Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions leaders described to the United States ambassador Christopher Dell how they were arrested and brutally beaten after police broke their attempted demonstration.
The labour leaders believed that the people who beat them up were not police officers but probably members of the Central Intelligence Organisation.
Former ZCTU leader and president of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, told Dell that he had learned that the government had created a special taskforce to carry out the operation, drawing on the presidential guard unit, police, ZANU-PF youth militia and party cadres.
Tsvangirai said about 450 youths were brought in from Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West for the operation.
The labour leaders were treated at the expense of the United States government through the Amani Trust, a move that the embassy described as an outstanding example of US government-funded programmes making an important *and possibly*life saving difference.
Dell, however, confused the titles of the labour leaders calling Lovemore Matombo the secretary general and Wellington Chibebe the president. It was vice versa.
Viewing cable 06HARARE1163, ZCTU MEMBERS RECOUNT TO AMBASSADOR POLICE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001163
AF/S FOR S. HILL
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
USAID FOR M. COPSON AND E. LOKEN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/21/2011
SUBJECT: ZCTU MEMBERS RECOUNT TO AMBASSADOR POLICE
BRUTALITY AND INCOMPETENCE
REF: HARARE 1143
Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.4 b/d
¶1. (C) ZCTU leaders described to the Ambassador their arrest
and brutal beatings by Zimbabwe police following their
attempted demonstration on September 13 (Ref). They noted
that the police van in which they were to be transported to
the police station was on empty. At the notorious Matapi
station, the Union members reported being systematically and
brutally beaten with medical attention initially withheld.
Based on conversations overheard, they did not believe their
assailants to have been regular police. MDC leader Morgan
Tsvangirai told the press and diplomats September 21 that
Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) was responsible.
Undaunted, the ZCTU leaders vowed to continue the struggle.
The U.S. can take pride in the role we played, through our
local partner Amani Trust, in providing for the medical needs
of the victims. End Summary.
Ambassador Visits ZCTU Protest Victims
¶2. (U) In the aftermath of the brutal police crackdown on
ZCTU leadership and members on September 13 (Ref),
Ambassador, accompanied by UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe Pocack,
visited ZCTU Secretary General Lovemore Matombo in the
private Dandaro clinic where he and about 10 of his
colleagues were receiving medical treatment. They provided
the ambassadors a detailed description of their arrests and
beatings. (Note: ZCTU president Wellington Chibebe was
still hospitalized at the Avenues Clinic awaiting surgery.
¶3. (U) Matombo and most of his colleagues sported bandages
and plaster cast on broken and hurt arms and wrists; some
complained of bruises and internal injuries. One was
connected to an IV drip. One victim said he had a deep
puncture wound on his leg. Several of the unionists said
they had seen police swinging scythes or sickles.
¶4. (C) The ZCTU members said that as they gathered to begin
their protest, police approached and ordered them to sit down
in the middle of the street. Police hit them with batons and
then loaded them into a single police truck for transport to
the notorious Matapi police station. (Note: A Zimbabwe judge
had previously ordered the station closed due to its inhumane
¶5. (C) The ZCTU members told us this was the only police
vehicle deployed for the demonstration. Lucy Matibenga, the
ZCTU Vice President, who was placed in the cab separate from
the men, said the vehicle’s gas gauge was nearly on empty
when they were loaded into it. The police subsequently
flagged down a passing police pick-up truck to provide more
transport, but the driver said he only had enough fuel to go
to Harare Central and couldn’t help take the prisoners to the
more distant Matapi station.
HARARE 00001163 002 OF 003
¶6. (C) At Matapi, according to the union members, groups of
five police beat them in pairs for about 20 minutes. Chibebe
was apparently subjected to a particularly vicious beating as
others could hear his screams. The beatings were so severe
that three batons were splintered during the course of them.
Matibenga said she and a colleague who have been trained in
passive resistance techniques made a point of staring into
the eyes of their assailants. They responded by pulling
their caps over their eyes to prevent identification. Other
ZCTU members, most of whom were too busy trying to protect
themselves from blows to view their assailants, stated they
were unable to make any identifications. They believed,
however, from conversations they overheard that their
assailants were not real police.
¶7. (C) Matibenga told the Ambassador that she heard friends
and lawyers come to the station to inquire about them.
Police denied they were there. Matibenga eventually called
out to her friends. Police ultimately transferred them to
Harare Central jail where they finally received medical
attention for the first time, hours after the beatings.
Resolve to Continue On
¶8. (C) Matombo and the ZCTU members told the Ambassador they
were more resolved than ever to continue their struggle and
that they needed to act soon to maintain momentum. They also
proudly claimed, in the face of criticism, that they had
answered the question &where’s the leadership?,8 and
intended to respond to critics by asking &where are our
followers?8 Matembo also commented that the opposition
needed to adopt &struggle8 tactics and think in terms of a
Tsvingirai weighs in
¶9. (U) At a public meeting with press and diplomats,
attended by the Ambassador, to discuss the Trudy Stevenson
Commission report (Septel), MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai
said the government over-reaction had been orchestrated by
the CIO and demonstrated its fear of the opposition. He
added that ZCTU had been led to believe by the government,
responding to International Labour Organization pressure,
that it would allow more space for protests and
¶10. (C) Tsvingirai told the Ambassador on September 21 that
he had learned that the government had created a special task
force to carry out the operation, drawing on the presidential
guard unit, police, ZANU-PF youth militia and party cadres.
According to Tsvingirai, about 450 youth were brought in from
Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West for the operation.
Buttressing Tsvingirai’s observations that this was a
well-planned and orchestrated response, one of our civil
society contacts told us he had seen film of security forces
beating sitting demonstrators, and superiors of the security
forces looking on to ensure the beatings were carried out.
HARARE 00001163 003 OF 003
¶11. (C) Amani Trust, one of our DG partners, arranged for the
hospital care for the victims, drawing down on USAID DG funds
to cover the cost. Reginald Matcha-Hove of the Zimbabwe
Election Support Network (ZESN), who is a medical doctor,
provided initial medical assistance. (Comment: This is an
outstanding example of USG-funded programs making an
important*and possibly*life saving difference. End
¶12. (C) By their extreme reaction, the regime hoped to nip
further demonstrations in the bud. They have already failed.
The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) launched a
demonstration September 20 in Zimbabwe’s third city, Mutare,
which was also violently broken up (septel). The opposition
seems to be gathering momentum at a time when the government
is literally running on empty with respect to resources. The
image of the police van’s gas gauge on empty is a perfect
metaphor for the current state of play in Zimbabwe. For
their part, Matombo and Chibebe, who were being criticized by
their own people for unassertive and ineffective leadership,
have now been turned into martyrs, surely not what the GOZ
had had in mind. End Comment