Small Wars Journal

Drawing Lessons from Zimbabwe's War of Liberation

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 4:01am

Drawing Lessons from Zimbabwe's War of Liberation: Efficacious Use of Propaganda and Violence

Jephias Andrew Dzimbanhete


The article seeks to examine aspects of Zimbabwe's liberation war from which today's politics can draw lessons. The aspects are propaganda and violence that were deployed by the Rhodesian Front-led government and the liberation movements. The basis of colonial propaganda during the war of independence was the misconception that the rural people were passive, unsophisticated and gullible. On the other hand the liberation movements, who were cognisant of the significant role of the subaltern group, the peasants, with whom they collaborated, did not propagate delusive propaganda. The liberation forces deployed propaganda that was bound up with the fight for freedom. The white minority regime unleashed indiscriminate violence against the civilian population. The intention was to glean information about the freedom fighters and punish the rural population for cooperating with the liberation fighters. Such random violence rebounded and did not produce the desired results. The liberation forces used violence against members of the rural population who collaborated with the Rhodesian regime and security forces. Guerrilla violence was selective and generally did not alienate the liberation guerrilla fighters from the rural populace. This article derives from the author's doctoral study on the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)'s guerrilla war.*


Zimbabwe attained its independence in 1980 after a war that pitted the colonial forces of Rhodesia against the Zimbabwean liberation guerrilla forces. The war assumed a guerrilla warfare character and drew the warring parties into a contest that was both military and political. The goal of either side in the political rivalry was to control the African population that resided in the countryside which was the war's theatre of operation. The Rhodesian security forces needed to win the ‘hearts and minds' of the rural populace so that they could secure information about the activities of the nationalist guerrilla forces. The colonial forces thus desired the co-operation of the rural African people in their agenda of fighting what they labeled ‘terrorism'. On the other hand it was imperative for the liberation forces to secure political control of the rural population. This entailed securing their sympathy and support. The profit of political control of the rural population for the liberation fighters was the availability of food, clothing, intelligence and other logistical support. Controlling access to the civilian population was the key to defeating one's opponent in the liberation war. The contending forces got embroiled in a situation that demanded the deployment of propaganda and violence to achieve the goal of exerting political control over the civilian population. I do not however intend to catalogue lessons that could be drawn from the Zimbabwe's war of liberation war in the manner of saying lesson number 1, lesson 2 and so on. I simply examine and revisit the nature of war-time violence and propaganda and present a critical expose which has been lacking in much of the documented narratives of the war of national liberation. In this article I subscribe to Sturges's definition of propaganda. He writes that propaganda is the practice of distributing material that is untrue or if it is true, it is actually not relevant and applicable. The aim of propaganda is to confuse and deceive those that receive it.[1]

Wartime Propaganda

Propaganda dissemination by the war's rival players involved a process of projecting information about oneself in a positive manner and of the adversary in a negative style. For the contesting players propaganda thus served as either an instrument of offence or defence. Whilst the Rhodesian colonial regime was able to mobilise massive propaganda machinery the Zimbabwean liberation movement had to make do with an inferior but effective propaganda apparatus.

The Propaganda Tool of the Rhodesian Government

The colonial government churned out propaganda which largely demonised the liberation fighters. The intention was to alienate the liberation fighters from the rural populace and to elicit the loyalty of the residents of the rural areas, the war's theatre of operation. The basis of this propaganda was that the rural population was unsophisticated, gullible and passive. Such colonial stereotype and bigotry found expression in intimations of the following nature: ‘The typical ZANLA fighter was unsophisticated, but the impoverished peasants among whom he operated were usually illiterate and even more unsophisticated'.[2] Newspapers and magazines which included The Rhodesian Herald, The Sunday Mail, The African Times, The Bulawayo Chronicle, The Police Outpost, The Parrot and others were awash with reports on the glowing and successful military successes of the Rhodesian army forces. These reports compiled by white Rhodesian journalists exaggerated the numbers of liberation fighters that were killed in encounters between the warring parties and also understated the figures of the Rhodesian soldiers who died in the same encounters. The hope was that the black population of Rhodesia, especially those who resided in the rural areas, would realise that it was futile to back a losing side. This would drive them away from co-operating with the liberation fighters. The rural populace were also bombarded with war communiqués that came through the radio services of the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation (RBC). These communiqués not only inflated the number of the freedom fighters that the Rhodesian armed forces killed but also understated the figures of members of the Rhodesian forces who died at the hands of the nationalist fighters.

The same propaganda machinery of the Rhodesian regime demonised the liberation fighters and stressed the cruelty and brutality of the freedom fighters. Besides exaggerating guerrilla violence this propaganda fingered the liberation fighters for atrocities they probably did not commit. Instead the Rhodesian Selous Scouts, a pseudo-guerrilla unit of the colonial armed forces, committed atrocities disguised as the liberation guerrilla fighters. These atrocities included the murder of missionaries at rural mission stations and use of chemical weapons. Writing in 2006, Parker, a former Rhodesian serviceman, revealed that the Selous Scouts were responsible for the murder of Father Killian Huesser, a Roman Catholic priest based at Berejena Mission in February 1980.[3] The Rhodesian media had rushed to blame the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), one of the two liberation armies of Zimbabwe's war of independence. The cold-blooded murder of seven white missionaries at St. Pauls' Musami on 7 February 1977 was also blamed on the liberation fighters. Writing in 1999, Reid-Daly echoed Rhodesian regime propaganda when he indicated that the white missionaries at Musami Catholic Mission were slaughtered without mercy by Robert Mugabe's ZANLA forces.[4] The balance of probability points to the Rhodesian Selous Scouts as being responsible for the murder. It was very likely that the Rhodesian Selous Scouts were responsible for the murder of white missionaries at rural outposts and rural African businessmen.[5] The Rhodesian regime made capital of these murders and used them as propaganda material to discredit the forces of liberation. This was in the vain hope that this would erode the support that the rural population rendered to the liberation forces. The Rhodesian Ministry of Information produced, and distributed pamphlets that told gory stories of guerrilla violence on the civilian population. The African people were however not turned away from the liberation fighters but instead they became glued to the nationalist guerrilla fighters and the cause for freedom.

The weakness of Rhodesian propaganda was it lacked essential preoccupation with the truth. The rural population who were the target of the propaganda was aware of its factual deficiency and found it ludicrous. For example part of the Rhodesian propaganda that reached the African people insinuated that the freedom fighters willy-nilly raped married women. But peasants never experienced these scenarios in the war zones. The Rhodesian regime also propagated that the armed wings of the liberation movements were ‘terrorists' who murdered civilians indiscriminately and for no reason. The rural people witnessed a totally different picture. The nature of Rhodesian propaganda stemmed from the faulty colonial view that the African mind was a container that could be emptied and refilled. Contrary to this view, the rural African people were awake to the fact that the atrocities that were attributed to the freedom fighters by Rhodesian propaganda were committed by Rhodesian army units especially the Rhodesian Selous Scouts.

Overall the propaganda that was disseminated by the Rhodesian authorities failed to produce the desired results. The target of this propaganda (misinformation), the rural population, unfortunately, was not moved. The rural people remained committed to the forces of liberation and the cause of freedom. In reality what the rural African population persistently encountered were atrocities committed by the Rhodesian security forces. Insidious colonial injustices continued to bite the African people. The continual refusal by the colonial authorities to grant economic and political spaces to the African population, which was the root cause of the liberation struggle, made their propaganda count for nothing.

