“It is homeland or death”: Final days of Zimbabwe’s liberation war and post-independence

A photograph on page 6 of this Zanu pamphlet, accompanying a speech by Mugabe in a recent collection of his speeches I compiled.
A photograph on page 6 of this Zanu pamphlet, accompanying a speech by Mugabe in a recent collection of his speeches I compiled.

While the liberation war was just beginning in the 1960s, it became more intense in the 1970s. The revolutionaries were fighting against, as Zapu put it, the “brutal and neo-fascist nature of the gangster British settler minority regime,” specifically against “minority oppressive rule and terror-racism in Zimbabwe.” [1] By 1972, the British colony of Zimbabwe, lying on the great Limpopo and Zambrezi rivers, was bordered by the apartheid South African government “hostile to genuine African independence” along with the “understanding” state of Botswana, the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, and “brotherly republic” of Zambia. [2] In the latter country, Zapu had their provisional headquarters. Within the area of Zimbabwe itself, there were 4.8 million Black Africans, 228,000 White European settlers, 7,700 Asian traders, and 11,000 people of mixed race, with the Africans divided into ethnic groups such as the Tonga, Nanzwa, Shangani, Venda, Ndebele, Shona, Suthu, and Kalanga, which the White settlers tried to divide and rule, but this backfired with intermarriages across ethnic lines, leading to “the formation of a Zimbabwe Nation.” [3]

However, not everything was “peaceful” in Zimbabwe. As the White settler government worked hard to maintain a favorable image, cooperating with numerous Western media outlets (print and radio) to manage where they went and control the press, the British press had a “consistently hostile” image of Mugabe, many of the columns in their papers respecting the views of White settlers rather than militants. [4] Internationally, the Sino-Soviet split continued to manifest itself. As Zapu and the ANC were close to the Soviet Union, Zanu was supported by Beijing, allowing the revolutionary group to prosecute a war of liberation, with Chinese aid as a contributing factor to victory. [5] Still, the relationship between Zanu and the Chinese was sometimes fraught, possibly with opportunism. Even so, the involvement of China had a positive effect on Zanu, with this involvement during the liberation struggle and after independence, allowing China to stay active in Zimbabwe to this day. [6] The Chinese tactics also rubbed off on other liberation groups. FRELIMO adopted the Maoist ideas of self-criticism and guerrilla warfare used by the Chinese, allowing these revolutionaries to “pursue an effective hit-and-run campaign against the Portuguese military, well-suited to Mozambican conditions” for which Samora Michel, the leader of FRELIMO, later thanked the Chinese for. [7] As for Zapu, which described itself inaccurately as the “authentic representative and spokesperson of the Zimbabwe people engaged in a liberation war,” they had roles in many international organizations. These organizations included the AASPO, World Council for Peace, Pan-African Youth Movement, and World Federation of Democratic Youth, along with saying they had a relationship with the OAU (Organization of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union) and attended the UN Committee of 24, also called the Special Committee on Decolonization. [8] Zapu also claimed to have liaisons in Egypt, Tanzania, Zambia, Cuba, Europe, and North America, which is probably understating it. [9]

As the years past, the liberation struggle advanced. Zapu, with an executive committee comprised of 14 individuals, appealed to “freedom-loving and peace-loving peoples” of the world, asking for assistance to Zapu and the Zimbabwean people, especially for release of prisoners and if not release, demanding that they treated according to the Geneva Conventions. [10] As for Zanu, it dictated something more powerful: a statement on culture. It declared, in 1972, that a new culture should be formed in an independent Zimbabwe:

“..eighty years of decolonization have warped the minds of our people…our rich national heritage has been lost…in a free, independent and socialist Zimbabwe the people will be encouraged and assisted in building a new Zimbabwe culture, derived from the best in what our heritage and history has given, and developed to meet the needs of the new socialist society of the twentieth century…out culture must stem from our own creativeness and so remain African and indigenous.” [11]

Once again, the freedom fighters were up against a powerful enemy. Adding to the existing military equipment, the White settler-apartheid state received, from 1971-1979, 47 armored cars, ten armored personnel carriers, 46 light helicopters, 52 light aircraft (18 of which were illegally transferred there), 11 helicopters, and 17 trainer aircraft, mostly from South Africa and France, along with other material from Israel, West Germany, and Belgium. [12] Still, they kept fighting on.

As the 1970s trudged on, there were a number of changes, especially in Zanu. In 1974, Sithole was pushed out of the leadership, with Mugabe put in his place, and fully taking control of Zanu after the death of Herbert Chitepo in 1975. While Mozambique may have seemed as a “safe haven” for revolutionaries, Michel of Mozambique put him under house arrest for several months, and later released him, allowing him to wage a propaganda war against the regime as Josiah Tongogara, who died in 1979, to lead the forces, as Mugabe presented himself as a Marxist-Leninist. This meant that Mugabe, unlike Nkomo, was a radical nationalist and he opposed settlement with the White settler government and that he remained suspicious of numerous commanders of the armed military wing, ZANLA, having them removed from time to time. In 1975, the internationalist support of the Zimbabwean liberation movement was still clear. The White settler-apartheid government described how Zapu guerrillas had been trained in Moscow (and across the Soviet Union), Zanu guerrilla strained in Pyongyang, Peking, Nanking, Ghana, saying that Zapu courses, sometimes also given in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Bulgaria, and Egypt, were focused on “para-military training, military engineering, radio…and intelligence,” while Zanu courses focuses on “influencing the minds and attitudes of the terrorists through political indoctrination and the ‘ideology’ of guerrilla warfare.” Their report went on to say that that “weapons, ammunition, explosives, uniforms, finance and food” is either given to the OAU’s Liberation Committee based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which distributes it to Zanu and Zapu, or directly to the groups themselves, sometimes through other countries such as “East Germany” (which printed a Zapu newsletter called The Zimbabwe Review), the DPRK, Bulgaria, Poland, and Hungary. It also mentioned that the Chinese had supplied radio stations in Tanzania and Zambia the ability to broadcast what they considered “terrorist propaganda against the White-governed countries of Southern Africa” which was actually propaganda for liberation. Still, they make a point to say that there is “no lack of evidence of communist support of Zanu and Zapu” but couch it in their colonialist, anti-communist mindset.

On September 9, 1976, the equation changed in the fight for Zimbabwean liberation. On that day, Mao Zedong died. At that point, the nationalist movement was divided, but the military and political rebirth of Zanu/ZANILA brought in more nationalist military strength to the table. When Mugabe tried to approach the Soviets and their allies to ask for aid, especially since the aid went to a trickle after Western reformist Deng Xiaoping took power, allying more with the US, leaving the “Third World” behind in the dust. [13] Again and again, he was rebuffed, with “East Germany” calling them a “splinter group,” showing they did not understand the liberation movement, leading to an anti-Soviet attitude among Zanu, with open clashes with Zapu cadres, and Mugabe accusing the Soviets of giving aid as to make others their puppets. This belief was reinforced by the fact that not only the situation in Angola was different than Zimbabwe but the Soviets said that they would support him if he separated from China and stopped calling himself a Maoist while they continued to support Nkomo who was a leader that the Western business community and White Zimbabweans wanted to win the liberation struggle because he was more moderate. However, in 1976, the Patriotic Front formed as a political alliance of Zapu and Zanu. As a result, the following year they were able to form a 10-member coordinating committee agreeing on a joint program but military unity did not happen as Nkomo and Mugabe were “strange bedfellows” as Zanu and Zapu still clashed on occasion. [14]

In the later 1970s, Zapu continued to receive Soviet support. Even as the Soviets began to “warm up” to Mugabe, who visited the Soviet Union in 1978, they remained loyal to Nkomo. They sent Zapu heavy weapons, fearing that helping Mugabe would ultimately assist “Chinese interests” as they worked to undermine Western and Chinese influence in the region by supporting the “bourgeois nationalist” Nkomo instead of Mugabe, who was more radical! On the international stage, Zapu had more ability to spread their propaganda. They had observer status as the UN as a recognized liberation movement where they lobbied UN member states to not recognize the UDI government, and also depended on the international community for successes. At the same time, Zanu was more wary of such involvement. In seeing the CIA involvement in play in places like Zimbabwe and acutely aware of the decline in Chinese support, they published lectures in 1978 on political education for Zanu cadres in Zimbabwe News declaring that the capitalist state needs to be smashed and that Zanu was trying to build a “Marxist-Leninist vanguard party.” [15] They further called for socialist revolution in Zimbabwe which rubbed off on some Zapu members, but they did not call for socialist revolution. Still, in Southern Africa, the Soviets had gained an advantage with a favorable Marxist government in Angola controlled by the MPLA, while the main Chinese involvement was in Zimbabwe where they had close links to Mugabe and Zanu. [16]

In 1979, the liberation war, militarily at least, seemed to be coming to an end. Zapu, led by Nkomo, and Zanu, led by Mugabe, continued to have a tenuous alliance called the Patriotic Front but Zanu had double the amount of troops in Zimbabwe (8,000) than Zapu, by the later 1970s. [17] Josiah Tongogora, a Chinese trained guerrilla, led Zanu’s military wing, only one of the 40-50,000 able-bodied personnel, and 15,000 people with guns which were part of Zanu, a formidable force to say the least. [18] Zanu, led by “very educated,” by Zimbabwean standards, educated by Christian missionaries, members, tried to teach villagers socialist cooperation within the agricultural settings. Actions like this were why people said that the guerrillas didn’t live up to their “terroristic image” which White settlers tried to conjure by posing as guerrillas and killing people.

