The 1972 spark that started the revolution


Chakamwe Chakamwe

AS we approach the 41st anniversary of the decisive phase of the Second Chimurenga – The Zimbabwe Liberation war of the 1970s which began on December 21 1972, it is time to take stock as well as celebrate that great occasion with a lot of pride and joy.
Let us relive that great event for a moment.
“In the early hours of December 21 1972 all was quiet at the Centenary (Muzarabani) homestead at Altena Farm of Marc De Borchgrave (popularly known as Maka).
Suddenly the still night was disturbed by chatter of AK rifles and shots sprayed the brickwork of the homestead and shattered the glass in several windows”. “Besides attacking Maka’s home, the ZANLA freedom fighters also attacked a neighbouring farm called Whistlefield and most importantly laid a land mine on the road between the two farms.
“Shortly after the attack on Whistlefield Farm a security force vehicle responding to the attack alarm detonated a landmine.
One European soldier died and three others were wounded. Then in a further landmine incident another three soldiers were wounded”.
The freedom fighters also blew up ‘Maka’s’ farm shopping centre.
Yes, Rhodesia was then on fire and happily for the average Zimbabwean the decisive phase of the Second Chimurenga had begun.
But what did the attack on Maka’s house and the start of the Second Chimurenga mean to the Rhodesians.
Boy Oh boy! The Rhodesians panicked like rats. Yes, they began running all over the show like headless chicken.
You know, the way people that have been caught with their pants down behave is exactly how the Rhodesians acted. They suddenly saw freedom fighters everywhere – homes, farms, streets, schools, churches, football matches, – everywhere. And everyone wearing a black skin overnight became a ‘terrorist’ (freedom fighter)! Shame!
It was therefore not surprising that soon after the attack on Maka’s farm, every black man in the villages in and around the white Centenary farming area got into deep trouble.
Everyone from the villages like Mhene, Chapitura, Chiweshe etc were rounded up and taken to St Albert’s Mission where a fence erected on bare ground, became the new home of the victims who were accused of failing to report the presence of “terrorists” to the Rhodesian authorities.
Human rights abuses became the order of the day in Muzarabani.
All the rural villagers were eventually moved into the Zambezi Valley area where they were put into concentration camps.
All their property such as cattle, goats, etc were confisticated by the Rhodies.
The abuses soon spread throughout the country with the spread of the war.
But that only pushed the Second Chimurenga forward.
On the military front the Rhodesians began to mobilise like crazy.
Every Rhodesian boy from age 17 became a soldier.
Mercenaries from the United States, United Kingdom and other parts of Europe came to join the Rhodesian forces and were to remain a permanent failure of their army all to the end.
The South African apartheid forces came up north too and became part and parcel of the Rhodesian army in all its facets.
The Rhodesian army itself was totally transformed to meet the new freedom fighter challenge.
Death squads were created and given the untouchable status.
Then would kill and torture without being accountable.
Of these death squads was the notorious Selous Scouts which had direct access to the Chief Rhodesian War supremo- general Peter Walls and had a direct hotline to the South African military headquarters.
“The Selous Scouts regiment of Rhodesia was formed in 1973.
Its purpose on formation was the clandestine elimination of ZANLA and ZIPRA terrorists within and outside Rhodesia.”
Practically the Selous Scouts posed as freedom fighters and killed many many innocent Zimbabweans with impunity.
Their motto became the end justifies the means. As the liberation war progressed, the Selous Scouts became the chief murder weapon in Rhodesian hands.
And when the war got completely out of hand for the Rhodesians once ZANLA had started operating from Mozambique , the Rhodesians created another death squad which was based inside Mozambique.
The death squad was called Renamo whose members were trained at Odzi outside Mutare by Rhodesian intelligence.
The Renamo bandits became the Rhodesian’s eyes and ears in Mozambique as far as ZANLA was concerned.
They also played a sabotage role as far as Mozambique’s economy was concerned.
They blew up power stations, dams, railways, bridges etc. The crimes which the Rhodesians committed in an effort to win the war are unbelievable. But the liberation war was unstoppable.
On the military hardware front , the Rhodesians strengthened their airforce many times over.
For example the helicopter, which all along was used as a mere transport vehicle to ferry troops from A to B was turned into a lethal weapon. It became fitted with heavy weapons such as 7.5 heavy machine guns and 20mm canons.
New efficient fighter bombers such as electric Canberra bombers were acquired. Illegal bombs such as Napalin were even acquired and used in battle.
On top of this the South African apartheid airforce became a permanent support act of the Rhodesian Airforce joining them on big air raids. South Africa mirage jets were always on standby if required.
But Rhodesia was besieged. White homes were barricaded and white women went shopping with FN rifles in some places! Yes, the Rhodies were put into a tight corner once the decisive phase of the Second Chimurenga had started.
They never got out of there until they surrendered in 1980.
On the part of the freedom fighters, the attack on Altena Farm acted as a clarion call for every oppressed Zimbabwean to join the freedom fighters.
Lots of young men left their homes, workplaces, schools etc. Soon many war zones had been opened starting with Muzarabani, Mount Darwin, Mazowe and then when ZANLA moved to Mozambique, the floodgates opened.
The entire country became a war zone. “Vana veZimbabwe vanga vava kuda nyika yavo.”
On the weapons front, the freedom fighters acquired a lot of weapons and sophisticated ones as well when they became friends with a lot of progressive countries overseas — Romania, the former Yugoslavia, North Korea, Lybia etc.
Add to this the countries that had always supported the freedom fighters, Russia and China and you had the situation where the freedom fighters covered the entire country and were heavily armed.
And because the freedom fighters stretched the Rhodesians to breaking point the racists stood no chance of winning the war.
No wonder since the Altena attack one success followed another for the freedom fighters until the Rhodesians were defeated in 1979 bringing about our independence in 1980.
But we must never forget but give credit to the courageous freedom fighters who started it all on December 21 1972 at Altena Farm in Muzarambani district.
It is therefore important that we must always celebrate December 21 each year for on this day in 1972 ZANLA freedom fighters lit a spark that started our successful Second Chimurenga revolution.


  1. This story is bollocks: Canberra bombers were added to the RhAF in the 1950s and 60s. Protected Villages (PVs) or Keeps came about in 1976 onwards. I lived in Mount Darwin during the war and there was no panic. Tell history as it really.


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