The evils of biological warfare


IN a paper titled, Rhodesian Anthrax:The Use of Bacteriological and Chemical Agents during the Liberation War of 1965-80, former CIA Intelligence Officer Ian Martinez quotes a Rhodesian officer who attested to the fact that the outbreak was a planned mission.

“It is true that anthrax spoor was used in an experimental role in the Gutu, Chilimanzi, Masvingo and Mberengwa areas, and the anthrax idea came from army PSYOPS (Psychological Operations Unit),” quotes Martinez.

“The use of anthrax spoor to kill off the cattle of tribesmen was carried out in conjunction with the psychological suggestion to the tribes people that their cattle were sick and dying because of disease introduced into Zimbabwe from Mozambique by the infiltrating guerillas.”

It is not surprising to note that minimal effects were recorded in farming areas reserved for the white farmers.

In contrast to the devastating effects in tribal trust lands, only 11 cases of human infections were reported, with no deaths in the white farmers’ community.

The land that had been allocated to locals was mostly arid, whereas the areas reserved for whites were relatively fertile hence the alkalinity in the soil while the arid conditions would be ideal for the spread of anthrax.

The second reason Rhodesians would use anthrax was that by destroying food stocks in rural areas, the original goals of ‘Operation Turkey’ would be enhanced.

Under Operation Turkey, there was a rural food rationing programme that had been put in place to ensure that locals did not continue to feed freedom fighters.

“Food was used as a weapon in Rhodesia, therefore, it is conceivable that the anthrax programme was meant to destroy Shona wealth and food processing,” writes Martinez.

“By denying the guerillas food, their morale would sink as their supply lines would be unable to support them.

The CIO hoped the guerillas would merely starve in the field.”

The efforts were fruitless.

Freedom fighters were not backing down.

They were not going to let hunger or any attempts by Rhodesians to discourage them stand in their way.

They were committed.

All they wanted was an independent Zimbabwe.

The attack on animals was also a move to demoralise locals. 

In a research paper titled, Poison in the Rhodesian Bush War, Colm Wittenberg highlights that Rhodesians were aware of the value attached to cattle in the African society.

“As in other parts of Southern Africa, wealth is primarily measured by the number of cattle one has, therefore, without cattle to measure their wealth, rural blacks’ morale would sink and support for the uprising would end,” he writes. 

“For example: There is always hardship, but if cattle die, the family loses its source of wealth; without motive power for ploughing, crops cannot be planted, leading to no food, no money to purchase food, pay school fees, bus fares, taxes, or buy the essentials to life.

The family is reduced to grinding poverty and malnutrition becomes rife.”

Rhodesians were stopping at nothing to ensure that locals suffered but like the freedom fighters, they remained resilient.

They had suffered enough under the Smith regime.

They held on.

In a research paper titled, Anthrax Epizootic in Zimbabwe, biological warfare epidemiologist Meryl Nass, for the first time, demonstrates how the anthrax outbreak of 1978-9 could have been man-made.

She shows it had distinct differences from regular outbreaks; an unprecedented number of infected humans, the unnatural way the disease spread over the country and the perfect timing for the regime are all suspicious.

“Rhodesia had had only 334 cases from 1950-1978 and doctors in Zimbabwe in 1977 had rarely seen an anthrax case,” writes Nass, adding, “Yet, during the war, anthrax became one of the country’s major causes of hospital admissions.

Next, the large scale infestation is additional proof of a deliberate spread.

Most anthrax outbreaks have a high degree of focality.

The outbreak was centered only in Zimbabwe with none of its neighbours having higher than normal reporting of infections.”

Sadly, Nass, like other researchers, ends her investigations with no solid conclusions, as information surrounding the use of Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) is shrouded in secrecy.

However, Nass calls for more research on the topic.

Indeed, more needs to be uncovered on the use of CBW during the liberation struggle as the effects continue to be felt.

Thirty-eight years later, after Zimbabwe attained its independence, the Government still battles with anthrax outbreaks.

Cutaneous anthrax is the most common natural form of the disease with an estimated 2 000 cases reported annually.

From 1978-80, more than 10 700 Zimbabweans were infected and more than 200 died of cutaneous anthrax.


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