Mugabe was very open to the changes to come in the future. While he defiantly said he didn’t care what the Western media said about it, with his wife, Sally Heyfron (later known as “amal” or mother of the nation) who he met in Ghana in 1961, saying that those who knew Mugabe would not call him evil, he also said that he was “not a trained soldier, I’m a revolutionary nonetheless.” He also said that Black Africans who had suffered from over ninety years of colonialism (1889-1979 at minimum) should have an “honorable peace” which allows Black Africans to have sovereignty over the country. He further said that he was “prepared to be whatever the people want me to be…in a democratic system you have to accept the verdict of the people…British government is bias toward the settler regime” even as he argued that

“…we [Zimbabwean freedom fighters] are fighting a war which is a difficult one…we take care to not make people unnecessarily suffer…we are waging a struggle to overthrow the settler system…we are fighting a just war, that we overthrow the settler government which is currently oppressing out people…no one is fighting an individual war, all our fighters are fighting collectively under a command that derives its authority from the central committee of the party.”

In 1979, when military victory seemed in view, two new African leaders betrayed the Zimbabwean liberation struggle. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Samora Machel of Mozambique, the latter of whom would be killed in a 1986 plane crash “accidentally,” demanded that Mugabe’s Zanu’s guerrillas forces, fighting for “one-man-one-vote and return of land confiscated by British settlers” could not use their countries as bases to launch attacks on the UDI government. [19] This forced Mugabe to the negotiating table. If these liberation forces had been allowed to win militarily, there is no doubt that Zimbabwe would have been a different country. In the negotiating process to give the country (and the black masses) independence, Mugabe took positions that made him an opponent of the White settler-apartheid government, but the British tried to accelerate the conference and rejected more nationalist demands. [20] In April 1979, as the scorned government tried to “help” make the process “peaceful,” Ian Smith abdicated his position to a moderate Black leader named Abel Muzorewa, who offered amnesty to Zanu and Zapu forces. But, this was rejected, leading to an intensified war, with Nkomo having thousands of men armed with armored vehicles and MiG fighters in Zambia, disregarding the advice of his socialist (Soviet, Cuban, and East German) advisers by continuing the war. Ultimately, he, like Mugabe, was forced to accept negotiated terms of the Lancaster Agreement.

The Lancaster House Agreement, signed on December 17, 1979, was a moderate agreement which officially ended British colonialism only in name. Not only did it include phased British withdrawal, but the nation was reverted to colonial status before it was declared independent in April 1980. There was a draft constitution, power-sharing, 20 seats in Parliament were reserved for White settlers, a ten-year moratorium was put on constitutional amendments, and the White minority retained many of its political and economic privileges. As Mugabe was rightly angry and disappointed, Ian Smith, British tycoon “Tiny” Rowland of Nigeria still preferred Nkomo over Mugabe as leader of an “independent Zimbabwe” since Mugabe was clearly more radical with his Marxist and Black nationalist pronouncements over the years. [21]

In April 1980, in elections allowed under the Lancaster Agreement, Mugabe became the Prime Minister of the free nation, the Republic of Zimbabwe, named after the ancient ruined city of Great Zimbabwe, edging out Nkomo of Zapu-PF (Zimbabwe African People’s Union – Patriotic Front). [22] With the war at an end, the refugees caused by the violence could return since there was no White settler army to attack their refugee camps, an army which engaged in “genocide and massacres” against the people of Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. [23] Additionally, there could be no more deaths of freedom fighters who had fought for liberation, with the settler-apartheid government claiming it had killed 10,000, and education, which was limited to a small minority might have an opportunity to change. Reportedly, over 1,300 Rhodesian security forces were killed, over 7,700 Black Zimbabweans were killed, and only about 468 were killed during the liberation war. With the thirteen year war of liberation, roughly from July 1965 to December 1979 at an end, also called the Rhodesian Bush War, the influence of Portugal, South Africa, and Israel who supported the settler-apartheid government, could be limited, while those were on the side of the guerrillas (Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania), Zanu (China, Tanzania, and Libya) and Zapu (Cuba, Zambia, East Germany, and the USSR) would be praised. To those who think that this could have been all solved with nonviolent respectfulness, you are sorely wrong, as Mugabe said himself in 1979:

“No, no no…there was a whole history of having tried nonviolent methods, they had failed completely and neither the settler regime or Britain heeded our cries, they just wouldn’t move… [we realized that] armed struggle would be the right thing.” [24]

As the Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) first competed in 1980 elections and was socialist in ideology, this would quickly change. Surviving two assassination attempts by White Zimbabweans during the campaign, since he seemed “terrifying” due to his comments during the war and Marxist outlook, he took more a conciliatory approach once in office. In the election for the lower assembly, the House of Assembly the Zanu-PF gained 57 seats with 63% of the national vote, Zapu-PF gained 20 seats with 24.1% of the national vote, and the racist Republican Front (previously called the Rhodesian Front) party retained 20 seats, with 83% of the White vote nationwide, Mugabe attempted to calm panic and White flight. After being advised by Machel of Mozambique to not alienate the White minority since it could lead to “White capital flight,” resulting in him avoiding revolutionary and Marxist rhetoric in the campaign, and declaring that private property (code for White property) would be respected, while the country would remain stable. Additionally, 20 percent of the seats, like in the House of Assembly, in the Senate, specifically eight of the 40 seats, were reserved for Whites.

Such maneuvers were part of what could be described as the neo-colonial era in post-independence Zimbabwe, lasting arguably from 1980 until 1996. Generally, neo-colonialism manifests itself when essentials of Western economic domination are maintained indirectly with imperialists partially satisfying the aspirations of a national liberation movement while they still protect imperialist economic interests, co-opt power of such a movement, in an attempt to move the populace away from socialism. [25] This exploitative arrangement, with political, ideological, military, and ideological elements, is reinforced by sections of the local and petty bourgeoisie, appearing in the new independent African nation, which allies with external imperialism while there are conditions of “acute competition and rivalry” among imperialist powers. [26] Add to this that countries that agree to these conditions allow themselves to transform from formerly colonized territories into economically dependent countries where colonial marketing channels are maintained, along with other Western interests, while native African bourgeoisie just go along. [27]

In Zimbabwe, such neocolonialism was put in place in a manner which hurt the well-being of the populace. During Mugabe’s time as prime minister of Zimbabwe, he lived in highly fortified residences, and Zimbabwe received Western aid in hopes of pacifying it, and the UK funded a land redistribution program. Additionally, even as Mugabe spoke of socialism, the government maintained a conservative framework, operating within a capitalist framework, and he tried to build state institutions, working to limit corruption among a new leadership elite formed, leading to resentment as many remained in poverty, even as the Zanu-PF took more control of government assets post-independence. Most importantly, the land reform of willing seller, willing buyer lasted from 1980 to 1990, with the British government allowing land to be sold if it was bought and sold on a willing basis. More broadly, this meant that a tiny group of White settlers still continued to own much of the country’s mineral wealth and “productive farmland” while access to development aid and credit from international donors dependent on “economic policies that favored the economic elite of donor countries. [121] This led to the indigenous population continuing life as landless peasants or employees of foreign companies, which was sadly, the same condition many of these people lived under, during colonial rule. Mugabe, in 2009 interview, inadvertently described what Zimbabwe’s government did in the 1980s and 1990s:

“I think over the recent few years gone by there has been a development…determined by the economic situations of our countries and a situation that greater reliance on Western funding would assist our economies in transforming, and because of that naturally if you are a beggar, you cannot at the same time prescribe, you see, the rules of how you should be given whether it’s food or any items at all. So we were subjected to certain conditionalities as a basis on which whatever was paid, be it food, be it humanitarian aid in other directions, was sent to us…once you are inadequate in terms of funding yourselves monetarily and you have got to look outside for someone to assist you, and that someone outside naturally dictates conditions on you, and the moment that happens you have lost a bit of your own sovereign right to determine how you run your affairs. Those who give you money will naturally determine how you should run your country, and through that we tended to subject ourselves to the will of outsiders, to the will, even, of our erstwhile colonisers. It was neo-colonialism back again, what Nkrumah called neo-colonialism. There it was, it was crammed into our system, they were deciding how we should run our elections; who should be in government, who should not, regime changes, that nonsense. So our Pan-Africanism was lost because Pan-Africanism was based on the right of Africa determining its own future, the right of Africa standing on its own, and being the master of its own destiny, master of its own resources that had been lost…the Chinese fund does not come in that way. It has been targeted rightly, it’s a fund coming to Government not NGOs, to Government, an inclusive Government, towards development and will assist us in turning around the economy, and that is the kind of help we would want to get, and not the Western dictates.”

