Small Wars Journal

The Rhodesian Bush War/Zimbabwe War of Liberation

Thu, 02/24/2022 - 8:14pm

The Rhodesian Bush War/Zimbabwe War of Liberation

A Political-Military Analysis

by William B. Turner







In the uncertainty of colonial withdrawal, a tide of pan-African nationalism swept away colonial trappings, discovered through a stimulation of racial solidarity and “shared blackness” under the pressure of colonial control.[2]  This movement focused on decolonization and lobbied for the isolation of the white minority regimes of southern Africa.[3] 

The movement, however, deteriorated into armed struggle as it moved through Sub-Saharan Africa.  By the end of the 1960’s, the regional situation had become gridlocked:


“…after a long and active guerilla campaign, 10 major African liberation movements had failed to liberate any of the four “imperialist” areas: Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia, and South Africa…who clamped down extensive repressive measures, broken the nationalists, imprisoned their leaders and intimidated their followers.  Resistance was futile and exile based.”[4]


Many insurgent organizations that mobilized naturally around Marxist ideologies were counterparts to colonial capitalism but were divided by tribal loyalties and maintained different external partners.[5]  The stakes in Sub-Saharan Africa almost immediately became international in scale, especially because of growing competition between imperial powers.  Change seemed inevitable in Africa, and pundits argued that “the day of the European in Africa had passed.”[6]




In 1923 Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) secured a self-governing status as a British Colony which decreased British oversight.[7]  This arrangement set the stage for conflict in the face of growing pan-Africanism across the continent because unlike in South Africa, nationalists faced a much less willing opponent in the British control of the Central African Federation (CAF), a block consisting of Malawi, Zambia (Northern Rhodesia), and Zimbabwe. [8]  Independence was swiftly granted to Malawi and Zambia in 1964, but Southern Rhodesians with constitutional control wanted independence on European terms—not black majority rule.[9]  The dissolution of the CAF in 1963 had profound effects on the white Rhodesian population who started the year 1964 with shaken confidence yet still defiant.[10]  White members of the armed forces were offered buy-outs by the British, emigration increased, and a British Labor Government (who had proclaimed their anti-colonial intentions as far back as 1943) was also elected under Harold Wilson, who was committed to the process of decolonization of Central Africa and the achievement of majority rule in Rhodesia.[11]

In contrast, the independence of Malawi and Zambia spurred increased African nationalism in the region, where grievances and frustrations at the remaining areas under white control began to mount as African states felt helpless in determining the fates of Rhodesia, Namibia, South Africa, and the countries under Portuguese rule.[12]  While there was some hope that the British would intervene for the nationalists, this would prove to be a flawed strategy.  In 1961 Rhodesian whites felt that a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain was inevitable and nationalist hard-liners saw no hope in constitutional change.  Unyielding white sentiment and African determination had created the conditions for a major racial confrontation in southern Africa.[13]




African nationalist tendencies were anything but unified, and in 1963, militants of the ZAPU broke away under the leadership of Ndobaningi Sithole and formed the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). [14]  The struggle between these two nationalist organizations immediately became bitter and violent, and quickly fomented popular disapproval.


The internecine struggle with petrol bombs, intimidation, blackmail, and murder lost the support of much of the innocent African population, who were dedicated to the nationalists ends but suffered by their violent means.  Neither the [ZAPU] or the ZANU emerged dominant…Ian Smith first restricted the African leadership and in August 1964 banned both parties…the only option for the nationalists was the armed struggle…the African population still unsettled after the year of violence, ZANU-ZAPU had to depend on infiltrating their growing number of trained men across the Zambezi River to begin a guerilla campaign.” [15] 


In November 1965, Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front (RF) government published its UDI.  In a public address to Rhodesia via Radio, Smith claimed this UDI was to “…preserve justice, civilization, and Christianity, and to defend itself against the communists in the Afro-Arab block.”[16]  To nationalist dismay, Britain armed intervention did not manifest.  Instead, the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, responded by declaring UDI and Smith’s government illegal and by persuading the United Nations to apply economic sanctions.[17] 

For many on the continent, these sanctions were hailed as an achievement.  Pan-African solidarity, now internationally recognized as inevitable, made it difficult for Britain to ease sanctions against Rhodesia and strengthened the activities of liberation movements both in Rhodesia and the Portuguese territories of Angola and Mozambique.  A secondary effect was the increased diplomatic isolation of South Africa in world politics.[18]  For others, however, it was viewed as a betrayal.  President Kaunda of Zambia remarked of the British decision:


“…what manner of dealing with such a serious problem is this?  Today you brand someone as a rebel—a chap who has committed treason—and tomorrow, you declare publicly you will embrace him.  A rebel, according to us here, is arrested, tried by a military court, and shot dead.”[19] 


UDI was a stumbling block to the narrative of Pan-Africanism, which existed within the framework of liberation from imperial colonialism.  The colonial power was supposed to cave to the unremittent progress of black liberation and depart; how was it that the British failed to control their own settlers in Rhodesia and permit this government to exist?  This perceived failure of Western support would eventually open pathways to Communist bloc countries for the opposition parties.  This was the first missed opportunity for the Rhodesian government, who could have leveraged international hesitancy to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement.  The Pan-African movement and the international reach of the Cold War certainly incentivized regional solutions in order avoid outside influence, but Smith’s uncompromising government pressed forward.  For the time being, in response to the UDI, the ZANU and ZAPU officially began their insurgency with the goal of fomenting sufficient violence to either force the Rhodesian government to capitulate or compel the British and other Western countries to intervene and pave the way for black-majority rule.[20] 

Perhaps most strikingly, this development of global relationships, particularly in the shadow of the Cold War, would create the two narrative approaches to the conflict.  The Rhodesians would fight communism and her African manifestations while the opposition would cease armed struggle only for a complete transition of power to black governance.  The flippancy of the Rhodesian approach to race-consciousness would hamstring its policies, and by extent its military strategy throughout the war.







            Following the UDI, immense government and popular pressure forced ZANU and ZAPU to move north across the Zambezi River into sympathetic Zambia.  Years of inter-party conflict had triggered the Rhodesian threshold of violence.  Both parties received recognition from the Organization of African Unity’s Liberation Committee[21] in Dar es Salaam and were promised funds, international contacts, and services from revolutionary sympathizers, Arab states, Communists, and opportunists.[22]  Ultimately the OAU failed to negotiate unity between the parties and its promised financial aid never fully materialized; this eventually drove the OAU to advocate for international patronage for the parties.[23] Under this pan-African protection they formed their military wings. 

The ZAPU formed the Zimbabwe Independent People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) from the Ndebele tribe, armed and trained by the Soviet Union and Eastern European Countries.[24]  Because of ZAPU ties to the both the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and the USSR, ZANLA, in turn, invariably fell under Chinese patronage.[25]  Ultimately, Robert Mugabe, the champion of armed struggle against the white regime, came to full power in 1979 with Josiah Tongogara’s death, though he was a central power broker throughout the conflict.[26]  ZANLA was built almost exclusively on the Shona people, to whom the Ndeble people were intolerable.  Notwithstanding ideological differences and differing patrons, it was this tribal animosity that underpinned discord between the ZANU and ZAPU, another fact the Rhodesian government failed to exploit, instead collectively labeling their identities as “Communist.”[27] 




A distinguishing characteristic of these two organizations was their command structure.  While both utilized a type of war council, (the Dare re Chimurenga, for ZANLA and the Central Committee for ZIPRA), it was ZANLA who would develop the most coherent command infrastructure, utilizing a general staff of several hundred, which contained training, logistics, communications, and routine administration personnel.[28]  ZANLA also created areas of operation with individual “coordinating committees” that integrated military and political operations.[29]

The Central Committee never developed such a robust structure, and instead relied on USSR cadres; the Dare re Chimurenga grew locally out of necessity.  While ZIPRA’s Central Committee developed early training and logistical ties with USSR via its relationship with ANC, ZANLA had no such luxury. It would not be until almost 1970 that its Chinese patronage became full blown.  An unintended effect of this early lack of patronage was that the Dare re Chimurenga was dominated by civilians who focused on political and diplomatic considerations due to their lack of military experience.[30]  The Chimurenga was the basis of ideological and political success in the war.  Its structure, organization, and capabilities were most suited to a long-term political revolution that remained below the threshold of Rhodesian awareness until it was too late.   

