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Cablegate: Zctu Leaders Arrested in Advance of Fizzled

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 002784

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR JFRAZER
LONDON FOR CGURNEY
NAIROBI FOR PFLAUMER
PARIS FOR NEARY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ELAB PHUM PGOV ZI
SUBJECT: ZCTU LEADERS ARRESTED IN ADVANCE OF FIZZLED
NCA/MDC-SPONSORED STAYAWAY

REF: A. HARARE 02620
B. HARARE 02726

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, NOT FOR INTERNET POSTING

1.(SBU) Summary. Reports indicate that eleven senior
members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) were
arrested by Zimbabwean police the day before a planned
mass-action stayaway which the ZCTU had not even endorsed.
Participation in the stayaway has been sporadic -- possibly
because the ZCTU failed to support the stayaway call, which
originated from the leadership of the National Constitutional
Assembly (NCA) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Anecdotal reports indicate that while traffic on Harare
streets is only marginally lighter than normal, at most only
25-30% of workers have actually heeded the call to stay home
from work within the capital city, and 20% may have
participated nationwide -- figures that may well prove
optimistic. The ultimate success or failure of eventual mass
action could depend upon the evolving situation of the ZCTU's
detained leadership, who ironically chose not to support the
abortive stayaway. End summary.

ZCTU Leaders Pay the Political Price Despite Attempts to
Distance Themselves
--------------------------------------------- -------------

2. (SBU) Wellington Chibebe, secretary general of the ZCTU
and a very recent IVP visitor to the US, along with ten other
high-level ZCTU leaders, was picked up by the police late in
the evening of December 9 at a labor seminar sponsored by the
AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center. According to reports, the
eleven were removed from the seminar by police although there
is no indication that they were charged with any criminal
activity. Attorneys are urgently attempting to locate the
eleven as well as obtain their release through the courts.
In typical GOZ fashion, the eleven detainees were not
immediately taken to a police station or charged, although
our contacts have heard unconfirmed reports that they are
currently being kept in two separate police stations in the
Mbare high-density area. Solidarity Center contacts state
that attorneys have not been granted access to the detainees
and have received no report on their condition. When (and
if) charges are actually brought, the eleven detainees are
likely to be charged with violating the repressive Public
Order and Security Act (POSA). The ZCTU has been very wary
of endorsing a mass-action stayaway without clear support
from the rank-and-file membership, reftel b, and they have
neither advised their membership to participate nor to flout
the call for a stayaway. Despite this public neutrality, the
GOZ has chosen the ZCTU as the most visible target of its
official displeasure at the call for mass action.

NCA Estimates 20% Nationwide Participation
------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Dr. Lovemore Madhuku, chairperson of the NCA,
confirmed that he was aware of the ZCTU arrests, and stated
that he is currently in hiding due to reports that the GOZ is
also searching for the NCA's leaders. Madhuku believes that
they have achieved 25-30% participation in the stayaway among
workers in the Harare area, although the response outside of
Harare is believed to be much lower. Currently, the NCA's
reports indicate 10% participation in Bulawayo and 20%
participation in Mutare, Gweru and Masvingo. Overall,
Madhuku estimates a 20% participation rate nationwide.

4. (SBU) Madhuku speculated on several causes which might
have had an impact on participation. He stated that (as with
the failed ZCTU stayaway in March) a lack of clear
communication may have limited worker response. Madhuku also
theorized that some employers may have refused to grant
absence without pay, which could have dampened the enthusiasm
of some workers in this harsh economic climate, especially as
the expensive outlays of the annual holiday season approach.
One strategy contemplated by the NCA was to have youths stand
at commuter omnibus stops to prevent workers from boarding
public transport. However, due to reported police presence
at some bus stops this morning, that strategy apparently
failed. There are unconfirmed reports of protests in some of
the high density areas, including reports that a commuter
omnibus was set on fire by youths in the Kuwadzana area.
(Comment: Kuwadzana was the former seat of recently deceased
MDC parliamentarian Learnmore Jongwe. This area, which will
be strongly contested by ZANU-PF in the upcoming by-election,
has been the recipient of massive political attention --
including reports of food distributions solely benefitting
ZANU-PF cardholders -- in recent weeks. End comment.)

Companies Report Little Impact
------------------------------

5. (SBU) Although many employers are reluctant to give much
information over the phone due to fears of GOZ retribution,
several firms with American ties report little impact from
the stayaway. While most companies are open for business,
several have reported that some workers were late but ascribe
this to the ever-present transport difficulties.

Street Traffic Lighter, Security Presence Heavier than Usual
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

6. (SBU) The traffic on the streets -- both pedestrian and
vehicular -- is somewhat lighter than usual, although there
are several alternative explanations. Zimbabwean schools are
not in session, which generally means less omnibus traffic.
In the downtown area, anecdotal reports indicate that in
areas where parking spaces were completely occupied by 0830
yesterday morning, only about 2/3 were occupied at the same
time this morning. While some observers attribute this to
the fuel shortage rather than participation in the stayaway,
others note that those who drive private vehicles -- managers
and professionals -- would be less likely to support a mass
action stayaway than the rank-and-file workers, who are more
likely to commute via commuter omnibus.

7. (SBU) There is an increased military and police presence
on the streets, although even the MDC concedes that this is
"nothing too significant." Laboff and visiting Deskoff,
returning from an offsite meeting, noticed a passing
transport truck loaded with police decked out in riot gear.
Despite the increased security presence, there have been no
reports of confrontations between security forces and
stayaway supporters in the business districts. However, two
separate sources have reported confrontations with police in
Chitungwiza and Mabvuku, high-density areas surrounding
Harare, in which people stoned vehicles including public
transport buses.

Comment
-------

8. (SBU) Consistent with previous expectations, see reftels
a and b, there was little hope of widespread participation in
this stayaway without massive buy-in from labor groups as
well as other members of civic society. Although the NCA and
the MDC were hoping for support from the ZCTU, the labor
organization has never publicly endorsed the calls for mass
action optimistically scheduled for this week. The ZCTU has
been very reluctant to call for participation in an action
which was not widely communicated and clearly destined to
succeed. The GOZ's actions in pre-emptively arresting the
ZCTU's leadership, however, speak loudly to the nervousness
of ZANU-PF. These arrests, ironically, may well spur the
ZCTU to a more aggressive response than they would otherwise
have chosen. With eleven top ZCTU elected officials arrested
despite their failure to endorse a mass stayaway, the GOZ may
have forced the ZCTU into a corner from which calls for mass
action are the only legitimate response.
WHITEHEAD

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