However, it is worth acknowledging that Mugabe and the Zanu-PF did not do this willingly. For one, as 100,000 White settlers remained in the country, they commanded the “commerce, finance, industry, mining, and large-scale agriculture” industries, Mugabe tried to create a socially democratic state, rather than a socialist one, helping the Chinese gain markets for their companies. [28] This policy, expanded to socialist nations, resulting in the USSR established an embassy in Zimbabwe in 1981, but was encouraged by the Chinese revisionists, under Deng Xiaoping (Chinese leader from 1978 to 1989), encouraging Mugabe to not follow Mao’s model of Chinese socialism, engaging in market measures again, as the Chinese became the big economic benefactor of Zimbabwe for years to come. [29] This did not mean that the country was a Chinese colony, but rather that it within the sphere of influence of the Chinese revisionists, which likely angered the Soviets even though they were partially revisionist themselves since the Khrushchev years. At the same time, even with these market measures by Zimbabwe, it is worth acknowledging that Zimbabwe was, at the time of independence, a “poor, underdeveloped third world country” and that there was a “real threat of a right-wing military coup by the White minority still in Zimbabwe, backed by South Africa,” even as the fight against western imperialism, and its allies, seemed to fade away. [30]

This cozying up to the West, forced on them by the Lancaster Agreement and British imperial dominance, led to military material from Europeans going to the new independent government. From 1980 to 1987, the country received two bomber aircraft, eight trainer/combat aircraft, and nine fighter aircraft from the UK, six light helicopters and two ground surveillance radar from France, six trainer aircraft and six transport aircraft from Spain, and 12 helicopters from Italy. [31] China continued to give the most military equipment of any country, transferring to Zimbabwe 30 armored personnel carriers, four towed guns, 22 tanks, 12 fighter aircraft, and two trainer aircraft. [32]

As the years past, the political situation changed in Zimbabwe. In 1981, Edgar Tekere, part of Zanu-PF, was dismissed from the government in 1981, with Tekere supported by Whites in Zimbabwe and later becoming a rival to Mugabe. The same year, traditional doctors were given legal recognition by Zimbabwe, and other nationalist governments, in 1981, and throughout the 1980s. [33] In order to avoid a “repeat of Angola” in Zimbabwe, Mugabe kept a tactical alliance with Nkomo, who he allowed to stay in the government first as Minister of Home Affairs (1980-1982), and then as Vice-President for twelve years (December 1987 to July 1999), even as he viewed Nkomo as an adversary. In the years that followed, some Westerners still were wary of national liberation movements such as MPLA and FRELIMO which had seized power, along with Zanu and Zapu in Zimbabwe. [34] This partially manifested itself in the bloody Gukurahundi campaign, from 1983-1987, in which the CIA almost seemed afraid of Nkomo-friendly forces being suppressed. While the facts are mired in political accusations aimed at Mugabe and so on, Mugabe did call what happened “madness” at the 2000 funeral service for Nkomo, saying that thousands were killed, after an uprising by those favoring Nkomo, and that he was not proud of what happened.

As the years passed on, some moderate opposition grew. In 1985, in the elections for the lower assembly, the seats for the Zanu-PF grew, with a loss of seats for the Zapu and newly-christened Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe (CAZ), a racist White party. The same year, people said that Zanu-PF was a “bogus liberation front,” thrown off the stage of African liberation in the place of Zapu-PF and the ANC, along with attacking organizations such as the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC). Keeping this in mind, it worth pointing out that while Mugabe did not nationalize White land, he did become the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1986, a position he retained until 1989, Black nationalists were supported rhetorically and there were strained relations between Whites and Blacks from 1980-1989 as “White flight” continued despite his pandering. Domestically, in 1987, Mugabe became president, replacing Canaan Banana, the country’s first President, under which it was a ceremonial positional, constitutional amendments were passed, a unity agreement between Zanu-PF and Zapu-PF meant that Zapu-PF was merged into the Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front). The opposition to this government manifested itself in a Zimbabwean Unity Movement (ZUM) led by Tekere, and the CAZ, which enjoyed representation on the municipal level, after 1987. The latter party, still lead by Ian Smith, chaired a meeting of opposition groups, including the Zanu–Ndonga party, UANC (United African National Council), and ZUM (Zimbabwe Unity Movement), in 1992, with these parties basically splintering and disappearing in later years. Internationally, Mugabe stood by the Chinese government during the June Fourth Incident, called the Tiananmen Square protests in the West, lasting from April until June 1989, and peaceful economic relations continued between the two countries. [35] Some consider these protests to be counter-revolutionary, while others claim they had “merit.” Even Margaret Thatcher told Mikhail Gorbachev, the person who was a biggest cause of the Soviet Union’s dissolution due to his market-friendly policies, making the Western capitalist class smile with glee, that there needed to be a settlement in South Africa, saying that events happening there were the same as those that occurred “during the initial period of implementation of the agreement granting independence to Zimbabwe.”

By the 1990s, the situation in Zimbabwe was changing. In the first general elections under the amended constitution in 1987, which abolished the Senate, was conducted on a single roll, with no separate voting for Whites and Blacks, a step forward in the country’s post-independence period. In the elections, the Zanu-PF gained over 83% of the vote and the ZUM gained roughly 17% of the vote, which apportioned seats in the lower assembly. The dissolution of the USSR in December 1991 had a profound effect on Africa, which even the US White propaganda outlet, VOA, admits, as deeply affecting “Marxist-inspired governments and movements” such as those in Benin, Ethiopia, and Angola, while those “anti-communist authoritarian governments” backed by the US and Europe also “turned to multi-party elections” in due time. For Zimbabwe, mentions to Marxist-Leninism and scientific socialism were removed from the Constitution, with market measures seeming the way to go. As a government that was short on cash, the Zanu-PF government began an IMF Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP), with similar programs pushed by the US across the world, leading to a program of austerity which hurt the populace for years to come, while also weakening the government.

With the United States as the sole superpower, a unitary world order began to form, with the US using the IMF, World Bank, and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), along with the WTO (World Trade Organization) to impose a “global neoliberal iron heel.” In an effort to lessen their “significant international debts,” their debt service involved yielding to the “global neoliberal dictatorship” which resulted in the large state sector and local industries, which were protected, were declared as “inefficient.” [36] Furthermore, such measures were adopted by Mugabe and the Zimbabwean government enthusiastically even though the results were disastrous. This IMF prescribed program, lasting from 1991 to 1995, resulted in scarce foreign exchange, destruction of domestic industry, many consumer goods became unobtainable, and thousands of civil servants fired, but Mugabe was arguably forced into this position, with the country opened to foreign investment. [37]

The ESAP program was clearly a form of neo-colonialism forced upon Zimbabwe. Kwame Nkumrah explained this in his book on the subject, saying that this form of domination operates in the economic, religious, political, ideological, and cultural spheres, writing that:

“…it [the former colonial power] is ‘giving’ independence to its former subjects, to be followed by ‘aid’ for their development…it devises innumerable ways to accomplish objectives formerly achieved by naked colonialism…another neo-colonialist trap on the economic front has come to be known as ‘multilateral aid’ through international organisations: the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-national Bank for Reconstruction and Development (known as the World Bank), the International Finance Corporation and the International Development Association are examples, all, significantly, having U.S. capital as their major backing…neo-colonialism is not a sign of imperialism’s strength but rather of its last hideous gasp. It testifies to its inability to rule any longer by old methods. Independence is a luxury it can no longer afford to permit its subject peoples.”

