In May 2005, the Government of Zimbabwe launched Operation Murambatsvina (OM), a state-sponsored campaign to stifle independent economic and political activity in the country’s urban areas. This article employs a national probability sample survey to analyze the popular reactions of ordinary Zimbabweans to this landmark event. It shows that the application of state repression s쳮ds at some goals, fails at others, and has powerful unintended effects.
We report that the scope of OM was wide and that its main victims of OM were younger, unemployed families whom state security agents saw as potential recruits for social unrest. While OM undoubtedly disrupted the informal economy, we show that it did not s쳮d in banishing urban dwellers to rural areas or permanently shutting down informal trade. Moreover, the crackdown thoroughly discredited the police and other state institutions. We also demonstrate that state repression backfired by emboldening its victims, deepening polarization between political parties, and fortifying the ranks of Zimbabwe’s opposition movement.A revised version of the paper has been published in African Affairs Volume 105, Issue 421, September 2006.