The Liberation Fighters and Their Propaganda

Pro-Rhodesian narratives have insinuated and acknowledged that the liberation fighters waged a far more effective psychological and propaganda war than the white Rhodesians.[6] This was a result of the flawed conviction of the white Rhodesians that the claim by the liberation fighters that the discontented black masses of the impending new Zimbabwe were oppressed by the Rhodesian minority government was propaganda.[7] The political mobilisation of the rural population by the liberation fighters emphasised the cruelty and brutality of the colonial forces and colonial injustice that severely gnawed the African population. This was real and could not pass as propaganda (misinformation). It was largely at pungwe (night gatherings) that the liberation guerrilla fighters conducted political mobilisation of the rural peasants. Guerrilla propaganda appeared in the military reports that the liberation fighters announced at pungwe gatherings and through the radio broadcasts of the Voice of Zimbabwe that was beamed from Dar-es-Salaam, Lusaka and Maputo during the war. These reports amplified the military successes of the liberation fighters especially the ZANLA forces. This was largely through the deliberate avoidance of stating the military setbacks and losses of the liberation forces and inflating cases of fatalities.[8] The propaganda of the nationalist liberation forces was effective because it was crafted in such a way that it fitted in with the expectations of the rural people who were yearning for the removal of the unjust colonial system. The study turns to the aspect of violence which was bilaterally deployed for diverse reasons and in different circumstances by the rival parties during Zimbabwe's war of liberation.

Wartime Violence

The contesting players in Zimbabwe's war of decolonisation resorted to violence in different contexts. The Rhodesian security forces encountered the challenge of failing to engage the Zimbabwean freedom fighters in a frontal war because the latter adopted guerrilla warfare. Consequently, the Rhodesian armed forces had to rely on a set of strategies often called counter-insurgency, whose main objective was to deprive the guerrilla fighters of civilian support. This constituted the violence that was deployed by the colonial army against the civilian population in the rural areas. Counter-insurgency entailed instituting draconian reprisals and meting out collective punishment against civilians for their collaboration with the freedom fighters. Due to their preoccupation with survival the guerrilla fighters avoided frontal military engagement of the Rhodesian security forces. Guerrilla violence visited members of the rural populace who jeopardised the lives of the freedom fighters by reporting guerrilla activities to the Rhodesian security forces. However, before the guerrillas resorted to civilian executions they warned would-be traitors or collaborators against providing the colonial forces with information on their activities.[9] Invariably, guerrilla violence was used as a last resort when members of the rural population failed to take heed of guerrilla warnings. The liberation fighters thus used violence on civilians sparingly because they could not afford to lose the priceless support they rendered them. Civilian support and co-operation was the linchpin of guerrilla survival in a war in which they faced superior forces.

The Colonial Army's Repressive Violence

The violence that was used by the Rhodesian government troops against the rural people was vastly greater than that used by the guerrillas. This was because they were the incumbent government's armed forces and consequently had superior military machinery at their disposal. Many black civilians in the war zones became victims of this violence. The regime's soldiers were motivated to commit violence against the rural peasants (the guerrillas' support base) because of their failure to glean information about the guerrilla fighters and their activities. Colonial repressive violence was also inspired by the obvious fact that the rural people provided logistical support to the guerrilla forces. In their oral testimonies civilians who participated in the war of liberation have indicated that they were subjected to forms of repression that included terror, starvation, death and destruction of their property and homes[10]. In addition to this repression the colonial authorities introduced forceful relocation of the peasants especially along the country's borders. Werbner noted the extreme measures of the Rhodesian regime from 1973 onwards of collective punishment imposed under the Emergency Powers directed against whole communities for supporting the liberation fighters.[11] The measures included imposition of dusk to dawn curfew. Members of the rural population who broke these curfew regulations were shot at. Excessive force was used in the relocation of Africans into ‘protected villages' which were introduced to deny the liberation forces' access to the rural population.

The guerrilla fighters managed to negotiate a convivial relationship with the rural juveniles, who among other wartime duties provided them with intelligence about the Rhodesian security forces. The co-operation and alliance between the freedom fighters and the juveniles (vanamujibha and vanachimbwido) was significant in the successful prosecution of the liberation war. This collaboration infuriated the Rhodesian security forces who decided to shoot dead all juveniles who were found outside homes at whatever time of the day. Entire villages, homes, granaries, and crops in the rural areas were burnt down by the Rhodesian armed forces. The Indemnity and Compensation Act that was passed by the Rhodesian government in 1975 granted the colonial regime officials and forces with the immunity against prosecution for atrocities that they committed against the civilian population.[12] This Act of Parliament officially bestowed on the Rhodesian army forces and other government officials the carte blanche to commit atrocities and murder on the rural people. Cases abound of Rhodesian security forces shooting dead civilians for no apparent reason during the war. They would make reports that they killed guerrilla fighters. In a rural area south of Masvingo, a man and his four children who were working in their field were shot dead by Rhodesian soldiers. The soldiers actually went about boasting that they had killed five guerrilla fighters.[13]  

Villagers were sometimes witness to grisly incidents such as the bayoneting of a pregnant woman to death by the Rhodesian security forces. One ex-mujibha related such murder of a pregnant woman near Morgenster Mission, southeast of Masvingo. The responsible Rhodesian security forces unkindly commented that she was carrying communist weapons in her womb.[14] Terror was exercised on the rural peasants in various other forms. The imposition of a dusk to dawn curfew not only curtailed the movement of the rural people but provided the Rhodesian security forces with the excuse to shoot down people in the rural areas. Galling incidents that included tying people on army trucks and then dragging them on the ground for long distances were commonplace. Parker described how the Rhodesian soldiers how an adult man was made to sit on the bonnet of the lead army truck in the war zone hoping that he would reveal sites on the dirt roads were landmines were planted[15]. It was commonplace that peasants had parts of their bodies like noses, ears and limps dismembered by members of the colonial armies especially the Rhodesian Selous Scouts. Stories abound of rural women who were also raped by members of the Rhodesian army. The death of Rhodesian soldiers after Rhodesian army tracks detonated landmines spelt danger to the people in the vicinity. They faced the wrath of Rhodesian forces' repression. They would be subjected to terror that included severe beatings, torture and destruction of their homes and property. In his autobiography, Godwin, a white Rhodesian who worked for the British South African Police decried the failure of the Rhodesian forces to forge good relations with the rural people. Instead they went berserk in an orgy of violence and burnt rural homes in Matabeleland.[16]

The many raids of pungwe gatherings that were carried out by the colonial regime forces regrettably left many civilians dead. In May 1978 in Gutu District Rhodesian forces attacked a pungwe gathering resulting in the death of over 150 civilians and just one Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) guerrilla fighter.[17] The government forces were quite aware that their raids on pungwe meetings resulted in the death of innocent civilians. That they never exercised restraint was an index of their cruelty and the propensity to commit atrocities against the rural population. These attacks which did not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants were arbitrary and non-selective in nature. Every category of people in the rural communities that fell in the war zones became targets of the repressive violence of the Rhodesian government forces. Writing on terrorism in civil wars, Kalyvas observed that indiscriminate violence is targeted at individuals on the basis of their membership in a group perceived to be connected with the opposition irrespective of their individual actions.[18] In the Rhodesian scenario indiscriminate violence was motivated by the known fact that almost every if not all members of the rural societies provided logistical support to the liberation fighters. Kalyvas also holds that random violence is also prompted by information asymmetry between warring parties in a conflict.[19]

Due to lack of the support of the rural African population the Rhodesian security forces experienced dearth of information about guerrilla activities and guerrilla positions in the war zones. The liberation fighters, on the other hand, had access to intelligence which was willingly provided by the rural peasants. Frustration resulting from unavailability of information actuated the application of arbitrary violence by the Rhodesian army forces. The Rhodesian security forces were aware that rural communities were loyal and sympathetic to the liberation fighters but sometimes had no tangible evidence to incriminate them. The unfortunate propensity to apply indiscriminate repression was the result of this shortcoming. The Rhodesian security forces also used violent and desperate means that could not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. These measures included contamination with poison of food and clothing that was destined for guerrilla fighters.[20] Unfortunately, the rural peasants also became victims of the poisoned clothing and food.