Nkumrah goes on to say that other forms of neo-colonialism are: (1) the “economic penetration” due to the fact that much of the world’s ocean shipping is “controlled by me imperialist countries,” (2) evangelism, (3) international capital’s control of the “world market, as well as of the prices of commodities bought and sold there,” and (4) the “use of high rates of interest.” He also writes that neo-colonialism, with its divide and rule tactics, can be defeated, with unity and ideological clarity, providing that neo-colonialism is simply “the symptom of imperialism’s weakness and that it is defeatable,” with the fighter for independence “invariably decides for freedom.”

In 1992, there was another sea change in Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s wife, Sally Heyfron, died of kidney illness, and before her death he reportedly saw a mistress named Grace Marufu. With Sally dead, this may have given Mugabe more of the initiative to engage in nationalist policies (though this is doubtful). [38]In 1996, he married Grace, a South African-born woman, who currently has an active role in the Zimbabwean government, which has led to Western sanctions, and anger from some because of her alleged (and overblown claims of) “extravagance.”

As the years went by, the ESAP was still implemented, making the West happy that Mugabe seemed to be “on their side.” This is reflected in the fact, for example, that in 1994, the Queen of England made Mugabe an honorary knight. The following year, in parliamentary elections this year, the Zanu-PF won more than 81% of the vote while the opposition Zanu-Ndonga only gained about 7% of the vote. Also the same year, Sithole, a veteran of the Zimbabwean liberation war, returned in 1995 and was elected to parliament, later becoming part of the small opposition to the government.

Notes

[1] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle (ed. Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), Cairo: Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organization, 1972, second edition), 7.

[2] Ibid, 13.

[3] Ibid, 13-14.

[4] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary. The reporter in this documentary implies that stereotypes persisted because guerrilla forces don’t want interviews from reporters stereotypes persisted, but these viewpoints may have been ingrained because of a colonized mindset so such interviews could have still led to negative reporting, which the guerrillas may have realized.

[5] Gerald Horne, From the Barrel of a Gun: The United States and the War Against Zimbabwe, 1965-1980 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 351; Ian Taylor, China and Africa: Engagement and Compromise (New York: Routledge, 2006), 114.

[6] Ian Taylor, China and Africa, 106.

[7] Ibid, 94.

[8] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 57-60. Other organizations included the International Union of Students, World Trade Union Federation (Zacu a member), All African Trade Union Federation, All Africa Women’s Conference, Women’s International Democratic Federation, Pan-African Journalist Union, and Tri-Continental Organization (implying that Cuba, Vietnam, and U.A.R. are their allies).

[9] Ibid, 68-70. They also said that Zapu firmly believes in “armed struggle” but for it not to be “random,” with no considerations of race, class, tribe, or other delineations within the struggle.

[10] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 8-9, 71. Those on the Zapu executive committee are as follows: Life President Joshua Nkomo, Deputy Secretary to the President William J. Mukarati, Deputy National Secretary Edward S. Ndlovu, National Chairman Samuel Munedawafa, National Treasurer Jason Ziyapapa Moyo, Financial Secretary Rubatso George Marange, Secretary for External Affairs Joseph Musika, Secretary for Youth and Cultural Affairs Clement Muchachi, Deputy Secretary for Youth and Cultural Affairs Boniface Nhariwa Gumbo, Secretary for Information and Publicity T. George Silundika, Deputy Secretary for Information and Publicity Alois Z. Wingwiri, Secretary for Women Jane Ngwenya, Secretary for Public Relations Dzawanda Willie Musarurwa, Secretary for Organization Lazarus Nkala, and Secretary for Education Josiah Chinamano.

[11] Thomas Turino, “Race, Class, and Musical Nationalism in Zimbabwe,” Music and the Racial Imagination (ed. Ronald M. Radano and Philip V. Bohlman, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 572.

[12] This information comes from the SIPRI trade register. The government also received five Reconnaissance AVs in 1977, five APCs in 1977, and ten Portable SAMs from an “unknown country” from 1977-1978, along with reportedly 5 light transport aircraft from Mozambique, though this is mostly definitely an error since Sonora Machel of the Marxist Mozambican government would never have made such a transfer. Additionally, the government received 14 trainer aircraft from an unknown country in 1977.

[13] Ian Taylor, China and Africa, 108-109, 113.

[14] Gerald Horne, From the Barrel of a Gun: The United States and the War Against Zimbabwe, 1965-1980 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 255; M. Tamarkin, The Making of Zimbabwe: Decolonization in Regional and International Politics (New York: Frank Cass, 1990, 2006 reprint), 174.

[15] M. Tamarkin, The Making of Zimbabwe: Decolonization in Regional and International Politics (New York: Frank Cass, 1990, 2006 reprint), 219; Gerald Horne, From the Barrel of a Gun, 351.

[16] Ian Taylor, China and Africa, 48.

[17] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary.

[18] Ibid. All the information until the next footnote comes from this documentary.

[19] Also, Machel of Mozambique insisted that Mugabe attend the talks, saying that he would withhold support for ZANU if he did not attend.

[20] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary.

[21] M. Tamarkin, The Making of Zimbabwe, 201.

[22] Alex Thomson, Introduction to African Politics, 2000, p. 31. Also Sithole lost 1980 election to Mugabe, going to London, then Silver Spring, Maryland later in his life.

[23] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary.

[24] Ibid. Films about the Zimbabwean liberation struggle were also put out over the years, including but limited to Albino (1976 German Thriller), Game for Vultures (1979 British Thriller seeming to show Black nationalists fairly), Blind Justice (1988 British film which shows Black nationalists unfairly), Flame (1996 American film which portrays Zimbabwe as authoritarian after independence and ZANU as betraying their revolutionary ideals), Concerning Violence (documentary on protests and resistance against White rule in Zimbabwe in the 1960s and 1970s, based on a passage of Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth).

[25] Jack Woddis, Introduction to Neo-Colonialism: The New Imperialism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (New York: International Publishers, 1969, second printing), 28, 32, 43-44, 46, 52.

[26] Woddis, 56, 70, 68-69, 87.

[27] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1963), 27-28, 55, 59-60, 101, 120, 124. Fanon cites the ruling of Monsieur M’ba in Ghana as an example of neocolonialism.

[28] Ian Taylor, China and Africa, 114-115, 117, 119-121, 123, 126; Patrick Bond and Richard Saunders, “Labor, the State, and the Struggle for a Democratic Zimbabwe,” Monthly Review, Vol. 57, issue 7, 2005. In this article Bond (and Richard Saunders) wrote he cites ZCTU, Anti-Privatization Forum (APF), and MDC as “resistance” and angry at anything pro-ZANU-PF. Saunders is a smiling bourgeois academic who has written a good amount on Zimbabwe clearly of a critical nature.

[29] Ibid; Reuters, “Soviet Union Is Establishing An Embassy in Zimbabwe,” June 3, 1981; three paragraph article reprinted in the New York Times.

[30] You might think that mentioning social imperialism would get the Trotskyists to like Mugabe, but that is the opposite case. In fact, they consistently hate Mugabe time and time again, making it hard to find anything on the Marxist Internet Archive on Mugabe that is more fair that Trotskyist smears.

[31] This information comes from the SIPRI trade register.

[32] Also Zimbabwe received five fighter aircraft from Kenya in 1981 and 90 armored cars from Brazil form 1984 to 1987.

[33] John Iliffe, The African AIDs Epidemic: A History (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006), 93.

[34] Thomas G., “How the U.N. Aids Marxist Guerrilla Groups,” Heritage Foundation, April 8, 1992.

[35] Ian Taylor, China and Africa, 114-115, 117, 119-121, 123, 126.

[36] She also told him that in South Africa, the “situation in dangerous” and that we need to “doe everything possible in order to control the situation, not to let the settlement be destroyed,” a typical fear of a Western capitalist ruler.

[37] Patrick Bond and Richard Saunders, “Labor, the State, and the Struggle for a Democratic Zimbabwe,” Monthly Review, Vol. 57, issue 7, 2005.

[38] Ibid; Alex Thomson, An Introduction to African Politics, 2000, p. 177; Staff Reporter, “Mugabe reminisces about late wife, Sally,” NewZimbabwe.com, November 9, 2014; LA Times, “Sally Mugabe; Wife of Zimbabwe President,” January 28, 1992; Robert Verkaik, “Exclusive: The love that made Robert Mugabe a monster,” The Independent, April 6, 2008. Sally spent 10 years in exile, from 1967-1977 in London, and was a loyal comrade to Mugabe. Some say that the battle to save his wife from deportation from 1970 made Mugabe angry at the British government as he never forgot the British attempts to deport her, with both of them as comrades in love in the liberation struggle.

