Chinhoyi Battle: The aftermath


ZIMBABWE was not accorded the privilege of a gradual political, social and economic change free of pain.
To achieve independence, to dislodge the colonialists from power, nationalists had to change, radically, from what had been standard procedure in other African countries.
Initially the nationalists sought an ‘orderly’ revolution characterised mostly by peaceful protests.
But at every turn, the Rhodesian establishment made it clear they would not grant blacks power to self-govern, countering peaceful protests with brutality involving incarceration and torture.
Thus, on August 8 1963, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) was formed by ZAPU members who felt passive resistance was no longer tenable.
The new party that had decided to wage an armed struggle sent its first squad of recruits, led by comrades Emmerson Mnangagwa, Shadreck Chipanga and others, to China for training in guerilla warfare the same year, 1963.
The fundamental demand by nationalists in Rhodesia was then, as it had been since 1890, to solve the land question, do away with repression and bring back democracy.
And the colonialists had vowed that majority rule would not be achieved, not even in a thousand years.
The armed liberation struggle began with numerous acts of sabotage by ZANU cadres trained in Ghana, Algeria, Tanzania and China.
The famous ‘Crocodile Gang’ and others carried out acts of sabotage across the country.
But on April 28 1966, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) scored what authors of The Struggle for Zimbabwe, David Martin and Phyllis Johnson, describe as a publicity coup, which had a profound psychological and political significance, at the Battle of Chinhoyi, where seven guerillas died in a fierce encounter with the Rhodesians.
The Chinhoyi Battle became the single most important event in the liberation struggle.
It was a crucial lesson on how-to and how-not-to wage the liberation struggle.
In interviews carried out by Martin and Johnson, ZANU’s Political Commissar, Mayor Urimbo revealed that: “We thought that it was easy to just go and get a gun and go and fight in Zimbabwe… but it was very difficult for that group in 1966.
That is why they failed.
It was very simple for them to go and fight but very hard for them to retreat.
It was realised that people had to be mobilised if we were to conduct a successful struggle.
Tongogara (Josiah, ZANLA Commander) in particular had learned in China that it was vital to mobilise the people and it was that lesson which shaped future strategy.
He brought the new strategy which said if you want to win a revolution, it is not only a revolution of the gun but a revolution of mobilising the masses.”
In a paper delivered at the International Conference on Southern African History at Lesotho University in August 1977, Simbi Mubako, a law lecturer at Lusaka University and Zimbabwe’s first Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs said “…the gallant effort displayed by the pioneer band of freedom fighters was not and could not be sustained.
That particular battle could in any case not have been won by a small group of guerillas surprised and subjected to superior ground and air bombardment.”
After the Chinhoyi Battle, leaders of the liberation struggle fully understood that war was ‘organised action’ that could not be conducted by fighters operating without the full co-operation of the masses.
For guerilla war to be successful, it had to take advantage of social discontent, racial ferment and nationalistic fervour among the people.
“A revolutionary war is never confined within the bounds of military action because its purpose is to destroy an existing society and its institutions and to replace them with a completely new state structure, any revolutionary war is a unity of which the constituents’ parts, in varying importance, are military, political, economic, social and psychological,” said Military and War History student Tawanda Magunje.
“Guerilla war is a kind of war waged initially by the few but dependent on the support of the many.
Although in some quarters it is described as the most individual form of action, it can only operate effectively and attain its end when collectively backed by the sympathy of the masses.
That is why it tends to be most effective if it blends an appeal to national resistance or desire for independence thus becoming revolutionary in a wider sense.”
The most important lesson from the battle was that it was not enough to just arm the freedom fighters and send them to fight.
What Rhodesians deemed a decisive victory in Chinhoyi was the foundation of their eventual defeat.
The Rhodesians went home to nap, feeling secure the enemy had been quashed; so they thought.
But for the next five or so years the guerilla leaders restrategised.
According to the late ZANU Chairman Herbert Chitepo, in The Struggle for Zimbabwe: “We… correct(ed) this tragic error by politicising and mobilising the people before mounting any attacks against the enemy.
After politicising our people, it became easier for them to co-operate with us and to identify with our programme.”
Understanding that for the guerilla movement to succeed and not repeat the 1966 oversight, leaders got working to get the masses to willingly aid the struggle by positively providing information and supplies and negatively by withholding information from the colonialists.
The next wave after 1966 was unstoppable, it was a tide that grew to engulf the Rhodesians for it was steeped in the masses.
From the aftermath of the Chinhoyi Battle, the guerilla leaders spent a great deal more time in organisation, instruction as well as agitation; explaining, persuading, discussing and convincing the masses.
While Rhodesians fed themselves feel-good messages, on December 4 1971 two guerillas, Justin Chauke and Amon Zindoga, crossed into Rhodesia near Mukumbura on the north-eastern frontier from Mozambique’s Tete Province.
Their mission was to begin laying the groundwork for a protracted guerilla warfare, organising, consolidating and preserving the support of the masses.
According to historians Paul Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin in The Rhodesian War: A Military History: “ZANLA skillfully enlisted the support of local spirit mediums who assisted in the politicisation of the local people.
The guerillas constantly hammered home the theme that the liberation war of the 1970s was a continuation of the Chimurenga struggle of the 1890s.
Soon large columns of guerillas with tribesman acting as porters were winding their way into Rhodesia from Mozambique’s Tete Province.
Rhodesian intelligence had got wind of the ZANLA build-up, although not its extent.”
The Chinhoyi Battle showed that laxity in security was fatal and that it was a matter of life and death that the enemy be kept ‘in the dark’ while the guerillas operated in the light of superior local knowledge which was combined with reliable news about the enemy’s dispositions and moves.
With the guerillas being fish and the people water, leaders of the struggle ensured the ‘water was at the right temperature’ and was kept there until independence was won.
When the war was resumed in earnest on December 21 1972 with the attack on Altena Farm in north-eastern Zambezi Valley area, there was no stopping the guerillas; even the Détente period could not stem the tide.
Where as in 1965 the Rhodesians gloated, describing the guerillas as ‘inferior’, by 1979, the same had become an overwhelming force which the Rhodies could not do anything about but relent and surrender.


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