This was the nature of the reprisals that the Rhodesian security forces applied on the African people resident in the war zones. This kind of violence exposed the Rhodesian security forces to odium. The Rhodesian regime was wary of the work of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) during the war. The CCJP set about to investigate and publicise violence committed against the civilian population by the warring parties during the war. Bishop Donal Lamont, who was the chairman of the CCJP, faced the wrath of the Rhodesian government for publishing the atrocities they committed when they used force to relocate the peasants into ‘Protected Villages'. He was deported from the country on 23 March 1977.[21] Sister Janice McLaughlin, a Catholic nun, who also worked for the CCJP was also deported from Rhodesia for her stand against Rhodesian repressive violence against the rural African people. It was evident that the Rhodesian security forces deployed wanton violence against the civilian population in its unsuccessful attempt to crush the liberation movements.   

The violence that the Rhodesian colonial forces perpetrated against the rural peasants was apparently systematic and organised. It is on this score that it should be appropriately labelled ‘terrorism' and it was the Rhodesian security forces that deserved to be called ‘terrorists'. The Rhodesian regime and its forces hoped that loyalty and sympathy of the peasants would be redefined if they used terror. Resulting from the proclivity of incumbent governments to attribute ills that are rooted internally, the Rhodesian regime justified their random violence in the war zones by intimating that they were fighting against communist-trained and inspired terrorists. They stubbornly refused to accept that the liberation war was not externally motivated but was largely a result of their unjust policies and practises. The Rhodesian regime recoiled from ever attempting to ‘win the hearts and minds' of the rural African population. Such a policy would have implied addressing grievances of the black population in Rhodesia. Officially these grievances did not exist. According to the Rhodesian government and the security force commanders, the way to eliminate terrorism was to kill ‘terrorists', deny them physical access to the black population and punish those who collaborated with them.[22]

Guerrilla ‘Violence for Freedom'

The perpetration of violence by the guerrilla movement against the rural population was no doubt an undeniable feature of the liberation war. However, pro-Rhodesian narratives of the war, which are unfriendly to the liberation fighters, have exaggerated the occurrence of incidents of and the character of guerrilla violence. The narratives have erroneously contended that guerrilla violence was part of the manner and method that the liberation movements employed to secure the co-operation of the rural population. Such narratives have given the impression that the liberation fighters applied violence against specific groups of the rural community. Kriger and Sachikonye suggest that chiefs, headmen, kraal heads, church leaders, shopkeepers and government agricultural demonstrators were obvious targets of guerrilla violence.[23] Sachikonye makes the contention that: ‘There was also a great deal of violence exercised by guerrillas against collaborators of regime forces as well as against civilians amongst the African rural population'.[24] Sachikonye errs in making a distinction between collaborators and civilians. Collaborators definitely emerged from the civilian population in the rural areas. Villagers who participated in the war have revealed that sell outs or traitors (vatengesi) that collaborated with the Rhodesian army forces were from all categories of the rural population. The sub-scholarly literature produced by ex-Rhodesian servicemen has largely exaggerated guerrilla violence. Chris Lotter, a former Rhodesian soldier manifested this hyperbole when he wrote:

The terrorist

Is excused

His rape and frenzied pillage

May mutilate and burn

For freedom has no crime

Hear the muted agony

Of crippled men and boy [25]

Lotter gives the impression that the freedom fighters exercised violence that included rape, mutilation and cutting off the limps of the civilians. Reid-Daly, the commander of the Rhodesian Selous Scouts during the war, lamented lack of press mention of guerrilla atrocities. He pointed out that these included cases in which wives were forced to eat flesh cut from their murdered husbands' bodies, whole villages razed to the ground and all the villagers slaughtered or burnt to death while locked in their huts.[26] Parker writes that the liberation guerrilla fighters raped, murdered and ruthlessly brutalised the villagers to keep them living in fear.[27] These assertions found in narratives written by ex-Rhodesian servicemen were drawn from and were generally part of the propaganda of the Rhodesian regime. These narratives were not only serious exaggeration but largely untrue. The narrative that provided this hyperbole was also deficient in analysis and failed to realise that guerrilla violence was selective. The liberation fighters did not hesitate to execute and administer thorough beatings on members of the rural communities who sold out information about their activities to the Rhodesian security forces. 

In my doctoral study I documented examples of collaborators who were executed by the liberation fighters around Morgenster and Bondolfi Missions.[28] I however indicated that these killings were not part of the programme of the freedom fighters. The nationalist fighters were at pains to avoid estranging themselves from the rural population. Executions were dictated by the need to survive since civilian collaboration with the colonial army forces put the lives of the freedom fighters and the peasants at risk. It was clear that guerrilla violence that visited the rural folk was discriminate. It was used against only those elements of the rural population, who against the express advice of the liberation forces collaborated with the Rhodesian security forces. It was possible that the liberation fighters executed innocent people who were incorrectly judged to be traitors. These were exceptions rather than the rule. The rural people easily avoided guerrilla violence by refraining from flirting with the Rhodesian security forces as per advice of the liberation fighters. It is significant to note that guerrilla violence during Zimbabwe war of liberation was effective because it was combined with an agenda to promote peasant interests. Moreover, the Zimbabwean nationalist guerrillas largely practised justice rather than vengeance when they applied violence against elements of the rural population. The application of selective violence by the freedom fighters induced the rural population to be loyal and avail resources to the nationalist freedom fighters. What made guerrilla violence selective? This was largely because the Zimbabwean liberation fighters were careful not to offend the rural people who were the bedrock of their survival by supplying them with intelligence, food and other necessary material. Again, the guerrilla fighters who were freedom fighters purported to be socialist and thus were guided by a moral vision of a better world, which precluded terrorist actions as inconsistent with such a vision.

Guerrilla violence was used in a highly controlled, ancillary and selective fashion within the overall plan of ideological and organisational restructuring in the war's theatre of operation. The liberation movement, especially the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), and its armed wing, ZANLA, crafted a code of conduct that among other issues regulated the relations between the guerrillas and the peasants. The nature of guerrilla violence was influenced by these rules. Among these were the ‘Three Rules' and the ‘Eight Points for Attention.'[29] The code of conduct provided clear-cut censure procedures against commission of unwarranted atrocities by ZANLA forces. ZANLA regulations stipulated that the decision to execute collaborators or sell outs (vatengesi) was the prerogative of senior ZANLA field commanders from detachment leadership and above.[30] This ensured adherence to the process that had to be followed before any killing of such persons took place. The process entailed trials that constituted verification of the allegations that someone had ‘sold out' information which compromised the cause for freedom. It was these important and necessary trial sessions that anti-liberation literature has labelled ‘kangaroo courts' or ‘centres of miscarriages of justice'. Members of ZANLA's Military High Command, which was the supreme organ of the ZANLA guerrilla fighters, based at Chimoio during the last four years of the war, made frequent visits to the war font in colonial Rhodesia. These visits, among other objectives, had the intention of investigating and resolving guerrilla indiscipline which included unnecessary guerrilla violence. In keeping with principles of their revolutionary pursuit the liberation forces wanted to maintain moral superiority over the Rhodesian security forces. An ex-guerrilla fighter, Last Ndega, pointed out that liberation fighters endeavoured to depict that they were disciplined freedom fighters.[31] The ZANLA forces compiled reports of their activities at the war front. These reports were sent to the ZANLA military headquarters at Chimoio, in Mozambique. The exercise of writing reports was part of the training of ZANLA cadres. It was emphasised at training that ZANLA commanders had to compile accurate field reports which included activities like execution of individual enemy soldiers and collaborators. The compilation of reports precluded the liberation fighters from executing and deploying violence against innocent people in the war zones. 