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“It is homeland or death”: From British colonialism to the Zimbabwean liberation war

Picture of the Great Enclosure, part of the Great Zimbabwe ruins (courtesy of Wikimedia).
Picture of the Great Enclosure, part of the Great Zimbabwe ruins (courtesy of Wikimedia).

Every day the Western bourgeois media concocts another story about Zimbabwean President Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s faults. [1] The “human rights” organizations like Amnesty and “Human Rights” Watch join in on the charade, siding with the opposition in the country, which is predictably backed by the United States and the West. As a result, the revolutionary state of Zimbabwe is rocked by political turmoil because the neoliberal opposition leads to polarization, not due to the policies of Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF party. The masses of Zimbabwe are “one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death” as Reason Wafawarova, an Australian political writer for the government-owned newspaper, The Herald, writes at the bottom of many of his editorials. In order to recognize this perspective, this article will examine where Zimbabwe’s history from before European contact into the last days of the 1960s.

The history of Zimbabwe dates back to years before the first White imperialist would be be out of their womb. The earliest kingdom in the region may date back to 500 C.E.. with the area known as Great Zimbabwe settled in the 11th century, and more substantially by the thirteenth century, with many states around the region “built around stone forts.” [2] The term Zimbabwe can be used to designate, at a minimum, the Zambesi-Limpopo cultures. These cultures, with peoples who were state-builders and iron users, flourished in the region of present-day state of Zimbabwe, in the centuries before European arrival. [3] During the pre-European period, the area was part of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, an African civilization lasting from the eleventh century (roughly 1220) to the fifteenth century (roughly 1450) which was called “Monomotapa” by the Europeans, with building of large stone palaces, which were known as “Zimbabwe.” [4] This empire had access to mineral resources and coastal trade, mainly with traders from the Asian continent, especially China.

The famous stone ruins at Great Zimbabwe are worth describing. Near the capital of “Southern Rhodesia” in the 1960s, Salisbury (present-day Harare), there were “two outstanding buildings” which were named by Europeans the “Acropolis” and the “temple”/”elliptical building,” with the plain beneath the “Acropolis,” stands a “solid fortress, with strong battlements” which is made from local granite, constructed by Zimbabweans. The complex building is “300 feet long, 220 feet broad” with walls that “were 20 feet thick and 30 feet tall” along with stepped “recesses and covered passages, the gateways and the platforms” which were hewed out elaborately with “soapstone bird-gods” inside and outside the structure. [5] Walter Rodney added that there were “encircling brick walls” at this site, and in other parts of the African continent where Bantu-speaking people were inhabitants, which was “characteristically African” and that undoubtedly a large amount of labor was needed to construct buildings. [6] He added that such workers likely came from particular ethnic groups with possible subjugation and subsequent social class delineations, but that there wasn’t simply “sheer manual labor” because the structures themselves had a level of advanced “skill, creativity, and artistry” which went into construction of the walls, doors, inner recesses, and decorations of the buildings. There were also great brick constructions, which dated back to the 14th century, which were commonly referred to as “temples” which served religious purposes since the religious aspect of development in that society was greatly important, just as it was across the African continent. [7]

The various societies that constituted a developed (and advanced) Zimbabwean culture lasted a total of a thousand years. People constructed dams for irrigation, raised cattle, sowed grain, and traded across the Indian Ocean, with chiefs enjoying “fine pottery or china” while sitting at-top of warring cultures. [8] These cultures, with no system of writing, were “highly stratified,” with chiefs and priests, miners, and specialized craftsmen, the latter who created ornaments with exact skill and lightness of touch. [9] There was also mixed farming, with cattle valued as important work animals, and major terracing and irrigation which is comparable to that of ancient Rome, or civilizations in Asia, making Zimbabweans, what we now would call “hydrologists.” [10] In the society itself, there were several ethnic groups which mixed: Khosian type hunters or “Bushmen” who were long-time residents, and newcoming Bantu-speakers from the north, all of which had varying pottery styles and burials, with certain ethnic groups, likely, relegated to inferior status so that “labor for agriculture, building, and mining” as necessary for societal needs. [11]

While the kingdoms long fought off “barbarian invaders,” they couldn’t stand against the Portuguese. After the collapse of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, there was the Kingdom of Mutapa, which the Portuguese confronted in the 1500s. This empire, first ruled by Mwene Mutapa, from 1415 to 1450, who appointed governors to rule over numerous localities outside the capital, spreading from Zimbabwe to Mozambique’s hinterland, with the center of the Mutapa empire at Great Zimbabwe at first, and later moving northward. [12] While those living in the region at the time were predominantly Sotho-speakers, many of those in the ruling class were pastoralists who had religious rituals with objects symbolizing cattle, possibly meaning that cattle owners were honored in society, and paid homage to their ancestors. As Immanuel Wallerstein argues, the Portuguese went on the full offensive, sacking coastal cities, reducing Indian Ocean trade, which was a “severe blow to Zimbabwe peoples” as the Portuguese, with firearms, went into the interior, taking sides, and undermining “the whole structure” of the kingdom. [13] Still, they were too weak to establish a colonial administration, only having enough power to destroy and cause destruction.

This could have been helped by the fact that in Zimbabwe and Congo, social organization was low until the 15th century. This was even the case despite significant political structures in the area as tentacles of the transatlantic slave trade encroached on Africa. [14] In later years, as the Mutapa empire waned and dissipated in 1760, there was the Rozvi empire, lasting from 1684 to 1834. The lords of the both empires encouraged production for “export trade, notably in gold, ivory, and copper” with Arab merchants living in the kingdom. The Zimbabwean region, at the time, was still connected to the “network of Indian Ocean commerce.” A “single system of production and trade,” was organized by collecting tribute from other states. [15] In later years, the Mthwakazi, a Ndebele kingdom, existed until the late 19th century, when the British colonists come into the picture. Despite the fact that indigenous kingdoms in present-day Zimbabwe ultimately faltered, there is no doubt that such development showed that there were advanced societies on the continent before the Europeans arrived. The idea that there was some “dark continent” with people running around like “savages” as European imperialists imagined in their racist, colonialist minds is utterly false.

In 1889, the British South African Company came to Zimbabwe, later naming it “Rhodesia” after British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Not only did this name override the indigenous name of Zimbabwe, which came from the Shona language and meaning venerated or stone houses, but it showed that the age of imperialist exploitation was at hand. In 1895, African history was whitewashed when a prospector was sent by the South African company to exploit the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, making it harder to know what the gold smelters of Zimbabwe produced years earlier. [16] History was lost to greedy White settler capitalism. Luckily, while most of the “copper and gold objects were largely destroyed and melted down” by 1902, similar objects at the Mapungubwe have been found, objects which were “unravaged by Europeans with a civilizing mission.” As a result, historians can recognize the reality of African and Zimbabwean history, not the whitewashed one “handed down.” Even with this, there is no doubt that Cecil Rhodes, his imperial agents, and “settler pests,” came in to Zimbabwe to “rob and steal,” coming north from present-day Botswana to raise a flag at (Mount) Harare, later renamed Salisbury by the White settlers. [17] While these new invaders marveled at “surviving ruins of Zimbabwe culture,” they assumed, from their Eurocentric perspective, that it had been built by White people.

This exploitation went beyond the erasure of culture. In the economy of Southern Africa and Rhodesia under British colonialism, Africans were treated as cheap labor who were prohibited from growing cash crops so their labor could be exploited by White “owners.” [18] These “owners” included those such as Standard Bank, a financial organization which was founded on loot of Rhodes and De Beers, headquartered in London, which expanded from the Cape Colony to Mozambique, Rhodesia, and Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana) in 1895. [19] Still, this was not accepted without resistance. There were numerous bloody battles between the indigenous African population and invading settlers. [20] During this time, when power began to be exclusively held by Whites, native Africans engaged in rebellions against White settlers, but these rebellions were crushed. [21] This didn’t stop Robert Mugabe, a Zimbabwean revolutionary, who was pivotal in the anti-colonial struggle, to see those who rebelled as first African revolutionaries in Zimbabwe. He remembered how folklore about past struggle was told to them by their parents so they could explain “how White men came to the country, how he grabbed the land.” [22] Mugabe also added that

“In a society where you have a class whose main purpose and accepted privilege is to exploit others, naturally it rebuffs. If the majority of people are being oppressed, being exploited, you can’t avoid, if you have any moral principles at all, the call to do something about it.”

