would allow the regime to paint protesters as pro-MDC
and give it an excuse for the crackdown. He asked if there
had been any response from Washington on the MDC,s request
for support to channel civil discontent. The Ambassador said
the USG was focused on 2008 as the next opportunity for
change, but would obviously take another look if the current
MDC Internal Divisions
¶5. (C) Tsvangirai acknowledged that internal MDC tensions had
led to violence at the party,s headquarters the week before,
when the senior leadership had been out of the country in
Mauritius. He said he had restored order upon his return and
that an investigation was ongoing. The senior leadership
itself was unified. He suspected the youths who had
initiated the violence might have been paid to do so by the
GOZ, but had nonetheless stressed to the party the importance
of remaining focused on restoring democracy to Zimbabwe, and
not fighting among themselves.
¶6. (C) Tsvangirai said he was open to a trip to Washington
sometime between June 15 and June 25. The exact date would
depend on the Secretary,s availability. He planned to stop
in West Africa on his way to the U.S. However, while the
trip was important, if the crisis in the country worsened, he
might have to once more delay it.
¶7. (C) We would agree that the GOZ is playing with fire and
that if it continues its current crackdown on the urban
informal economy it will provoke civil unrest, possibly on a
greater scale than any unrest since 1998. The fact is this
is playing out against a backdrop of severe food and fuel
shortages and accelerating economic decline that is already
sapping the regime,s eroded popularity and further
undermining its legitimacy. That said, the GOZ appears ready
and able to crush discontent, unless it is on a very large
scale. And we have seen no signs yet that this is likely,
nor that the MDC and its allies know how to make it happen.