Chapter Two: A Brief History Of The Context Of The Zapu Guerrillas

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In 1965, immediately after UDI, the Zimbabwean nationalist leaders were of the opinion that guerrilla warfare could provoke British intervention in Rhodesia. This assumption was based on the fact that the British government had indicated it would intervene militarily only if ?law and order' broke down in Rhodesia. 1

The Zimbabwean nationalist leaders based their military strategy on the idea that, ?? all that was necessary to end white domination was to train some guerrillas and send them home with guns: this would not only scare the whites but would ignite a wave of civil disobedience by blacks'. 2 Maxey asserts that the very rigid control and formal censorship of the mass media stopped the rapid spread of mass opposition by reinforcing the appearance of calm. When the Rhodesian government found itself in serious trouble it turned for external help to South Africa. 3

ZAPU and its military wing ZPRA, with Joshua Nkomo as its leader was based in Zambia. 4 The other nationalist party was the Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU) and its military wing was the Zimbabwean African National Liberation Army (ZANLA). 5 Both ZANU and the PAC received the bulk of their support from China. The Moaist approach to guerrilla warfare was quite different from the theories of the Soviet Union, which supported both ZAPU and the ANC. 6 One of the major differences between ZAPU and ZANU was the latter's conviction that physical attacks on Whites and their property were necessary.

ZAPU started its training schemes shortly after its formation in 1963 and from 1964 onwards Chikerema, its Vice-President went to a number of socialist countries on behalf the organisation to negotiate for increases to ZAPU's training facilities.

By 1966, ZAPU, which was the major black nationalist movement, realised that the British government would not intervene in Rhodesia. Celliers argues that ZAPU's armed wing also did not have the ability to force a collapse of law and order and cynically concludes that the major task of the insurgent forces was to convince the OAU of their existence and wish to overthrow the Smith government. This was vital if the black nationalists were to continue receiving political and financial support. It was also apparent that if Rhodesia were to become Zimbabwe, the black majority themselves would have to take up arms to fight for liberation. 7

During the early years of the war, ZPRA bore the full responsibility for the war effort whilst the parent party ZAPU concentrated its efforts on mustering international support. ZANLA played a limited military role at that time. 8

Who then were the ZAPU guerrillas?

The nationalist organisations recruited guerrillas from inside Rhodesia and from the large immigrant community living in Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania and even the United Kingdom. The ZPRA cadres were better trained and equipped than ZANLA. One reason for this could be the strong support it received from the USSR, Cuba and the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The Rhodesians found the ZPRA fighters more formidable and more disciplined. 9

It was suggested that over ninety per cent of the fighting men in ZAPU were Ndebele, although they only comprised ten to twenty per cent of the Rhodesian population. 10 ZAPU commanders denied this tribal bias and Maxey concludes that recruitment appears to have been evenly spread over the country. He further quotes Boywer Bell, who used figures obtained from the Rhodesian authorities, which indicated that deceased guerrillas came from all the Rhodesian tribal groups with a pre-dominance of Ndebele. Boywer Bell concurred with ?ZAPU's claim to be a-tribal?and that its leadership and battle groups are mixed'. 11

Celliers argues that, ?ZAPU had the backing of the Matabeles, who constitute some 19% of Zimbabwe's black population, while ZANU had that of the loosely grouped Shona nations which constituted 77% of the black population'. 12

ZAPU guerrillas, particularly in the early stages of the war received their training mainly in Russia, Cuba and Algeria, whilst some others received their training in Bulgaria, North Korea and Zaire (Katanga province). At a trial held in Rhodesia in 1968, a ZAPU guerrilla gave a brief description of the training he received in Russia. The classes lasted approximately four months and included a wide range of political and practical topics. Subjects included political science, aspects of intelligence work and the use of codes and ciphers. The guerrillas were given a run-down on the work of the CIA, MI6 and MI5, and the French and Federal German intelligence organisations. On the military side they were taught the use of explosives, hand-grenades, and how to use and assemble guns, rifles and pistols. 13

Both ANC and ZAPU groups had a fairly formal structure with a commander and a political commissar. From 1966 to 1968, they were even dressed in semi-military uniforms.