In the years that followed, the British South African Company continued to control the British colony of Rhodesia. In 1923 this changed. As a result of plans made by White British colonists, settler migrants came to the colony after WWI with the London government granting the settlers a “Letters Patent Constitution” which made it a “self-governing colony.” [23] This designation meant that settlers had the right to secede or not, but the British retained “control over defence and foreign policy, certain reserve powers” which included issuing discriminatory legislation to control the African population. Hence, the British colony of Southern Rhodesia was born, the following year, comprising the area of the republic of Zimbabwe, founded in April 1980, splitting from the Northern section, called “Northern Rhodesia,” covering the area of the independent republic of Zambia, formed in October 1964. As the years went on, the oppression mounted. While the idea of “reserve powers” was supposedly to protect African interests, it became ineffective with the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 revised in 1941, and in a number of other times, a law that formed the basis of the “social and racial structure” in Rhodesia. [24]

Even with the settlers with official power, the British monarch in the colony itself is represented by the governor and there were “British errand boys” who lived as White settlers. The greedy mentality of the colonists led to more divisions. Such colonists divided the country into two portions: the “native” area for Black Africans and Crown or European land for White settlers. [25] Predictably, the “rich and fertile land” was occupied by White settlers and the “sandy, semi-dry land” given to Black Africans, land from which they can be expelled from if minerals are found or settlers want to buy a farm in the area. Adding to this insult were laws on the books, enacted in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, which evicted Africans from “European land,” gave the government control of all the aspects of African life, and gave each family eight acres for “living in farming.” [26] The latter measure was one of social control, in an attempt to keep Africans poor and give White settlers “cheap and exploitable labor for the mines, farms, light and heavy industries.” Hence is fundamentally the reason for why the fight over land is so important in present-day Zimbabwe.

In the 1950s there were other sea changes in Southern Rhodesia. While the White settlers celebrated “sixty years of progress” in 1950, oppressed Africans did not see it the same way. African civilization had become the largely the domain of Christian missionaries, with different forms of education (“European,” “African,” “Asian,” and “Coloured”)  “separated budgeted for.” [27] To enforce the inequality, more was spent on European education than on African education. In 1953, officially, the structure of the colony changed, with the creation of the Central African Federation (CAF), comprising the areas of present-day Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi (Nyasaland), in an effort led by Southern Rhodesian settlers under the direction of Godfrey Huggins. [28] To reinforce this, the British colony received, between 1950 and 1958, 10 armored cars, 22 Spitfires, 32 fighter aircraft, 16 trainer aircraft, 8 transport aircraft, 2 light transport aircraft from UK, and 18 bomber aircraft, all from from London, while NATO accompanied this by providing bombers and armaments. [29]

Of course, this action was done without the approval of Africans. As the settler oppression became even more ruthless, “African resistance rekindled” against racist laws, enacted to maintain settler dominance, and against the idea that racial discrimination was the “order of the day” in Zimbabwe. [30] In 1957, a chapter of African National Congress (ANC) organized in the country, led by Joshua Nkomo, with the chapter joining the ANC in South Africa which had been created in 1912. [31] The following year, as the record shows, Nkomo began his contact with the Soviets, which would prove as a major force in the liberation struggle to come. [32] During this time period, the political aspirations of the Black masses seemed modest, as nationalists only wanted simple political rights which they demanded in clearly nonviolent demonstrations. [33] This perception was also because the struggle was reformist since the major groups were not forceful or anti-capitalist. [34] However, after demonstrations were banned by the colonialist government, there was more frustration, with moderation turning to militancy and passive resistance turning into civil disobedience. The stage was set for set for full scale civil war.

In the 1960s, the anti-colonial struggle in Zimbabwe heated up. In December 1961, after frustrations with previous nationalist groupings such as the National Democratic Party (NDP), established in January 1960, which pushed for a constitutional conference, with party members demonstrated, rioted and committed acts of arson in hopes of changing the conditions in Zimbabwe, Nkomo formed the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union, or Zapu, just after the NDP was banned. [35] As for the actions of the NDP, as Mugabe put it many years later, some of those in the organization were some of the first to use petrol bombs in 1960 as a “means of pressure, not really to destroy life” and that there were strikes and demonstrations in 1961. [36]

Zapu named Nkomo as President, Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa as vice-president, Ndabaningi Sithole as chairman, Jason Moyo as information secretary, and Mugabe as publicity secretary. The organization embarked on pushing the failed policies of the NDP, with Nkomo banned from coming into Zimbabwe under legalistic jargon from the colonialist state. [37] Furthermore, Nkomo wanted to encourage the British government to agree to nationalist demands, and the organization boycotted the settler elections in Dec. 1962, with Nkomo declaring that that Zapu must “continue in any form desired by the people at a given time, and under different circumstances. But I must repeat, that we shall never, I repeat never, form any new Party.” [38] In order to back up these claims, Zapu and related freedom fighters engaged in civil disobedience, arson, sabotage, and demonstrations against the White minority government, which they refused to talk with, rightly so. [30] Nkomo was imprisoned and official Black opposition banned in 1962 by the white colonialist government. The Soviets played a major helping hand in this liberation struggle, giving massive support for Zapu, which made its first contact with them through the ANC in South Africa, with the Soviets continuing their opposition to the settler government in Zimbabwe at major international forums time and time again, with Nkomo and other top leaders went on troops worldwide in an effort to garner international support. [40]

In 1963, the equation changed. The “more radical elements” of the anti-colonial Zimbabwe opposition, who were mostly in prison, broke away from Zapu to form Zanu, the Zimbabwe African National Union. [41] This new grouping, which had come about due to anger against Nkomo by those who accused him of allowing the White settlers to unite and different strategy, was led by Sithole. It believed in immediate armed confrontation with the White settlers and self-reliance while Zapu wanted intervention from the international arena. [42] Broadly speaking, Zapu was aligned with the Ndebele and Zanu was aligned with the Shona. Additionally, those in Zanu, including Mugabe of course, were progressive nationalists who wanted immediate action, while Zapu represented the more conservative nationalists, seeming to only engage in slow maneuvers. [43] Predictably, the Zapu denounced Zanu as dividing the movement. At a “people’s conference,” supposedly to solve problems within the Zimbabwe liberation movement, attendees resolved that Nkomo was the only leader of the anti-colonial liberation movement in Zimbabwe, that bans on African nationalist organizations. throughout Africa must be denounced, that “divisive tendencies” must combated, and vigilance against the settler regime continued. [44] Additionally, the conference declared that “active resistance” against the settler regime would continue, rejected cooperation with the British, and expelled the “four conspirators” which formed Zapu (Sithole, Mugabe, Washington Malianga, and Leopard Takawira). [45] The attendees declared that these individuals were “dividing” the Zimbabwean people through forming their own party, seeing it as an imperialist divide-and-control policy. [45]

Due to these differences, the conflict between Zapu and Zanu erupted. At times it became violent. While some may be included to do so, it is wrong to discount the Zanu group wholesale. For one, Mugabe, a top leader in the group, spent 11 months in detention which hurt his son psychologically, who later died from malaria. [46] Years later, he summarized, in part, the beliefs of Zanu, by saying that “you cannot fight for grievances by pleading…you can only do so by getting to the root cause of the problem and that’s the problem of power.” [47] As for Zapu, it suffered from the justified defection of members to Zanu. A number of the key figures of Zanu’s armed wing had played a role in leading Zapu’s armed wing, taking with them “operational information and many individual cadré.” This altered the “balance of power in the liberation movement,” leaving Zapu with the short end of the stick, something from which it would not recover from in the years to come. While the idea of reconciliation between the two “wings” of the liberation movement was proposed, it was quickly abandoned within the country as untenable. [48] The same year, the Central African Federation dissolved and military power was handed over to Winston Field, leading to continued oppression.

As the liberation movement in Zimbabwe split, so did the funding. Zapu representatives went to a number of socialist countries, still supported by the Soviets, and based in Zambia with the military wing of ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army). [49] As for Zanu and their military wing, the Zimbabwean African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), they received much of their support from Maoist China. The latter socialist state promoted the idea of guerrilla warfare as a way to win the liberation war. Simply put, Zanu, later led by Mugabe, had a pro-China leaning while Zapu, led by Nkomo, had a pro-Soviet leaning. Black leaders in nations such as Mozambique, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola, supported the guerillas with training areas and pitched camps, while the White settler government in Zimbabwe formed “a well trained, moderately equipped, and integrated armed force.” Ultimately, the split between Zapu and Zanu never healed, manifesting itself in problems which continue in Zimbabwe to this day. Arguably, Zapu, also supported by Cuba, the short-lived United Arab Republic (U.A.R.), and the German Democratic Republic (GDR or “East Germany”), followed Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin’s teachings while Zanu, with their varying external networks, followed the teachings of Mao Zedong. [50] This meant that Zanu worked to mobilize the rural peasantry, Zapu worked to mobilize the urban proletariat.