ZIPRA on the other hand received a different focus from Russian training: conventional, pitched warfare, and a cold war obsession with technology. Organization fell by the wayside.  Russian training was often referenced by ZIPRA militants with contempt. They owned tanks, enough mortars and skilled cadres to assault a garrison, but they lacked manpower and organization.[31]  Furthermore, ZIPRA maintained a rigid hierarchical structure that suffered instability: James Chikerema split with the party in 1971 to form the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (FROLIZI).[32] In contrast, ZANLA had the luxury of stable leadership under Josiah Tongogara followed by his deputy, Rex Nhongo, through 1979.[33]  The early political and ideological coherence of ZANLA, coupled with practical command oversight tipped the scales of legitimacy in its favor, and set the stage for a growing ideological war.[34]




 An opportunity existed to exploit the disunity among the nationalist groups, but the Rhodesian government and its white populace instead obsessed over nationalist communist connections, artificially unifying the perception of their cause.  Rhodesian military sitreps designated all guerillas as “Communist Trained Terrorists (CTTs), and few white Rhodesians could even accept that they were involved in a civil war for black emancipation until the late 1970s.[35]  Rhodesian Foreign Minister P.K. van der Byl said “This is not a racial war, but black terrorists and white-skinned communists on one side and a multiracial army of black and white soldiers fighting shoulder to shoulder on the other side.”[36]  In contrast, a ZANLA training document characterized the war as follows:


“The principal objective of our revolution is the seizure of power by means of destruction of the racist political-military machine and its replacement by the people in arms in order to change the existing economic and social order.”[37] 


Regardless of perceptions, solidarity with other colonial powers was inevitable.  The relationship with Mozambique emerged immediately after UDI as it dealt with the Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) and its support for ZANLA incursions.[38] The two countries routinely cooperated in intelligence sharing and cross-border sweeps, though Rhodesian intelligence was aware of waning Portuguese power in Mozambique.[39]  South Africa entered the fray in 1969 after a failed joint incursion into Rhodesia by joint ZIPRA/ANC guerillas prompted Pretoria to provide South African Police (SAP) forces, helicopters and crews, and perhaps most importantly, economic loopholes from crushing British and UN sanctions.[40]

The scope of the financial involvement between Salisbury and Pretoria was a short-term victory.  It immediately allowed Salisbury to circumvent sanctions but presupposed an immovable ideological support from Pretoria.  Pretoria on the other hand, knew that Rhodesia was a buffer state whose existence in many ways mitigated violence within its own borders.  To complicate things more, London’s role as financial backer for South Africa prevented it from extending sanctions to Pretoria in order to address its own economic woes in 1969.[41]

 An economic report in 1967 showed that during sanctions two-thirds of Rhodesia’s exports went to South Africa and that trade between the two countries had increased three-fold.[42] Western double-dealing, largely known by African Nationalists, only served to embolden and entrench commitments to overthrow white regimes.[43]

            Salisbury’s political position grew more isolated in 1974 with the success of the Cuban backed Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).[44]  The last problem South Africa needed was ZANLA/FRELIMO violence provoking Rhodesian intervention, which would in turn provide a pretext for further Cuban intervention. That amount of pressure would invariably lead to the collapse of Rhodesia’s buffer status against the Apartheid system.[45] 

Despite international condemnation and colonial powers on every border being contested by nationalist-motivated guerillas, the Rhodesian government doubled down— the aim was to prevent power  passing to any black government, no matter how moderate.[46]  Had Rhodesia considered the possibility of the failure of the Portuguese or even the South Africans in any capacity, it may have drastically changed its political strategies, perhaps realizing a greater need for at least a shared power government negotiated at the regional level, and a renewed military strategy that addressed popular sentiment. This was not to be the case.

 Then in 1975 Mozambique gained its independence, opening a second front on the eastern border of Rhodesia to ZANLA attack, cutting off access to its nearest ports, and forcing logistical reliance on B.J. Vorster’s South Africa.[47]  It was here in a web of its own making that Rhodesia found itself in 1976.  But the RF’s web had become the nationalist’s water, an environment ripe for Mao’s guerilla “fish,” and the People’s Protracted War.[48]







The 1960’s had been a military failure for the nationalists, a period characterized by ineffective bombings, small arms attacks on farmers, and ruinous firefights with better-trained Rhodesian security forces.  Disunity between parties, limited outside support, and the evolution of the Rhodesian security apparatus proved insurmountable to the guerilla forces in the field, who had failed to bring the RF government to the negotiating table in any military capacity, although fruits of an ideological nature were already forming.  By the early 1970s, the Rhodesian security forces had developed a robust tactical and operational apparatus that was technologically superior and undefeated in any kinetic engagement with the insurgents.  This was primarily based on a robust intelligence system, which leveraged above all popular sentiment against the guerillas.[49] Rhodesian security forces used these systems to mass security forces on sighted guerillas and kill or capture them with relative ease.  This system would eventually evolve into the “Fire Force” concept, and these operations proved so efficient and effective that many Rhodesian military heads considered them the solution to winning the war.[50] 