The Chimurenga war in Rhodesia after UDI

Both ZAPU and ZANU called the Zimbabwean phase of guerrilla warfare Chimurenga, a Shona name derived from the rebellions of 1896-1897. Rhodesian intelligence officers divided the Chimurenga war into three phases. 14 The first phase was from 1964 after Zambian independence when guerrillas began crossing the Zambezi River so as to infiltrate Rhodesia, until the end of Operation Excess in Mashonaland in 1968.

During this time, the first military engagement between the Rhodesian security forces and seven ZANLA guerrillas took place on 28 April 1966, near Sinoia, 100-km north west of Harare. This day is now commemorated in Zimbabwe as Chimurenga Day, marking the start of the war. The Sinoia group of guerrillas was part of three teams, which had entered Rhodesia with the aim of cutting power lines and attacking White farmsteads. A second group murdered a white couple with the surname Viljoen on their farm near Hartley on 16 May 1966. Security forces later captured the insurgents. In total 13 of the 14 original insurgents were either captured or killed by security forces. 15 A little while later another ZANLA infiltration was detected near Sinoia. In the battle that followed seven insurgents were killed and a number captured. 16

The second phase covered the period 1968 until the attack on Altena Farm at the end of 1972. The third phase was the rapid escalation of the war and several international attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement and ended with a cease-fire agreement signed on 21 December 1979. 17 It is in the context of the first phase of the war in Rhodesia that the Wankie campaign took place.

The plan underpinning the ANC-ZAPU alliance

In 1966, Joe Modise, commander-in-chief of MK based himself in Zambia and with ZAPU military commanders conducted reconnaissance work into Rhodesia. 18 In April 1967 a plan for the prosecution of the armed struggle was put forward. ?After lengthy debates an order was issued that our men and women were to cross the Zambezi towards home'. 19 The decision by the ANC and ZAPU to operate jointly was approved by the ANC Executive in June 1967. Pallo Jordan comments that the Wankie campaign was most probably ?planned and executed by the most militant elements within MK'. 20 Lodge alleges that the SACP Central Committee was totally unaware of the Wankie campaign until news of the military operation hit the world's press. 21 Shubin disputes this pointing to the unreliability of Lodge's source namely a report in Ikwezi. The fact that Chris Hani was a member of the SACP and the political commissar of the Luthuli Detachment made it highly unlikely that the SACP did not know of the plan beforehand.

By the middle of 1967, it was apparent that ZAPU's guerilla tactics had made no significant impact on the Rhodesian authorities and the ANC had no success in infiltrating guerrillas back into South Africa. Their plan was to send a joint MK-ZPRA force across the Zambezi River into northwest Rhodesia. This big group would split into two upon reaching the Wankie Game Reserve. The main MK column would march south, through the Rhodesian bush into South Africa. The second smaller column of MK soldiers would be part of a ZAPU unit. They would move east and set up a base at Lupane inside Rhodesia to commence a guerrilla war against the Ian Smith regime. This base would also provide a future transit base for MK infiltrators en route to South Africa. Chris Hani said MK hoped to build a ?Ho Chi Minh route to South Africa'. 22

Preparations for the trip home

Morodi, a Luthuli Detachment combatant received military training in Egypt after which he spent a year in the Soviet Union. He and some other ANC comrades returned to Zambia in early 1966. 23 In early 1967, Morodi and other MK recruits were all transferred from the Tanzanian camps to Joshua Nkomo's camp outside of Lusaka.