This manifestation of the Sino-Soviet split, begun in part by Nikita Khrushchev’s traitorous “Secret Speech” denouncing the supposed “wrongs” of Joseph Stalin, meant that China determined more of the direction of the Zimbabwe liberation struggle than the Soviets. Beijing’s association with Zimbabwe goes back to the liberation struggle, a time when Zanu cadres went to China to get guerrilla training and attended classes in Ghana taught by Chinese instructors. [51] As a result of Chinese support, Zanu was transformed from a splinter organization into a full-fledged participant of the liberation struggle, and it became more bold, criticizing the alliance of the Soviet-aligned ANC and Zapu, saying this allowed racists to consolidate their forces. [52] In later years, Zanu revamped its strategy to be more Maoist, with armed struggle based in “support of the people,” by the early 1970s, as Mugabe said years later. As a result of the guerrilla warfare tactics by Zanu and traditional military tactics by Zapu, along with  with Zanu freedom fighters trained by the Vietcong and Chinese in guerrilla tactics, with the fighters returning from the latter country coming back radicalized, the White settler government adjusted their system of racist terror. [53] China, for their part, was active in aiding liberation in the country, seeing as a way to counter “Soviet hegemonism” and “Sovietism” with their support as part of their anti-superpower and anti-Soviet agenda. Hilariously, this was misread by the White apartheid government as a way to get Western capitalists and China to work together and fight the Soviets, but the Chinese would have no part in such an “agreement.”

The Zimbabwean liberation movement was up against a formidable adversary. Between 1960 and 1963, the White settler government had received four transport aircraft, 12 fighter aircraft, and 30 armored fighting vehicles, called Ferret armoured cars, from London, along with three light helicopters from France. [54] The colonial organization in 1965, in Zimbabwe, was changed. In 1964, a White minority government, called UDI (Universal Declaration of Independence), was illegally created by Ian Smith, imposing apartheid rule and invalidating the phony 1961 constitution. [55] But the British “lacked the [political] will to put down this constitutional treason,” even as they had the will to disarm those that opposed the new government, so the UN instituted sanctions and gave sympathy to the liberation movement, setting the stage for guerrilla warfare in years following. During the period, Smith’s government received 10 light aircraft and 20 towed guns from Italy, along with one transport aircraft from the United States and 12 armored cars from apartheid South Africa. [56]

Still, the Zimbabwean revolutionaries did not give up. As resistance against the settler government continued to grow, and the Rhodesian Front whipped up White nationalist sentiment, Zimbabweans argued that “freedom can only be achieved by confrontation and determination.” [57] The Soviets still backed the moderate Nkomo over Mugabe, who was more radical and Marxist. This was partially due to Mugabe’s call to run his own organization while Nkomo was willing to rely on aid from the Cubans and Soviets. The Soviets also felt this aid was important since they saw China’s aid in this struggle as “hostile” even if that meant supporting someone less radical. It is also worth pointing out that that despite Cuba’s support for Zapu broadly, they did help the military wing of Zanu, which also received military training in Mozambique. This shows yet again that Cuba is not some “Soviet satellite,” as ignorant bourgeois commentators will bark.

While one could argue that Zapu was more internationalist since they sought assistance from Ghana, Egypt, the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO), GDR (“East Germany”), and Eastern European nations within the Warsaw Pact, which interestingly gave Fidel Castro more of a role as a “benefactor of third world liberation,” allowing them to be better trained and equipped than the Zanu’s military wing, Zanu connected with exiled Black nationalist Robert F. Williams. [58] They asked Williams to send copies of his publication, The Crusader, in exchange for copies of their paper, the Zimbabwe News. It is worth pointing out that despite charges that Zanu was some US-backed organ because of their reported skepticism of “accepted” liberation organizations in Southern Africa, the publication criticized Moscow, said that the Soviets were collaborating with US imperialism, criticized ANC for being pacifist, took a Black Power stand, promoted those such as H. Rap Brown, and frequently cited Mao Zedong, along with pronouncements of African socialism. [59] Hence, the Zapu claim that Zanu was US-sponsored falls flat and is almost a joke. Such a claim is also further invalidated by the fact that Zapu’s strategy to discredit Zanu leaders was “based on personal accounts and accusations” in papers such as the Daily News, which effectively served as a pro-Zapu and anti-Zanu outlet. [60]

Despite their differences, there is no doubt that Zapu and Zanu had a tough fight. For Zanu, they engaged in armed struggle, first tested in April 1966 in Sinoia, in an engagement that proved “tactically manageable” but shook the “Rhodesian White community.” [61] Such events, followed by freedom fighters of Zanu and Zapu going off to socialist countries to train, coming back “to intensify the armed struggle,” were downplayed by the information department of the UDI, who claims that all was well in the country, with news of battles suppressed in their totality. The same was the case for those guerrillas in the Zapu-ANC alliance, which engaged in a rough, bloody battle in August 1967, which resulted in heavily censored news inside of the country. [62] Zanu, pointed this out the same year, arguing that the illegal White government in Zimbabwe was trying to stoke ethnic discord by stressing “ancient wars among Africans” in radio and news commentaries, along with in schools, saying that the government was circulating letters that purport to be from the GDR (“East Germany”) as a way of stirring up mischief. [63] As for the tactics used by Zapu, some argued they had no significant impact, an assessment which resulted in a new strategy formulated, with a plan to send a joint military force across the Zambezi River into northwest Zimbabwe. This was done with the realization of the nature of their enemy as “British imperialism assisted by NATO” while understanding “the savagery role of the Washington government,” vowing the fight until the end. [64]

Internationally, Zapu and Zanu played differently. Zanu members were critical of Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) leading SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), arguing that Carmichael was partnering with Zapu and ANC, which was only partially true since in his autobiography, he says that he supported the Pan-African Congress more than other organizations, seeing it as mature, principled, and young, a bit like SNCC. [65] Still, it worth noting that this “alliance of convenience” between the ANC and Zapu may have seemed sound by many but also could be arguably “narrow and selfish” with a wider alliance of nationalist parties in the region perhaps a better strategy. [66] In Algiers, the location of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Eldridge of the Black Panthers met with Charles Chikarema of Zapu who introduced him to an Elaine Klein, an American woman who worked with the Ministry of Information in Algeria, who let Eldridge be officially invited to the country along with a Black Panther Party delegation, removing his dependency on Cuba as a place of exile. [67] Due to this development, and the fact that Sithole of Zanu appeared in court, at one point, saying that he publicly wanted to disassociate himself from “any subversive activities” and from any “form of violence,” it is likely that the Black Panther coalition and support group in Zimbabwe was pro-Zapu. [68] However, one cannot be completely sure about this since Zanu was much more Black nationalist. The latter was clear when the Zimbabwe News declared that “Christianity has been used as a subtle instrument to destroy Zimbabwe culture” which some was a statement that went “too far.” [69]

By 1969, the situation in Zimbabwe was worsening. With financial interests in White-ruled Africa, Africans continued to be oppressed by about two hundred British firms in companies led by a small “White group of capitalists,” while 86% of Zimbabweans worked (and lived) in rural areas on European farms or subsisting as cash-crop farmers. [70] Additionally, education was not free (or compulsory), Whites earned much more than Black Africans by far, and no African nationalist organization could hold weight, with the masses angry about the system of the whole, not just the UDI government. [71] It was clear that the British government would not “stand idle while a truly people’s socialist revolution is on the verge of reality in Zimbabwe” with British intervention in the country either to save their “kin” or to put in place a “neo-colonialist puppet regime.” [72] While this did not happen by 1970, the UDI elites consolidated their control. At that time, they had a strong military force, consisting of 3,400 regular troops, 6,400 police troopers, 28,500 reserve police, two infantry battalions, 1,200 Air Force personnel, 4,000 Air Force personnel in reserve, and one field artillery piece. [73] They also had advanced airplanes, helicopters, and other machinery, many from Western capitalist states, along with an alliance with South Africa. This included, in part, South African troops in Zimbabwe, aided by Britain and US military personnel, along with fascist organizations across the Western capitalist world supporting the horrid White settler government. [74]

There were a number of continuities throughout the 1960s in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle. For one, Zimbabwean women subverted traditional gender roles by fighting as freedom fighters, sometimes in fatigues, along with providing troops with food and clothing, and they later earned praise for their valuable “contributions to the revolution.” [75] This was likely the case in Zanu and Zapu. There is no doubt that the violence of the apartheid government in Zimbabwe led to armed resistance among the liberation movement, along with Nkomo to be imprisoned in a concentration camp, one of the ways the government tried to keep the populace under control, from 1964 to 1970, along with killing of many comrades in the process. [76] It is worth noting that Mugabe was also imprisoned from December 1963 until November 1974, but was still part of the liberation struggle. The bloody battle for liberation in Zimbabwe, between the White settler-rulers and “black guerrilla movements” through the 1960s and until the late 1970s, as even the US State Department acknowledged, was part of something bigger. There were liberation groups and revolutionaries across East Africa ranging from The Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO), the Southwest African People’s Organization (SWAPO), ANC, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Zanu, and Zapu, all of which “utilized Tanzanian training camps” so they could “prepare and plan anticolonial wars” against White settler governments in the region. [77] Such developments interested Black nationalist Robert F. Williams greatly, not surprisingly. As John Nkomo of the Zapu grouping, said years later, they worked closely with Nordic countries, such as Sweden, the latter which cooperated with Zanu and Zapu, allowing them to bring equipment back to Zimbabwe, with some equipment later donated to Zambia since they had “sacrificed so much.”