The foregoing discussion has shown that current attempts to equate and link the selective nature of violence that was deployed by the revolutionary guerrilla forces to contemporary outbreaks of violence are unfounded and devoid of academic analysis. The nonselective violence that is perpetrated by troops of an incumbent government is normally intended to stifle legitimate demand for economic and political spaces by the citizens. On the other hand the application of violence on civilians by the liberation fighters was in the interest of creating economic and political space. It would be fitting to refer to guerrilla violence as ‘freedom violence'. The rural people tolerated and accepted it because it was possible to avoid it and were nearly always in agreement to the reasons for deploying it. The Rhodesian colonial regime and its repressive military machinery failed to gain control of the civilian population. It terrorised, starved, butchered and destroyed the property of the rural people. The proper definition of such violence applied on civilians by the Rhodesian security forces would be ‘terrorism'. It was applied to defend a repugnant system and therefore backfired. There was no justification for the deployment of violence on rural people by the colonial forces of the incumbent Rhodesian government. It could not justify its continued hold to power when it failed to address the black people's demand for social justice and political self-assertion.

In its propaganda the Rhodesian colonial government deployed the rhetoric of ‘terrorism' whose goal was to de-legitimise the liberation movements' fight for independence. The colonial government also set about to criminalise the liberation war through its propaganda. These efforts failed to change the attitude of the black people whose hostility towards the white colonial regime intensified. The propaganda of the liberation fighters was effective and strengthened their bond with their fellow black population in the struggle for shaking off the manacle of the unjust colonial system.


Bhebe, N., ZAPU and ZANLA Guerrilla War and the Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe (Gweru: Mambo Press, 1999).

Author, ‘Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle: A Critical Decade of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)'s Guerrilla War (PhD Thesis, Fort Hare University, 2011).

Godwin, G., Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa (London: Macmillan, 1996).

Godwin, P., and Hancock, I., Rhodesians Never Die: The Impact of War and Political Change on White Rhodesia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

Kalyvas, S., ‘The Paradox of Terrorism in Civil War', Journal of Ethics, 8 (2003), pp. 97-138.

Kriger, N., Zimbabwe's Guerrilla War: Peasant Voices (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

Lotter, C., Rhodesian Soldiers and Others who Fought (Alberton: Galago, 1984).

McLaughlin, J., On the Frontline: Catholic Missions in Zimbabwe's Liberation War (Harare: Baobab Books, 1996).

Moorcraft, P., Mugabe's War Machine (Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2012).

Parker, J., Assignment Selous Scouts: Inside Story of a Rhodesian Special Branch Officer (Alberton: Galago, 2006).

Reid-Daly, R., Pamwe Chete: The Legend of the Selous Scouts (Weltervreden Park: Covos-Books, 1999).

Sachikonye, L., When a State Turns on its Citizens: Institutionalised Violence and Political Culture (Auckland Park: Jacana Media, 2011).

Sturges, P., ‘Information in the National Liberation Struggle: Developing a Model', Journal of Documentation, 60, 4 (2004), pp. 428-448.

Werbner, R. P., ‘In Memory: A Heritage of War in South-western Zimbabwe', in N. Bhebe & T. Ranger (eds.,), Society in Zimbabwe's Liberation War (London: James Currey, 1996).

Oral Interviews

Interview with Daniel Jerimani (ex-mujibha), Morgenster Mission, Masvingo, 10 July 2009.

Interview with Felicitas Muzembi, Morgenster Mission, Masvingo, 20 August 2009.

Interview with Alex Mataruse, Murambwi Village, Masvingo, 13 August 2009.

Interview with Last Ndega (ex-ZANLA guerrilla fighter), ZANU (PF) Headquarters, Harare, 19 January 2009.

End Notes

[1]     P. Sturges, ‘Information in the National Liberation Struggle: Developing a Model', Journal of Documentation, 60, 4 (2004), p. 439.

[2]     P. Moorcraft, Robert Mugabe's War Machine (Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2012), p. 62.

[3]     J. Parker, Assignment Selous Scouts: Inside Story of a Rhodesian Special Branch Officer (Alberton: Galago, 2006), p. 285.

[4]     R. Reid-Daly, Pamwe Chete: The Legend of the Selous Scouts (Weltervreden Park: Covos-Books, 1999), p. 292. 

[5]     The Rhodesian Ministry of Information, Tourism and Immigration published a pamphlet in July 1978 in which the description of the murders is given.

[6]     See P. Moorcraft, Mugabe's War Machine, p. 61.

[7]     Parker, Assignment Selous Scouts, p. 187.

[8]     Field commanders were obliged to compile accurate field reports. However, these internal reports took a new form when they became propaganda material. The losses of the nationalist guerrilla forces were left out.

[9]     Interview with Daniel Jerimani (ex-mujibha), Morgenster Mission, Masvingo, 10 July 2009.

[10]     All war zones were witness to such violence.

[11]     R. P. Werbner, ‘In Memory: A Heritage of War in South-western Zimbabwe', in N. Bhebe & T. Ranger (eds.,), Society in Zimbabwe's Liberation War (London: James Currey, 1996), p. 197.

[12]     N. Bhebe, ZAPU and ZANLA Guerrilla War and the Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe (Gweru: Mambo Press, 1999), p. 113.

[13]     Interview with Felicitas Muzembi, Morgenster Mission, Masvingo, 20 August 2009.

[14]     Interview with Alex Mataruse, Murambwi Village, Masvingo, 13 August 2009.

[15]     Parker, Assignment Selous Scouts, p. 58.

[16]     P. Godwin, Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa (London: Macmillan, 1996), p. 302.

[17]     J. McLaughlin, On the Frontline: Catholic Missions in Zimbabwe's Liberation War (Harare: Baobab Books, 1996), p. 196.

[18]     S. Kalyvas, ‘The Paradox of Terrorism in Civil War', Journal of Ethics, 8 (2003), p. 101.

[19]     Ibid, p. 101.

[20]     Parker, Assignment Selous Scouts, p. 159.

[21]     P. Godwin and I. Hancock, Rhodesians Never Die: The Impact of War and Political Change on White Rhodesia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 186.

[22]     P. Godwin and I. Hancock, Rhodesians Never Die, p. 100.

[23]     N. Kriger, Zimbabwe's Guerrilla War: Peasant Voices (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p.104 and L. Sachikonye, When a State Turns on its Citizens: Institutionalised Violence and Political Culture (Auckland Park: Jacana Media, 2011), p. 9.

[24]     Sachikonye, When a State Turns on its Citizens, p. 9

[25]     C. Lotter, Rhodesian Soldiers and Others who Fought (Alberton: Galago, 1984), p. 67.

[26]     Reid-Daly, Pamwe Chete, p. 292.

[27]     Parker, Assignment Selous Scouts, p. 25.

[28]      Author, ‘Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle: A Critical Decade of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)'s Guerrilla War (PhD Thesis, Fort Hare University, 2011), pp. 154-155.

[29]     The ‘Three Rules' and the ‘Eight Points for Attention' were regulations that ZANU adopted from Mao Tse-Tung's practice of revolution in China.