Another Luthuli Detachment combatant, Norman Duka, says that in early 1967 the ANC Chief representative in Dar-es-Salaam told him that the chance to go back home [to South Africa] had arrived. He and two others left by lorry to Zambia. The guerrillas received a further five months of intensive training and political education. Chris Hani explains: A lot of time was allocated for the detachment to be together in the bush to be able to train together in order to ensure that physically we were ready for the rigorous task that lay ahead. But in addition to the physical preparation there was also the political preparation, the need for us to forge an understanding between the forces of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the forces of ZAPU and to understand the historical necessity of the battles of Wankie. 24

Importantly the diet of the combatants was greatly improved a few months before the campaign and everyone felt healthy. At about this time the ANC President-General, Chief Albert Luthuli died in South Africa. The acting President Oliver Tambo declared a week of mourning and delayed the march of the guerrillas home. The Luthuli Detachment was thus named in honour of the late ANC President-General. 25 The route chosen for the march home was explained by Morodi:

Some of our men who had been sent through Botswana were captured, and they were beaten up and sent back. So we choose that we have to go through Rhodesia, so that when we meet people there ? the police or the army ? we can be able to fight, because its not an independent African state and we know it's our enemy. So it was agreed. 26

Before departing the guerrillas were issued with uniforms of Russian origin, which consisted of a tunic, a long pair of trousers and a hat. The uniform was made of khaki gabardine. 27 Each guerrilla received boots, which had a distinctive 8 pattern on the sole, and which unfortunately would later make it easier for the Rhodesian security forces to track them. (See Appendices 3,4,5) Each received a cloth-covered water bottle and a rucksack in which they carried food, private clothing and ammunition.

Each guerrilla was given a sub-machine gun with 300 rounds and a semi-automatic rifle with 300 rounds. Some, not all guerrillas received a pistol with 90 rounds of ammunition and each guerrilla was provided with two hand-grenades: defensive and offensive. 28 The day before departure each guerrilla was given a medical check up, and the group prepared for their long march home.

K. Maxey, The fight for Zimbabwe (London, Rex Collings, 1975) p.5

J. K. Celliers, Counter-insurgency in Rhodesia (London, Biddles Ltd, 1985) p.6

K. Maxey, The fight for Zimbabwe , (London, Rex Collings, 1975) p.5


In this study, the names of the guerrilla wings as well as their parent party will be used.

D. Martin and P. Johnson, The struggle for Zimbabwe: The Chimurenga war (Johannesburg, Ravan Press, 1981) p.10

J.K. Celliers, Counter-insurgency in Rhodesia (London, Biddles Ltd, 1985) p.6


Learning Nation Volume 1, No.15 September 15-21, 1988, p.1.

J.K. Celliers, Counter-insurgency in Rhodesia (London, Biddles Ltd, 1985) p. 7

K. Maxey, The fight for Zimbabwe (London, Rex Collings, 1975) p.10

J.K. Celliers, Counter-insurgency in Rhodesia (London, Biddles Ltd, 1985) p.7

K. Maxey, The fight for Zimbabwe (London, Rex Collings, 1975) p.10

J.K. Celliers, Counter-insurgency in Rhodesia (London, Biddles Ltd, 1985) p. 6

Ibid. p.7


D Martin and P Johnson, The struggle for Zimbabwe: The Chimurenga War (Johannesburg, Ravan Press, 1981) p. 9

H Barrell, MK: the ANC's armed struggle (London, Penguin books, 1990) p.20

F. Meli, A history of the ANC: South Africa belongs to us (Harare, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1988) p.162. The Luthuli Detachment only had male guerrillas.

Interview with Pallo Jordan (Pretoria, January 1996)

The SACP was a close working ally of the ANC.

See C. Hani, ?The Wankie Campaign?, @, p.2

Graham Morodi was also known as Mashego. He was a member of the Luthuli Detachment and joined the ANC in 1950 when it was still a legal organisation. He was a trade unionist and had worked as an organiser for the general Workers Union. See H. Bernstein, The Rift: The exile experience of South Africans (London, Jonathan Cape, 1994) p.162

See C. Hani, ?The Wankie Campaign?, @, p.1

H. Bernstein, The Rift: The exile experience of South Africans (London, Jonathan Cape, 1994) p.163

See C. Hani, ?The Wankie Campaign?, @ , p.1

The State vs James Edward April, Supreme Court of South Africa, Natal Provincial Division Case No. 84/71 10 ?15 May 1971, p .66. Leonard Nkosi, the Luthuli Detachment chief of staff, later turned askari and state witness in the James April trial.


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