Notes

[1] Such stories have been published in the Zimbabwe Independent, News24, International Business Times UK, New Zimbabwe, The Zimbabwe Mail, NewsDay, ZimEye, and The Zimbabwe Daily, among many others.

[2] Immanuel Wallerstein, Africa: The Politics of Independence: An Interpretation of Modern African History (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), 22.

[3] Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1982), 65.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Wallerstein, 22.

[6] Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 65.

[7] Ibid, 64.

[8] Immanuel Wallerstein, Africa: The Politics of Independence: An Interpretation of Modern African History (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), 23; Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1982), 48.

[9] Wallerstein, 23; Rodney, 66.

[10] Rodney, 66.

[11] Rodney, 66-67.

[12] Rodney, 64, 67.

[13] Wallerstein, 23.

[14] Rodney, 134.

[15] Rodney, 67-68.

[16] Wallerstein, 23.

[17] Rodney, 65.

[18] Ibid, 165, 233.

[19] Ibid, 163.

[20] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle (ed. Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), Cairo: Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organization, 1972, second edition), 14.

[21] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary. Sadly, the original name of this documentary or its British announcer, clearly a journalist at the time, is not known. On the webpage for the film, a horrid anti-Mugabe book is linked, a book by a French academic who wants to think “beyond” the Zanu-PF.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 14-15.

[24] Ibid, 15.

[25] Ibid, 15-16.

[26] Ibid, 16-17.

[27] Ibid, 17-19.

[28] Ibid, 20-21.

[29] This information comes from the SIPRI trade register.

[30] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 19.

[31] Ibid, 20-21; Chenhamo Chimutengwende, “Zimbabwe and White-Ruled Africa,” The New Revolutionaries: A Handbook of the International Radical Left (ed. Tariq Ali, New York: William Morrow & Company, 1969), 241.

[32] Ian Taylor, China and Africa: Engagement and Compromise (New York: Routledge, 2006), 107-108.

[33] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary.

[34] Chimutengwende, 241-242.

[35] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 22-23.

[36] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary. Mugabe also said that his wife at the time, Sally Mugabe, participated in a women’s demonstration in 1961.

[37] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 24-25.

[38] Ibid, 25.

[39] Ibid, 26-29; “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary.

[40] Gerald Horne, From the Barrel of a Gun: The United States and the War Against Zimbabwe, 1965-1980 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 351; Alex Thomson, An Introduction to African Politics, p. 144. There is also an academic article by Dumiso Dabengwa titled “Relations between ZAPU and the USSR, 1960s–1970s: A Personal View” which may shed light on this subject.

[41] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary.

[42] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 24-25. Part of this armed confrontation included the conviction that “physical attacks on Whites and their property were necessary.”

[43] Chimutengwende, 242.

[44] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 31-32, 33-37.

[45] Ibid, 32-37.

[46] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary. Mugabe himself had declared in December 1962 that it was time to move to armed struggle.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 38. After this idea of reconciliation was abandoned from within the liberation movement, it became an “external, non-Zimbabwe wish, not worth pursuing” as Zapu argued in this publication.

[49] It is also worth pointing out that China funded the Pan-African Congress while the Soviets supported the African National Congress in South Africa.

[50] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 21-22, 40; Timothy Scarnecchia, The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe: Harare and Highfield, 1940-1964 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2008), 141, 146, 161. Despite the futility of the Zanu-Zapu power struggle, reportedly the split between Zanu and Zapu was a “class divide” with Zanu supporters including college students (and peasants) and Zapu supporters being the “old guard.” Also, reportedly, Zapu was better in urban settings than Zanu.

[51] Taylor, China and Africa, 106-108. In earlier years, the Chinese trained and sent armed to Zapu, but this changed after the Sino-Soviet split came into full force in the later 1960s.

[52] Ibid, 108-109.

[53] Ibid, 107-110, 113.

[54] This information comes from the SIPRI trade register.

[55] Ibid; Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 47-49; “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary. Also, top British colonial personnel continued talks with the regime, allowing it to stand under legal fictions, and putting in the farce of sanctions, reinforcing their “colonial responsibility” in Rhodesia.

[56] This information comes from the SIPRI trade register.

[57] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 40-41; Timothy Scarnecchia, The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe, 148. Comes from a letter in 1964 from Zimbabwean mothers.

[58] Robeson Taj Frazier, “A Revolution is Not a Dinner Party: Black Internationalism, Chinese Communism and the Post World War II Black Freedom Struggle, 1949-1976,” Spring 2009, Dissertation for University of California, Berkeley, p. 179. Zapu guerrillas also reportedly received training in Algeria, Bulgaria, North Korea, and the Congo region. Also, one Zapu guerrilla told a Zimbabwean court in 1968 that in the Soviet Union, guerrillas had classes lasting four months on a wide range of topics including “political science, aspects of intelligence work…use of codes and ciphers.” and given a rundown on work of “the CIA, MI6 and MI5, and the French and Federal German intelligence organisations” along with being taught how to use “explosives, hand-grenades, and how to use and assemble guns, rifles and pistols.”

[59] Gerald Horne, From the Barrel of a Gun, 247, 258. Horne, who obviously thinks more highly of Zapu than Zanu, claims that the US was more skeptical of Zapu than Zanu because Zapu was friendlier to Eastern European socialist nations, claims that Zanu boosted “marginal forces with suspicious origins” like COREMO (Mozambique Revolutionary Committee), and that Nkomo dealt with African Americans more diplomatically than Zanu. These claims should be treated very skeptically

[60] Timothy Scarnecchia, The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe, 141.

[61] Chimutengwende, 245-246.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Gerald Horne, From the Barrel of a Gun, 255.

[64] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 60-65.

[65] Robeson Taj Frazier, “A Revolution is Not a Dinner Party,” p. 153, 182.

[66] Chimutengwende, 244. It is worth noting that both the ANC and Zapu groups had a “fairly formal structure with a commander and a political commissar,” with both “dressed in semi-military uniforms” from 1966 to 1968, at least.

[67] Gaidi Faraj, “Unearthing the Underground: A study of radical activism in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army,” Fall 2007, Dissertation for the University of California, Berkeley, p. 197.

[68] Maxwell C. Standford, Jr., “We Will Return in the Whirlwind: Black Radical Organizations 1960-1975,” January 3, 2003, Union Institute and University, Cincinnati, Ohio, p. 277-278; Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 39-40.

[69] Thomas Turino, “Race, Class, and Musical Nationalism in Zimbabwe,” Music and the Racial Imagination (ed. Ronald M. Radano, Philip V. Bohlman, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 572.

[70] Chimutengwende, 238-239, 248.

[71] Ibid, 239-240, 248.

[73] Ibid, 250. Examples cited include those of Sekou Toure or Albert Karume.

[74] Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 50-51.

[75] Ibid, 52-55.

[76] Linda Lumsden, “Good Mothers with Guns: Framing Black Womanhood in the Black Panther, 1968-1980,” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol. 86, No. 4, Winter 2009, p. 908, 919; Taylor, China and Africa, 107-108; Timothy Scarnecchia, The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe, 146; Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 42, 44-46, 66. In a 1976 article, The Panther extolled the “egalitarian, gun-toting example of women revolutionaries who fought alongside men” in Palestine and Zimbabwe.

[77] Robeson Taj Frazier, “A Revolution is Not a Dinner Party,” p. 156.