[30]     From ZANLA war documents.

[31]     Interview with Last Ndega (ex-ZANLA guerrilla fighter), ZANU (PF) Headquarters, Harare, 19 January 2009.


About the Author(s)


Mark Adams

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 7:03am

Madhu said: 'I can understand why JMA was upset too.'

Thank you but I was not upset... I just recognised another lie attempting to clothe itself in academic respectability - to which the Journal is a willing accessory.

Angry, not upset.

I do not pretend that elements of the Rhodesian Forces did not commit atrocities because sadly there were atrocities committed. Our propaganda was not as good as it should have been.

But to read this garbage where there is an attempt to sanitize the atrocities of the insurgents makes me want to throw up.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 8:13am

In reply to by Mark Adams

Mark/JMA---you said the article was garbage and that it was second rate.

As an American who understands much more about your particular guerrilla war than most Americans I will tell you that far more was reported by European journalists on the atrocities being committed by the Rhodesian Army than from the guerrilla side--and one could during that period of journalism actually state the reporting was extremely accurate.

Brutality is a mark of any guerrilla war and it was committed by both sides. Remember your particular guerrilla war was unwinnable simply because it was a war of independence from White rule where you were the minority of the population which is a really hard one to win--you can and did delay the final end, but at some point the end comes. That is definitely one historical truth---ask the Sunni's in Iraq.

I for one have felt for years Mugabe was worse than Saddam and should have been in front of the Hague for crimes against humanity, but that is a decision for the population of Zimbabwe to make---ie Kenya recently sent charged individuals to the Hague for trial.

You asked earlier why he was writing his article now and twisting the truth---maybe the truth that he writes about is how he sees the research materials available to him---doubt that he was a fighter based on my guessing of his age so he goes on what is available to him or from interviews of former fighters.

That is the problem with researchers---it is hard to filter out one's own ego, one's own biases and beliefs etc. You asked why now---two guesses 1) it has been about 30 years since the events and that is about the right time for researchers to look at an historical event BUT 2) he is writing I am guessing for the current generation of Zimbabweians---he is definitely not writing for you or myself.

If you feel the article misrepresented the facts remember they were the facts from his point of view then write something from your point of view about the war events and submit it.

You might be surprised by the comments.

Mark Adams

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 6:29am

Duplicate entry and removed by Moderator.

Mark Adams

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 6:27am

I post as JMA in the Council and am a South African who served in the Rhodesian forces from 1973-80.

I quote:

"It was clear that guerrilla violence that visited the rural folk was discriminate. It was used against only those elements of the rural population, who against the express advice of the liberation forces collaborated with the Rhodesian security forces."

Interesting choice of words here. 'Discriminate' and 'advice'.

It is interesting that Dzimbanhete seeks after all this time to sanitize the atrocities of the insurgents. Why would this be? Why would they begin to care now after so many years?

What is truly sad is that the Journal has seen fit to publish this garbage and thereby lend a certain amount of academic credibility to it (when like that other piece of trash from the Dutch boy the MR published) it should have been rejected at the earliest editorial review stage.

Those of us who served in a war will easily be able to sift through what is propaganda and what is not whether from our side or the other. In war time all sides need to use propaganda to promote their cause, this is to be expected.

So I return to my early question; why does Dzimbanhete feel the need to attempt twist the truth some thirty years after the war?


Wed, 12/11/2013 - 2:17pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09:

The rapport building technique, regardless of who you are dealing with, works in domestic law enforcement too. An officer I knew did that with a domestic violence/brutal rape suspect he interviewed. He adopted a pose of sympathetic interest and got the guy to confess everything. He was able to do this even thought the actions the guy related were disgusting. What a job that officer did. I like to brag about the job he did.

That story you told about the HQ for the Iraqi Army is the kind of thing I am talking about. You tell a story like that, people will listen and remember. History on a personal level. (Hitting the relieving force was common in Vietnam I believe. Things stay the same sometimes.)

I get what you say about the two sides stories in this case. But it disturbs me that our side couldn't see what actually happened in that attack on the IA HQ. Not seeing what happened in this case isn't so much a refusal to see it from the other guy's point of view as it is being too incompetent to see what is happening. Sort of like "We chased the raiders away! Yeah but they stole the horse herd! Yeah but we made them run!"

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 1:55pm

In reply to by carl

Carl---thanks for the comment---maybe having been an interrogator and strategic debriefer actually doing the job for over 20 years during the Cold War and speaking with individuals from over 30 countries in as many languages day in and day out ---one develops the ability to just sit back and listen---it paid off well in Iraq. It is called rapport.

What some do not get about really good interrogators is the fact that you might have a hardened insurgent who has beheaded and killed with no remorse and he goes against everything you stand for personally but you learn to push things to the side and objectively "listen"---even I learned from the insurgents things that totally astounded me at times and caused me to really rethink some things.

Iraq was hard on some of us well tuned to what is correct under the GC as the military made us judge, jury, defense lawyer and prosecutor all in one person and if we made a decision that did not sit well with the military they would let you know about.

Yes the language hurts and it is not our "standard" way of communicating, but it is the language of that area---I am only too aware of that period of time in the guerrilla wars of southern Africa as we got far more information in Germany during that period than many Americans did and if they did it was under the tone of Communist support for the guerrillas.

We should also never forget our own CIA involvement especially in the Angolan war where there were so many land mines laid that it will take 40 years to clear in a mineral rich country that is struggling even today with all that wealth still underground.

We need to separate the guerrilla war from the person now in charge ie Mugabe who I have considered for years to be far worse than some of the AQ side of the house and he should have been in the Hague years ago. Mugabe is responsible for so many deaths ---9/11 losses pales in comparison.

You are right there was extreme brutality on both sides---as it was in the other southern African warfare areas during those times---remember we had a Civil War to settle our issues--racial separation---South Africa at that time was defending racial separation at all costs and brutality was a strong method for maintaining that separation.

We often hear in articles that the embargo placed on SA was successful---I would argue if it was so effective just how was SA able to market it's gold and diamonds on the open market worldwide and how ere they able to maintain the weapons flow for multiple war fronts even at the height of the embargo---they did have supporters even on the unofficial US side that does not get talked about much since Mandela's release in 1990.

I would actually like to see more of these types of articles as it gives the other side a chance to tell their story.

Example---in early 2005 the US built a new headquarters for the Iraqi Army it was turned over to them in Baquba, Diyala---the insurgents watched it for awhile and decided to attack it---it was a complex attack with over 100 fighters from AQI, IAI, Ansar al Sunnah and Revolution 1920---they blew a massive number of holes in the building, did kill some IA soldiers when driving them from the building---they withdrew leaving four IED ambushes in place that did hit the US Army QRF that arrived.

NOW if one listened to the US side we "won" because the QRF "drove" the insurgents away---who had already left---FROM the insurgent side they declared a victory after heavily damaging the building, killing some IA and hitting the QRF--- all with no loses.

WHAT I learned from that battle was that both sides have narratives and that the Iraqi war was fought a lot of the time over perceptions---much as the narrative of this particular take on a guerrilla war.


Wed, 12/11/2013 - 1:49pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09:

I wish guys like you, Mike in Hilo, RantCorp and others would "go on and on with examples" of the things you did and learned. A compilation of the things you guys did and learned, told in story form, like the ones you told here, would be the best of all small war manuals. I think that kind of thing would be a far more effective way of presenting small war fighting lessons than any kind of field manual. Imagine a course taught using stories as source material. It would be great.

(One of the truly marvelous things about Small Wars Journal is the presentation of primary source materials in the comments.)

