Assassination attempts on Cde Mugabe


AT midnight on December 28 1979, a ceasefire agreement to stop the war between liberation and Rhodesian forces came into effect in Rhodesia.
This paved way for an election road map and the meeting of all guerillas at various Assembly Points dotted around the country.
The Rhodesians expected Bishop Abel Muzorewa to win the general election.
The Telegraph of February 11 1980 reported that Cde Robert Mugabe, then ZANU (PF) leader and firm favourite to win the election with a landslide, had survived an assassination attempt.
This was not the first attempt.
Cde Mugabe narrowly escaped death when 80 pounds of remote-controlled explosives were detonated under a convoy of cars taking him to the then Fort Victoria Airport (Masvingo).
He was on his way back to Salisbury (Harare) from a campaign rally in Fort Victoria.
As his convoy drove down the airport access road, the explosives, set in a large drainage pipe under the paved road, were detonated by a remote control switch about 90 feet (about 20m) away, the police said.
A week earlier, a grenade had been thrown at Cde Mugabe’s Salisbury (Harare) home.
The assassination attempts were no surprise considering that independent surveys pointed out ZANU (PF) would win most of the parliamentary seats.
The popularity of the party was amply demonstrated at Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield where a crowd of close to
250 000 turned up to welcome the ZANU (PF) leader, Cde Mugabe.
Other leaders contesting in the elections, Rev Ndabaningi Sithole and Bishop Abel Muzorewa, could not match these numbers.
Sithole attracted a small crowd and there was a marked lack of enthusiasm at the Bishop’s rallies.
Perhaps, this could have triggered the Highfield assassination attempt.
The Rhodies, despite their bravado, could read the signs that their end was nigh.
During the campaign period families held discussions and kraal heads met. The general impression was that people would vote for ZANU (PF) because apart from its policies, they wanted peace and Mugabe had proved that he could end the war.
They also wanted socialism since they knew that Muzorewa would perpetuate an economy dominated by whites.
Muzorewa had been given a chance, in the short-lived Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, but had not made any difference or delivered anything tangible for the black majority.
Commanders of the Rhodesian security forces informed General Peter Walls of this dominance by ZANU (PF) and he tried to persuade Lord Soames, the temporary governor sent out by Britain to preside over the election, to disqualify ZANU (PF).
Soames gave Mugabe several warnings, but took no further action to prevent ZANU (PF) from taking part in the election.
This led to the Rhodesian establishment seeking other ways to eliminate Mugabe.
Prior to the election, a military intelligence paper was prepared by Rhodesian officers, setting out the possible courses of action to prevent PF and ZANU (PF) from winning the general election.
A second intelligence paper predicted a victory for Cde Mugabe and warned this could precipitate a rush of victorious ‘terrorists’ into the capital, Salisbury, confronting white civilians and the security forces.
Further studies described what would be ‘Vital Assets Ground’ in the event of this happening and detailed action that would need to be taken to retain these strategic areas.
These intelligence papers probably formed the basis of the plan code named ‘Operation Quartz’.
This plan envisaged placing Rhodesian troops at strategic points from which they could simultaneously wipe out the liberation fighters at the Assembly Points and assassinate Cde Mugabe and the other ‘terrorist’ leaders at their campaign headquarters.
The strike would be assisted by Puma helicopters of the South African Air Force and would involve the participation of elite Recce units of the South African army.
Operation Quartz was apparently based on the assumption that if Cde Mugabe was defeated in the elections, it would be necessary to carry out a strike against ZANU (PF) to prevent its forces from attempting a coup and taking over the country by force.
Although the full details of Operation Quartz have never been made public, some aspects of the plan have been revealed by former members of the security forces.
It was divided into two parts: Operation Quartz, an overt strike against the terrorists, and Operation Hectic, a covert strike to kill Cde Mugabe and his key personnel.
The Rhodesian security forces had been tasked with monitoring the pre-election activities and keeping the peace.
The covert part of the plan – Operation Hectic – was to be carried out by the elite troops of the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS).
‘A’ Squadron of the SAS would assassinate Cde Mugabe, while ‘B’ Squadron would take care of Cde Simon Muzenda and the 100-man contingent of ZANLA based in the Medical Arts Centre.
‘C’ Squadron was designated to take out the 200 ZIPRA and ZANLA men with their commanders Cdes (Rex Nhongo, Dumiso Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku).
As the voting drew to a close, the troops of the SAS, RLI and Selous Scouts waited eagerly for the code word ‘Quartz’ to be given.
They were impatient to get to grips at last with the enemy that had always used classic guerilla hit-and-run tactics.
However, the signal was never given.
The operation was cancelled and Cde Mugabe was announced as the victor; the people celebrated in the streets of Salisbury, while stunned Rhodesian troops watched in silence.
The reason for the cancellation of Operation Quartz is not known, but there are possible explanations.
One explanation offered is several attempts on Cde Mugabe had failed; so obviously he had an efficient security system.
Other assassination attempts include an attempt at Lancaster House Conference where a bomb was planted by Rhodesia’s SAS in the lobby of the conference venue.
Cde Mugabe was no Muzorewa and the Rhodesians knew they could never have their way with him, he represented the wishes of the masses and would not sell-out.
Mugabe was no Nkomo either, who had the patience to have bilateral negotiations with Smith in the hope of finding a solution.
Thus the desire to eliminate him at the talks.
Most probably the cunning General Walls devised many other attempts that failed.


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