Creation of guerilla armies in Southern Rhodesia

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By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

NORTHERN Rhodesia became the independent state of Zambia on October 24 1964 while Nyasaland had become Malawi on July 6 1964.
There was an internationally acknowledged inter-racial political impasse over Southern Rhodesia and it was obvious and inevitable that a war would have to be waged to resolve the matter.
It is historically true that Joshua Nkomo had on several occasions warned that the Southern Rhodesian situation was ‘explosive’ and needed to be dealt with urgently.
Successive British governments paid more attention to political, economic, social and security interests of the Southern Rhodesia minority white settlers than to those of the majority black indigenous masses to whom the 1961 Constitution granted 15 out of 65 parliamentary seats.
Southern Rhodesia black leaders called for the boycott of the general elections under that Constitution.
As should be expected in such a political situation, some black opportunists stood in those December 1963 general elections, and 14 of them were retained.
A white independent lawyer, A. Palley, won the Highfield constituency, becoming the 15th ‘B’ Roll MP.
The African nationalists, of course, boycotted those elections, and continued to campaign for an armed revolution.
We must understand that the geo-cultural environment was at that time characterised by much hostility towards African nationalist ideas as the region was under either British or Portuguese colonial rule.
The South African Boer regime was breathing fire south of the Limpopo River, passing a series of draconian laws to suppress the black people’s voice.
To the east of Southern Rhodesia was Mozambique which was by then generally referred to by the Western European nations as ‘Portuguese East Africa’, a Portuguese politically-dominated territory whose racial policy was based on an old Lusitanian practice called ‘assimilado’.
That was in reference to a socio-cultural practice by which black people who were deemed to be enlightened enough were allowed to mix and integrate with white people.
The assimilado practice had been in existence for many decades but did not have any political merits to show.
Black people in Mozambique were so ruthlessly suppressed that corporal punishment was quite common, especially on the farms (prazos).
The Portuguese would use a type of five-pronged sjambok, appropriately called palmatoria to administer corporal punishment on black people’s bare backs.
That practice originated in the slave trade era, but survived in all Portuguese colonies until virtually they were liberated.
This oppression, persecution and exploitation of the black people in Mozambique forced many of them to seek employment and refuge in Southern Rhodesia.
Their large numbers, plus those of black people from Nyasaland, made it impossible to use labour organisations to force the Rhodesia regime to introduce liberal or democratic measures in the country.
The foreign blacks would not co-operate with Zimbabwean trade unions.
Some of the trade unions, especially in the mining and other cultural industries, were led by some of these foreign blacks.
We see in this way that in the mid-1960s, Zimbabwean freedom fighters could not regard Mozambique as of any strategic use to their projected guerilla warfare.
That migrant labour element weakened the Zimbabwean black trade union movement by not co-operating with calls for strikes called by Zimbabwean labour and nationalist organisations.
Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) is the western neighbour of Zimbabwe.
In 1964, it was still administered by the British Government whose well-known colonial system of indirect rule employed tribal authorities.
There was no possibility of using that land (which shares almost 500km of a dry border with Southern Rhodesia) for guerilla warfare.
The British authorities were based in Mafeking, and co-operated with the Rhodesian regime, especially for the smooth operations of the then jointly-owned Rhodesia Railways (RR) which ran from Mafeking eastwards as far as Mutare, and as far north as the Copperbelt in Zambia.
So, the BP was also of no strategic use to the Zimbabwean leaders’ plan to launch a guerilla war to free their country.
All they could ask for was to be granted refugee status and no more.
That position was maintained by the Botswana Government even after that country’s attainment of independence in 1966 which the author of the account attended officially on behalf of ZAPU.
He presented an official request to the newly-installed Botswana President, Sir Seretse Khama, for the new state to allow ZAPU guerillas to pass through Botswana from Zambia and also to return via Botswana in case of need.
Sir Seretse and his then deputy, Sir Keitumile Masire, told him in no uncertain terms that such a policy could endanger the very existence of Botswana as an independent state.
The Botswana leaders said quite emphatically that: “Such a policy could have very serious repercussions to Botswana.”
That meant, in simple practical terms, that the liberation of Zimbabwe could depend on virtually only one contiguous neighbouring country, Zambia, for effective support to launch and sustain a guerilla warfare. There was much talk about Zimbabweans being not different from Algerians who had waged a seven-year-long liberation war (from 1954 to 1961) that kicked out their French colonisers.
That talk recognised, of course, the very important, strategic roles played by such contiguous Algerian neighbours as Morocco and Tunisia in the Algerian war of independence.
In Zimbabwe’s case, the initial stages of the liberation war placed the burden of logistical support on literally two countries, Tanzania and Zambia.
In 1964, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was just about only a year old, and was adversely affected by petty regional leadership rivalries, the world’s bi-polar ideological camps, the Moscow-Peking schism, some individual leaders’ reactionary tendencies, and economic poverty that made it impossible for some OAU member-states to meet their annual contributions to that continental organisation.
Countries that stood head and shoulders for the immediate and unconditional defeat of colonialism were the Soviet Union, China, India, Egypt, Algeria, Ghana, Guinea, (Conakry) Cuba, North Vietnam, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Cyprus, South Yemen, Kenya, the German Democratic Republic, Syria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia and Ethiopia.
The very first Zimbabwean national leaders who took practical steps to build guerilla armies, one for ZANU and the other for ZAPU in Zambia, were Henry Hamadziripi, John Mataure, Josiah Magama Tongogara, Noel Mukono, Simpson Mutambanegwe and several others such as Washington Malianga and a Ntini.
Dr Nathan Shamuyarira was at that time attached to the University of Dar es Salaam, but played a prominent role in the promotion of various ZANU activities.
Advocate Herbert Chitepo, who was the ZANU National Chairman, was initially attached to the Tanzanian Government’s Ministry of Justice as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) but soon resigned from that very important post to become a full time ZANU official.
The ZAPU group was headed by James Robert Dambaza Chikerema, who was Joshua Nkomo’s deputy president; George ‘Bonzo’ Nyandoro, who was ZAPU’s secretary-general; Jason ‘Ziyapapa’ Moyo, the ZAPU treasurer-general; T. G. Silundika, the ZAPU publicity and information secretary; and Edward Silonda Ndlovu joined that team a little later.
Jane Lungile Ngwenya, ZAPU secretary for Women Affairs, joined her ZAPU national executive colleagues in the mid-1960s soon after she was released from detention at Gonakudzingwa.
The above leaders were committed cadres who spearheaded the creation of the two guerilla armies, ZANLA for ZANU and ZIPRA for ZAPU.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. sgwakuba@gmail.com

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