The point of your comment is very well taken. Look, listen and learn. Simple, but not a lot of people do it. A great example of us not doing it over the last ten years is our insistence on continuing night raids regardless of how much the Afghans howl. Listen to the people who live there? And give up the stats? Noooo.

There is something to be learned from this article too. To me if is a fine example of how intelligent and clever men can rationalize extreme murderous brutality. The argument is 'They did. We didn't. And besides what we did do was ok." The author dressed it up a lot more, he does have a Phd after all, but that is the basic argument. It is good to see that and learn it because it will be used again; is being used again, it seems to me that is Taliban & Co's standard.

But from the standpoint of a historical document, this article has very grave problems. From that standpoint it is vile, especially given the history of that poor country since Mugabe took over. The phrase the author used when describing the killings 'freedom violence', is a malignant example of newspeak when looking at the history.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 5:27am

Sometimes understanding the language of one's "enemies" is hard to take, but if one really does understand UW/guerrilla warfare it is ultimately important to get over one's ideological underpinnings step outside one's personal feelings and inherently listen.

No one lately at least in the last ten years has been a good listener.

Example, I probably am registered deeply by the NSA for the amount of time I spent on four critical jihadi websites from 2006 through to 2010 and I fended off a far larger share of Trojans on my laptop and having been a Cisco CCIE the Trojans were designed for 1) password collection, 2) trackers---far more virus attacks than was normal for the Internet---thanks by the way to an Israeli anti virus software.

But what I was able to do was to record the videos and funnel those that applied to training scenarios we were using to prep up BCTs at the NTC Ft. Irwin and by the way I was usually 2-4 weeks ahead of anything coming down from higher intel on specific TTPs and new weapon systems being used by the Sunni insurgencies as well the Shia insurgent groups JAM, special JAM and the Iraqi Hezbollah.

I landed a coup during the surge carried out by the Sunni/AQI insurgents which by the way matched our own surge---a secondary comment---in 2006/2007 due to the sheer numbers of IEDs and IDF attacks there were concerns that Iraq was reaching a tipping point similar to Tet---the coup was at about 0200 one morning I caught a AQI video showing for the first time the RKG-9 hand thrown anti tank grenade being used against our gun trucks. Up to then there had not been any reporting from the field on it although the units were seeing it and thought it was a RPG attack. that video was show only once and then disappeared from the web.

NOTE: the University of Arizona with their Dark Web project had copies of literally thousands of videos, pamphlets etc---that have never been evaluated by the US Army--someday it would be worth doing an analysis and an historical study of the development of the AQI/Sunni insurgency just through their videos.

The NTC COG at that time was one of the few forward thinking Commanders I have been associated with had made it mandatory for all of his OCs to view the videos, and we would use them to train up the BCT Commander and his staff.

NOW what would one except from the Force side---great that we are seeing what we will be facing in a couple of months---NO it was hey this is propaganda and it is from the jihadis WHY should I even look at it!

This was the same attitude that I saw in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 when CDs would be picked up on raids---they were usually throw out and never passed on as DOMEX---I was the only one who would review all of them with my interpreter and it was amazing what we found especially when we stumbled across CDs that were training CDs as this the form of knowledge transfer used in Iraq between the various insurgent groups. Officers of the BCT always claimed they were propaganda and refused to even look at them.

KEY---in a large number of the captured CDs AQI and the other Sunni insurgent groups would often talk about their strategy and where they were on the strategy track and worked as well with named campaigns.

I could on and on with examples of when we had the information necessary to function against the insurgent groups ahead of their tactics and attacks but instead we got hammered--WHY because we were afraid to engage and listen---it was all propaganda is a sentence from Iraq/the NTC I will never forget.

I had learned from my early UW days in the old SF of the 60/70s one must inherently understand one's self as much as one needs to understand the enemy.

This article regardless of the tone, style or contents is an interesting article as it comes form the then enemy.

As someone who had contacts with a number of the participants from both sides while in Berlin---we should not forget the Rhodesian military was just as brutal as was the insurgent side---guerrilla warfare takes no prisoners regardless of which side and the population always sits on the fence until one side appears to be the winner---that is why the Rhodesians lost---the population slowly shifted to the insurgents and got off the fence. WHY they shifted is far more interesting and I think if one reads between the lines the answer is in this article.

For anyone in the then Rhodesian military fighting in Rhodesia to think otherwise is in fact garbage.

Many in the US never really heard of the south African wars ie Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique and if they did it was under the context of Cuban or Communist supported guerrilla wars. No one ever heard of US involvement.

Mark Adams

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 7:06am

In reply to by Wyatt

Yes indeed Wyatt... it defies belief... but you can count on it a bunch of useful idiots will sign onto that and take up the chant.

"Moreover, the Zimbabwean nationalist guerrillas largely practised justice rather than vengeance when they applied violence against elements of the rural population. "

So when the government applies violence to those who supported the ZANLA its an atrocity, but when the ZANLA perpetrate violence against villagers who collaborate with the government it is considered justice?

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 11:38am

In reply to by carl

<blockquote>It seems to me this article can be viewed the same way you would view articles coming out of the Soviet Union in the bad old days (or even now, I read somewhere that only 50% of their archives have been opened), they weren't to be trusted much.</blockquote>

The same goes for the records of many of the colonial small wars that capture your interest, carl. A lot of the information is simply lost to time or was manipulated during the time to represent a narrative to counter the Soviets or the push back the Americans (remember, the period of end of empire was also a bit of competition between European powers and the Americans).

<blockquote>Using counter-insurgency campaigns as paradigms for contemporary practice also involves ignoring their less savoury aspects. These were deliberately concealed by the destruction of incriminating written materials relating to brutality, murder and torture. Even the ashes of burned papers were pulverized by the British, while crates crammed with papers were dropped into deep sea, where there were no currents to wash them up again.</blockquote>

- Michael Burleigh, Small Wars, Faraway Places

This is what many people have been saying around here for years, by focusing on the memoirs of a few guys, we missed a lot of what might actually have happened. But that is the bias of many in the military (and yes, my biases are pretty gross too, look at my next comments), that only certain veterans of certain campaigns have useful information and anything else should be discounted.

Actually, the dissertation on second party counterinsurgency gets to that point in its introduction.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 12:21pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu---this goes to my previous comments---take this right out of the article and replace it with the term liberation fighters with Viet Cong and replace colonial power with the US and it was the same exact guerrilla tactic used in Vietnam--but it takes one to go neutral to see the similarities.

"The political mobilisation of the rural population by the liberation fighters emphasised the cruelty and brutality of the colonial forces and colonial injustice that severely gnawed the African population. This was real and could not pass as propaganda (misinformation). It was largely at pungwe (night gatherings) that the liberation guerrilla fighters conducted political mobilisation of the rural peasants. Guerrilla propaganda appeared in the military reports that the liberation fighters announced at pungwe gatherings and through the radio broadcasts of the Voice of Zimbabwe that was beamed from Dar-es-Salaam, Lusaka and Maputo during the war. These reports amplified the military successes of the liberation fighters especially the ZANLA forces."

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 12:34pm

In reply to by carl

Interesting point about externals.

African externals are changing given the nature of trade with the Chinese and others; some African economies are really heating up to judge by the rush of companies to the region.

I wonder if this underscores <strong>Mark/JMA's</strong> comments about the timing of such articles, assuming there is anything to it at all other than the article just happened to be published now? It can't be news to those profiting from the Mugabe regime that the basic regional situation is rapidly changing.


