Events on the war front


and Gracious Mugovera
IN his book Negotiating Across Cultures, Raymond Cohen reveals, “Peter Walls, the head of military, had publicly stated that the war against the black guerillas was unwinnable.
“In private, Rhodesia’s top military and intelligence officials believed that the Rhodesian military was losing to the guerillas and that it would be a matter of time before the Rhodesian forces faced elimination.”
It is such revelations by Cohen Rhodesians to this day are downplaying.
The story they peddle is that, had it not been for the Lancaster House negotiations, Zimbabwe would not have attained independence.
Facts on the ground are clear; the liberation struggle was won through the gun.
Freedom fighter and educationist Fay Chung thrashes Rhodesians’ theory in her book Reliving the Second Chimurenga: Memories from the Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe.
“White Rhodesians were fighting for the economic advantages that the continuation of the war was rapidly destroying,” she writes.
“The Rhodesian regime knew it was totally unable to win the war by military means.
“Continuation of the war would only lead to certain defeat.
“It would also lead to greater bloodshed and further destruction of the infrastructure.”
Before the Lancaster House negotiations kicked off, the odds were now tilted in favour of freedom fighters.
They were not backing off.
Whites had to think fast, hence the proposal for the Lancaster House talks.
Statistics show that between December 1972 and January 1980, 1 047 members of the security forces were killed in action and one third of these were Europeans.
The economy was heavily affected as call-ups cut into every sector of the economy.
Rhodesian fighters were now outnumbered.
Locals, irked by the unfair treatment they were receiving at the hands of whites and the excellent mobilisation skills by freedom fighters, saw it fit to join the struggle.
It was now mandatory that men under 38 spend not less than seven months ‘in the bush’ each year.
The Rhodesian Government was forking out one million Rhodesian dollars per day to finance operations.
This was no longer sustainable.
There was only one way out.
In his book Mukiwa, Peter Godwin aptly describes the changes during that era.
“The war was entering an entirely new phase,” he writes.
“So much was going on all over the place that it was difficult to keep up.
“I knew vaguely that the latest round of talks between Ian Smith and Matabele nationalist Joshua Nkomo (Leader of ZAPU and commander-in-chief of its military wing, ZIPRA) had recently collapsed, and  that both Smith and General Peter Walls, the commander of Combined Operations, had warned of an upsurge in terrorist infiltration into the country.
“I picked up another paper and looked at the banner headline, ‘National Service to Increase’.”
Freedom fighters had become fearless.
They were engaging in battles.
There were no signs of retreating.
Godwin writes on how Rhodesian fighters were attacked in a club in the then Salisbury.
“La Boheme, one of the Salisbury nightclubs that we had frequented during training, had been attacked by guerrillas,” he writes.
“For the first time, the war was spreading out of tribal areas into the ranching district.
“Matabele guerillas from ZIPRA had started to infiltrate in a big way now.”
In acts of desperation, Rhodesians waged uncalled for attacks on refugee camps and set up Protected Villages to cut support from freedom fighters from locals.
In 1977, Rhodesians attacked Chimoio Refugee Camp in Mozambique and in October 1978, Rhodesian Air Force units attacked a ZIPRA training camp in Lusaka, Zambia.
In both cases, unarmed refugees were killed.
Paul Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin in the book The Rhodesian War, describe some of the desperate moves by Rhodies to try and contain the war.
“In due course it was made a punishable offence not to report the presence of guerillas in an area, and rewards of
Rh$5 000 or more were offered for information leading to the death or capture of guerillas and the seizure of arms caches,” they write.
“In early 1973, Africans living in the Chiweshe and Madziwa TTLs were sealed into the first PVs.
“By the end of 1976, 41 PVs had been established with another 138 in various stages of construction.”
These moves, Moorcraft and McLaughlin write, would ensure Rhodesians ‘buy time’ to negotiate with moderate black leaders.
However, the writers note ‘the Patriotic Front was neither awed nor keen to negotiate an end to the war.’
“By April 1977, the Rhodesian Government conceded that about 2 350 guerillas were active in the four operational areas: 500 in Hurricane, 1 000 in Thrasher, 650 in Repulse and 200 in Tangent,” write Moorcraft and McLaughlin.
Given the prevailing situation on the ground, freedom fighters soldiered on.
Following the Chimoio attack, the ZANLA High Command organised a ‘revenge’ attack on one of the biggest Rhodesian air bases, the Grand Reef in Mutare.
Upon the successful completion of Grand Reef mission, freedom fighters gunned down a Rhodesian helicopter.
In August 1977, the rail line to the then Sinoia (Chinhoyi) was sabotaged on the outskirts of the then Salisbury.
One of the most devastating attacks was on August 7 when a bomb planted in Woolworth Store in the capital went off.
On December 11 1978, freedom fighters attacked BP and Shell Petrol Depot in the then Salisbury.
The attack on the depot can be described as the mission that turned the tide against the Rhodesians.
It is the attack that delivered a blow that shook Rhodesians psychologically, politically, economically and militarily.
Key figures in the execution of the mission were Air Marshal Perence Shiri, the then provincial commander of Tete Province, Cde Member Kuvhiringidza, Cde Lobo, Cde Take Time, Cde Nhamo Mukumbuzi and Cde State Mudzvanyiriri.
On September 3 1978, ZIPRA forces shot down an Air Rhodesia Viscount with a SAM-7 missile.
Of the 53 people on board, only 18 survived the crash.
On February 1979, ZIPRA forces shot down another Viscount in which General Peter Walls was supposed to be a passenger: Air Rhodesia Flight 827 from Kariba to Salisbury was hit by a SAM-7.
The attacks in the capital were indeed wake-up calls for Rhodesians.
One thing was certain, freedom fighters were not going to be cowed.
Rhodesians pushed for the Lancaster House talks to save face.
The Rhodies preferred a scenario where it would appear that independence for Zimbabwe had been negotiated and delivered as a result of white benevolence.
The Rhodies had been cornered and there was nowhere to run.


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