and Chiratidzo Moyo
IN the book, The Rhodesian War, Paul Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin wrote: “Nobody in Rhodesia believed the ceasefire would hold.
Despite the mountain of pessimism, the British Governor and his staff were determined to try to make it work.”
Indeed, what seemed like a mammoth task to ensure a smooth transition from bitter fighting between freedom fighters and Rhodesian Forces to election period had to be accomplished.
To ensure the transition would not succumb to challenges, key to the historic Lancaster House discussions was the sensitive issue of ceasefire in Zimbabwe.
The Ceasefire and Lancaster House Constitutional Agreements were signed on December 21 1979 by Cdes Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo who represented the Patriotic Front (PF) and Bishop Abel Muzorewa.
Prior to this, Lord Carrington, the chair of the talks, had proposed military operations in Zimbabwe be limited to self-defence and commanders of the three armed forces ZANLA, ZIPRA and Rhodesian security forces come under the Governor’s control.
The PF shot down the suggestion.
They were not going to surrender their arms to the Governor.
The PF refused to surrender their territory and preferred a ceasefire in place.
Freedom fighters insisted specialised units of Rhodesian security forces like the SAS and Selous Scouts be disbanded.
Calls were made to disband Bishop Muzorewa and Reverend Sithole’s Auxiliary forces together with Rhodesia’s militarised police.
But there wasn’t enough time to achieve this within the limited period of the Ceasefire.
So these ill-disciplined forces remained a serious threat to the success of the Ceasefire.
The Rhodesian army, air force and police remained in place.
As a result, 15 000 South African, British, European and American mercenaries were to withdraw before the Ceasefire.
To ensure ceasefire terms were adhered to, a Commonwealth Ceasefire Monitoring Force (CCMF) was put in place.
Moorcraft and McLaughlin write: “No British Government for 15 years had dared to contemplate sending British troops to Rhodesia.
Now a predominantly British Commonwealth force was being sent into the middle of a war with only light arms.
The Commonwealth force was the key to peace.”
The force of 1 300, led by Major General Acland, was made up of 159 Australians, 75 New Zealanders, 51 Kenyans and 24 Fijian forces with the rest being British from 35 different units.
This number appears to be too small to have been able to monitor and keep apart, in case of conflict, thousands of belligerent forces only too eager to jump at each other’s throats.
Their task, code named ‘Operation Agila’, was to supervise movement of freedom fighters to Assembly Points.
Freedom fighters were to be in Assembly Points within eight days of the Ceasefire announcement.
Movement was to be completed by January 4 1980.
Those still outside were to be considered bandits and therefore cannon fodder for Rhodesian security forces tasked to assist the Commonwealth forces to maintain law and order.
As most of the monitoring forces were of British origin, the kith and kin factor tells us with whom they sympathised.
Owing to logistical problems, it was impossible for all freedom fighters to be at their designated places in eight days.
So the fate of some of those who fell into the hands of Rhodesians is frightening to imagine.
However, no force was to submit to another force and no side was to be disarmed by another.
Carrington announced the Ceasefire would be implemented in four stages.
All cross border activities would cease on December 28 1979.
All hostilities would cease and Rhodesian armed forces under the direction of the Governor would disengage to enable PF forces in Rhodesia to begin the process of assembling.
Security forces were to disengage and move into the close vicinity at the bases at company level
The Rhodesian Forces were to be monitored within 40 designated bases and two airfields – a dangerous arrangement as they were strategically positioned to pounce on Assembly Points if they so desired.
ZANLA and ZIPRA forces would also proceed via rendezvous points to the 16 Assembly Points under the direction of their commanders and monitoring force.
Small groups of CCMF troops camped near Assembly Points to give token reassurance that the Rhodesian air force would not bomb the area.
Patriotic forces, who had not assembled, would be declared rogue.
However, despite signing the Ceasefire agreement, there was disgruntlement by the PF on the proposed location of the Assembly Points.
The location of the Assembly Points at the periphery of Zimbabwe meant the withdrawal of Patriotic forces from territory under their control, mostly in the central part of Zimbabwe.
It left the Rhodesian forces with strategic dominance in the event of the ceasefire breaking down.
On December 25 1979, a series of broadcasts by Cdes Rex Nhongo (Solomon Mujuru) and Lookout Masuku ordered ZANLA and ZIPRA guerillas to report to their nearest Assembly Points.
Commanders were sent into the war zones to make contact with Sectorial and Provincial Commanders of both ZIPRA and ZANLA forces to speedily move the guerillas into Assembly Points.
The Assembly Points were far and wide in many areas.
Cde Perence Shiri, Commander Tete Province, had three Assembly Points, Alpha, Bravo and Delta in Mukumbura, Shamva and Mudzi respectively.
Cde Paradzai Zimondi, Commander Manica Province, had the biggest and most widely dispersed under him.
There was Echo Assembly Point at Elim Mission, north of Nyanga and then Foxtrot at Dzapasi in Buhera.
Cde Rex Tichafa was allocated Golf, Hotel and Kilo Assembly Points in Chiredzi and Matobo.
ZIPRA had six Assembly Points; Romeo, Mike, Kilo, Papa, Lima and X-Ray.
Only 9 000 guerillas from both sides met the January 4 deadline.
By January 6 1980, 15 730 freedom fighters had heeded the call to assemble in Assembly Points.
Numbers ranged from 30 in one Assembly Point to 6 000 in others.
By January 9 1980, more than 20 634 had gathered and numbers continued to increase to 22 000.
Moorcraft and McLaughlin note that, of the 22 000 freedom fighters, 16 500 were ZANLA, while 5 500 were from ZIPRA.
An estimated 17 000 ZANLA fighters were still in Mozambique and 10 000 ZIPRA in Zambia.
This of course would be a more effective deterrent than the monitoring forces to some mischievous Rhodesians who might have wanted to attack the Assembly Points.
Movement to Assembly Points was derailed by a number of reasons.
The presence of landmines that had been planted by Rhodesians posed a threat.
“Tens of thousands of mines were laid by the Rhodesians along 750km of the border,” notes Moorcraft and McLaughlin.
“Some maps of the minefields were incomplete; even in well mapped areas the rains had shifted many of the devices.
“Twenty five security force engineers were killed and 91 lost their limbs while putting the mines down.”
The idea of being ‘locked up’ in Assembly Points did not amuse freedom fighters who were confident they had defeated Rhodesians on the warfront.
Morale in Assembly Points was low.
Freedom fighters reckoned freedom was theirs and wanted to enjoy it.
For them, the move was just meant to cut their ties with the masses.
“Many guerillas were angry and bored,” writes Moorcraft and McLaughlin.
“They did not want to stay cooped up for two months until the election results were announced.
“Many of them wanted to get out and join the guerillas who had remained outside the Assembly Points.”