Fri, 12/13/2013 - 11:39am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09:

About this statement you made:

"Even today when they have elections mostly with fraud Mugabe does well among his supporters even though they know about his corruption. What we the US must learn is that it takes the population to make a decision on whether a leader is deposed or not---it cannot come from the outside ie Iraq and AFG. Mugabe as I have indicated deserves to be in front of the Hague---but it must be through the Zimbabwains themselves."

Forgive me but that is entirely too glib. Repressive, murderous police states like Zimbabwe don't fall that easily, and they almost never fall because of pressure only from within. They fall because of pressure from within AND without. It just isn't that hard for an organized, armed minority to control a larger, perhaps much larger, disorganized and unarmed majority. Just look at the history of...the world.

To confine the discussion to the Zimbabwe, Rhodesia didn't fall only because of pressure from within. There was tremendous pressure from without, huge pressure from without. Without that external pressure in the form of sanctuary, money, arms, training, embargo etc., who knows, Rhodesia may still be, or at any rate would have gone on much longer and made a different kind of transition. At any rate things happened as they did in large part because of the externals.

The poor people of Zimbabwe have very little chance of changing things sans external help and to easily they can if they want to is to vastly underestimate the power of police states.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 12:07pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu---liked the comments from Hastings---this is what I have been trying to get the readers to understand---brutality was on both sides as the whites definitely were defending racial separation to a degree not seen since maybe slavery in the US---but should that stop one from reading and attempting to understand the other side---in my opinion a good researcher learns to push his ego down, set aside the ideology and politics and listen for there is always a grain of truth in even biased articles.

The use of violence and propaganda is actually an interesting take as it goes to the heart of most insurgencies since Mao right up to AQ and the global Salafist movements who have used it as a UW tactic in support of what the strategy is.

Mugabe was longing for the white riches himself-- a common mistake by many of the then upcoming African leaders-- not many of them made the transition that Mandela made as they were never imprisoned as he was---many of them rode the Communist wave as the Communists were the only ones providing them funds and weapons for their guerrilla movements due to the Cold War rivalry between the US and the USSR.

Even today when they have elections mostly with fraud Mugabe does well among his supporters even though they know about his corruption. What we the US must learn is that it takes the population to make a decision on whether a leader is deposed or not---it cannot come from the outside ie Iraq and AFG. Mugabe as I have indicated deserves to be in front of the Hague---but it must be through the Zimbabwains themselves.

I have over the years learned that analysis is a great thing but it takes a level headed understanding of the reality on the ground to confirm or deny the analysis and maybe I have been at this way to long. There is an old saying---put five analysts in the same room and you will get five different answers.

My critique of a number of recent SWJ articles on say Iraq or insurgencies or COIN is that we some how never discuss what the insurgent strategies really are.

Having been a long time interrogator in Berlin during a lot of this history and having had friends in the various German student movements involved during that history and having debriefed a number of the fighters from that time I learned there is always a grain of truth if one is willing to listen for it---but it takes being neutral which a lot of researchers cannot seem to do these days.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 11:11am

In reply to by carl

Fair points, carl.

Perhaps given the nature of the subject, it was a bit gross to thank the author? But I do thank the author in that I am glad to have as wide a variety of authors submit work here as possible, I think it only makes those interested in the study of small wars better students.

I shouldn't have singled out <strong>JMA's</strong> comments in the council but I couldn't access the thread. I often don't follow my own advice here so I probably shouldn't dish it out. When my own 'kith and kin' aren't involved, I can counsel cold logic and restraint but when it is something closer to home, we Americans or South Asia, I don't listen very well to other points of view.

Outlaw's practice is just that I suppose, practice. It takes work to become more analytical. I am trying and often failing.

This Max Hastings article probably gets at the heart of the discussion and why it is so difficult:

<blockquote>The tragedy of Zimbabwe makes some of us search our own consciences, back to the years of white supremacy. I was among visiting correspondents who reported the guerrilla war, until I was deported by the Smith government in 1976. Some British acquaintances with long memories say to me today: "Don't you feel pretty stupid, when you see what Mugabe has done? You were one of the silly ***** who thought his thugs were freedom fighters."

Yes, we did. Like most of my colleagues, I reported from Rhodesia 30 years ago in an almost permanent state of rage. We saw a smug, ruthless white minority, beer guts contained with difficulty inside blazers with RAF crests, proclaiming themselves the guardians of civilisation in the heart of Africa. They killed carelessly, tortured freely, and exploited censorship to conceal their worst excesses. The city dwellers, patrons of Meikles Hotel bar, were the worst, because they were the most hypocritical. Fervent supporters of "good old Smithy", many took care not to expose their necks, preferring to "kill Kruger with [their] mouths", as Kipling had put it 70 years earlier....

Because I was one of those who passionately opposed the white regime and supported black majority rule, I often ask myself whether I bear a minuscule share of responsibility for Mugabe. Reading Godwin's tale of tragedy, of misgovernment on an epic scale, it is difficult to deny that whatever black Rhodesians endured under Smith is less than they have suffered under Mugabe.

Godwin quotes an observation familiar in modern Africa, that the two great tragedies to befall the continent were: the coming of white people; and their departure before creating new institutions capable of sustaining themselves, to replace those that they had destroyed.</blockquote>

So here we are in 2013 trying to understand it all. And just how do we do that? I notice on these boards that those that we identify with become the most important bearers of information, me with Indian and Pakistani immigrants and the American academic world of my upbringing, military men and women and their favored counterparts, and so on.

But what do we miss when we only look at those with which we sympathize?

I am talking to myself here, too. I am failing at the very thing I am asking others to do. This is hard.


Wed, 12/11/2013 - 1:54am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


There are some things to be gleaned from this article, but you have to dig deep and read between the lines to get to them. Maybe it is worth getting there, maybe not. Maybe it more worthwhile to look elsewhere.

The problem with this is the author lives in a police state and he can only say what the powers that be approve of. If he doesn't... It seems to me this article can be viewed the same way you would view articles coming out of the Soviet Union in the bad old days (or even now, I read somewhere that only 50% of their archives have been opened), they weren't to be trusted much.

Roger that on the Pak Army playing the US. I think though that there are Americans and then, there are Americans. The people the Pashas of Pindi play are the inside the beltway grandees and the multi-stars surround by their entourages. Those guys are so arrogant they in effect walk around with signs on the seats of their pants saying "Grift me!". I think the people on this site aren't such great fools at the great ones are.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 11:25pm

I can understand why JMA was upset too.

But let me illustrate my point in a way that might resonate given the circumstances in Afghanistan.

During the Cold War and continuing on to today, a certain type of Indian academic or diplomat or military officer would speak in a way guaranteed to offend an American. Probably because what they might say WAS anti-American and at times inaccurate and downright insulting.

As a young person, I remember more than one incident where I would get so angry in a group of immigrants, fellow diaspora, that I would have to leave the room. Ranting on and on about the terrible Americans when huge numbers of their people starved! I mean, come on!

A skillful people would have cultivated the Americans and the British instead of firing off press releases and whining about American support for the Pakistanis.

And yet. Within those diatribes (and look at some of the Indians posting in the Council, how easily Americans become irritated at what seems like anti-China and anti-American venom) were important piece of information.

Whatever it might have been wrapped up in there were warnings about ignoring nuclear proliferation within the context of the Cold War, the danger of using of non-state actors and placing all Asian strategic bets on the location of Pakistan and its friendly army, and how maybe, just maybe, China could end up being a bit of competition and not just a puzzle piece to use against the Soviets.

The worst most horrible Indian anti-American invective held these crumbs of information wrapped within....

American military men (and it's usually men) of a certain age and a certain generation were completely dismissive and preferred the style, the conversation, the way of presenting information that they heard from the Pakistani officers they worked with and tended to disregard the other opinion.

Oh, that type of American will run away from it now, and the Pakistanis DO have important things to say and we should listen, but Americans are neither Pakistani nor Indian and should have listened a little more carefully to a wider group, not just to those they found personally pleasing.

You don't have to agree. But you should keep your ear to the ground because you never know what might be helpful.

I expect my points to go right in one ear and out the other, however....

All kinds of people know this about us, by the way, Americans and their weaknesses, their inability to listen unless spoken to in a certain sweet and pleasing way. Some people know just how to work it too. You think a Chalabi just happens?

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 2:38pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

TheCurmudgeon--agree with you on it would be more interesting to see what really did pull as propaganda because at some point the local population did get off the fence and sided with the insurgents---one of the insurgent core propaganda drives was "the whites control the earth and are not allowing you to be successful farmers---followed by a strong campaign on land reform---which pulls in any guerrilla war where the farmers are not land owners and are struggling/poor and the perceived rich white farmers have everything"

Mugabe rode this tenor hard during the war, but failed in the end to push through land reform as the judicial system was still for many years mainly white and their decisions often went against the government---only recently was land reform pushed through and a moderate agricultural revival is occurring which is slowly developing a middle class of black farmers---but again due to corruption Mugabe owns massive amounts of land.

The single biggest mistake by the US Army was to move the Pysch War units that were for years under SF to the regular Army as MISO---as MISO has been a failure in both Iraq and AFG.

Example---if I was on the ground in an SF operation and needed a pysch war messaging done as I working among the local population it as done as fast as I needed it-and was usually effective as it supported me in my operations--try doing that in the current MISO environment


Wed, 12/11/2013 - 2:01pm

In reply to by carl

I have to agree with you. The piece was interesting from a historical point of view but not very helpful for a couple of reasons. First, it defines propaganda as "distributing material that is untrue as if it was true" which severely limits its applicability to what I normally associate with Information Operations. Moreover, except for the somewhat simplistic observation that the government propaganda did not work because it did not reflect the populations personal observations of what was true (essentially, the definition of propaganda), there is little more else.

I would find it much more helpful if it described the narratives and WHY the population chose to believe those narratives. Did they fit into existing cultural beliefs or biases? How did they fit into those beliefs or biases? For example, applying the original use of the term propaganda, the Catholic Church incorporated (or hijacked) local pagan beliefs into the Christian narrative making assimilation of local populations easier. For example, what we term now as the “Christmas Tree” was adopted from a pagan belief. “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.”( The “propaganda” was easier to believe because it fit an existing belief structure. I personally would have liked to have heard more about instances of propaganda that was believed, why it was believed, and the genesis of the decision to use that specific lie for political gain.


Tue, 12/10/2013 - 10:01pm

In reply to by carl

I have to agree with you to a certain degree on this piece. It seemed very biased. Examples such as "when the guerrillas executed villagers they did so out of necessity and because the villagers didn't head the warnings of the guerrillas" and "the guerrillas were really freedom fighters and the government was the insurgents". I also like how correlating the guerrillas as "socialists and thus they had an inherent belief in making society good" seemed a little striking. I mean, after all the Nazi's were socialists and if I remember right their propaganda was based on making "Germany and conquered territories good". With that being said, I'm sure there is merit to some of what the author has put forth and Outlaw09 once again opined about some personal experiences he had with former "guerrillas/freedom fighters/citizens" who lived and went through this period of great change and violence. For the record, I abhor colonialism so don't take me as a colonial sympathizer. To be honest though, Americans need to take note that other people from other places could easily point the finger back at us considering we once started as "colonies" then became an independent nation that exercised great power in our subduing of the local populations as we absorbed more and more land before coming what we now know as the current United States. Then there's the whole slavery, civil rights issues...

I can see why JMA is upset with this article. The first few paragraphs are sort of schoolyard. It includes a 'you didn't kill so many of us and we killed more of you' argument, along with 'we didn't do it, the Selous Scouts did'. 'The Selous Scouts did it' seems to have been a standard, accuracy thereof...I don't know but they were convenient.

But the bulk of the piece is basically an accusation, the Rhodesians wantonly slaughtered people, combined with a rationalization, we didn't kill nearly so many civilians as they say and besides the ones we whacked deserved it. As a historical piece, I think the article has very grave weaknesses. As a piece of after the fact agiprop it has great value, and agiprop is important when it comes to fighting small wars.

The piece includes this "The sub-scholarly literature produced by ex-Rhodesian servicemen has largely exaggerated guerrilla violence." Yeah, I can see why JMA is upset.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 4:55pm

JMA---this is why this article has a message even if one thinks it is garbage---namely one of violence and information operations by both the insurgent and the counterinsurgent.

Taken from a recent SWJ article on the transnational criminal organizations or who some call drug criminal organizations.

"Their message is delivered through the use of instrumental and symbolic violence and information operations (including influencing the press, forging a social narrative--narcocultura--where the gangsters are seen as powerful challengers to the corrupt state)."

Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 12:15pm

To JMA---if this is your following comment concerning the article then you are in left field.

"It is noted with sadness that the Journal has deemed it fit to publish the following piece of garbage:"

The narrative of the southern Africa wars of independence from control of either the SADF and or the Portuguese is a history of a breakup of the colonial powers that controlled Africa for a long number of years.

Anything that assists in "understanding" those guerrilla wars and they were a brutal series of guerrilla wars with the CIA often taking sides that does not get talked about much these days since 9/11.

Anything that gives one a better understanding of what actually occurred from an UW/guerrilla perspective is worth reading-even if from the "other side"--we never seem to be able to get into a conversation with the other side that is often attempting to talk to us.

Never ever wave off on a conversation just because it does not fit one's political views, feelings, emotions, or comes from aliens or does not match what history says did occur and who said history has been correct all the time---because if you do you might possibly miss that one specific conversation that will keep others from getting killed.

From someone who has participated in several guerrilla wars--what the author had to say was both intriguing and actually correct---had also the experience of debriefing a number of Zimbabian fighters who decided to ask for political asylum in Berlin in the 70/80s and it corresponded closely to what the author is saying.

In the current world of UW/guerrilla warfare there is no such thing as garbage, but there are a lot of misinformed individuals that blog.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 11:19am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I can't access the Council but commenter JMA has written:

But the point isn't to agree or disagree with the author, I think the point of publishing something like this is to show that Americans aren't very good at examining that with which they might disagree. It's not about agreement, it's about understanding various narratives because those narratives animate the strategy of those you might seek to counter or engage. If the US refuses to look at narratives it finds false or uncomfortable, we will be caught flat footed as surely as if we uncritically believe what comes our way.

For instance, it never occurred to many American military officers and intellectuals writing about Malaya that some of the primary sources they were using for study might have been altered by propaganda. Same goes for the US Army, its historical relationships in South Asia, and AfPak.

Americans aren't very good at this, in general. That's the point.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 10:38am

Thanks to the author for this. The nature of propaganda and how it affected materials since used to study various insurgencies is a fascinating and difficult topic.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 7:29am

Really happy to see this article-a great read especially from a government/guerrilla perspective around the use of propaganda and violence by both sides--should be other articles as well from the guerrilla wars in Angola and Mozambique to make a complete read about that time in southern Africa.

This would make a great UW read exercise as I spoke often with fighters would had fought in Zimbabwe as they came and went from Berlin in those days as a number of Zimbabwese students were studying at that time in Berlin.

The SADF and the Portuguese Army fought different styles of counterinsurgent wars and it is important to understand both styles as well as understanding the US political positions taken and support provided especially in Angola.