The Rhodesians developed jungle-penetrating flechette rounds for their proprietary Golf-type Bombs to deny guerilla escape, they created armored cars to withstand road bombs, and even leveraged remote robots to disarm guerilla urban bomb attacks.[51]  But the true seeds of victory were planted by the nationalists, first in 1963 when ZANU sent a delegation to China, and then in 1969 when they began studying Maoist doctrine under Chinese trainers at a guerilla camp in Itumbi, Tanzania.[52]  It was through this partnership that ZANLA developed the strategy, ideology, and policies that ultimately gave them primacy over ZIPRA, whose frustrations with USSR methodologies and organization were leading to stagnation. 

Rex Nhongo, a commander who trained under both the Russians and Chinese recalled “In the Soviet Union they had told us that the decisive factor of the war is weapons.  When I got to Itumbi, where there were Chinese instructors, I was told that the decisive factor was the people.”[53]  In Itumbi, Chinese instructors taught Marx, Lenin, and Mao, and emphasized political indoctrination in order to prepare them for the politicization of the African populations which were seen as necessary for long-term victory.[54]  This heightened tensions with the ZIPRA when ZANLA boldly claimed that their ignorance of the first two stages of classic Maoist guerilla warfare had placed them in the third conventional phase, for which they were not prepared.[55] The fruits of this Chinese partnership were significant: ZANLA developed an intelligence network that was unified across the ZANU enterprise called the mujiba system.  This network was developed by the politically focused guerillas trained at camps like Itumbi.  It directly negated the earlier advantages of the Rhodesian security forces and further isolated the white minority government.[56]




If ZANLA’s relationship with Chinese revolutionary warfare was the fire, Salisbury’s apolitical thinking was the gasoline.  The government suffered from an unnuanced look at the conflict.  While the goal was never to give in to a shared government, survival of the status quo invariably fed on military successes, and a great conflation of strategy and policy confused war aims in the face of ZANLA vision of purpose.[57]  Body count became a political drug that Ian Smith wielded as a negotiation tool, thanks in part to a robust, albeit hollow counter-insurgency strategy.  Forty Rhodesian raids were launched into Mozambique between February and June of 1976 alone, one of which, Operation Eland, ended in 1,028 ZANLA guerillas killed and no friendly casualties.[58]  Unfortunately for the Salisbury, it also angered South Africa, who feared increased Cuban and USSR influence in Mozambique as a counter; purse strings and logistical support was subsequently cut, to include the withdraw of South African soldiers, pilots, mechanics, and liaison officers.[59]

In Geneva that same year, Henry Kissinger handled negotiations between Britain, Smith, and Mugabe’s delegation.  The British, and Smith in particular, agreed to the need for a power sharing agreement in light of nationalist gains both with the population and from the international community. Mugabe refused. Not only did he not recognize the Smith delegation, but he also told Britain as the colonial power that it must arrange the complete turnover of government from the whites to the blacks.[60]  He knew that popular support had turned.  Talks of a power sharing arrangement immediately brought morale in the Rhodesian army to an all-time low as a compliment to decreased material support. Why were they fighting if not to maintain the white minority government they had supported since the UDI in 1965?  This development led to further idolization of tactical successes but left political stability in short supply. 

The realization of a flipped African sentiment was too late.  A “hearts and minds” strategy was half-heartedly implemented by Salisbury: hundreds of thousands were moved into “Protected Villages” (PVs) to cut off access to ZANLA’s “fish,” military trials and executions were carried out, martial law and curfews were enforced.[61]  But ZANLA capitalized on the propaganda of the displacements, the unjustness of the executions, and the oppression of martial law.  These responses went largely unnoticed by the self-described “simple soldiers” of the Rhodesian security forces, who in their political immaturity had no answer to the profound political ideology carried by the common foot soldiers of ZANLA.[62]  In The War of the Flea, Robert Taber points out that “…primarily the counter-insurgents’ task must be to destroy the revolution by destroying its promise;”[63] this concept was grasped too late by those in Rhodesian authority.




In November of 1977 Smith approved an audacious cross-border raid against ZANLA camps at Chimoio and Tembue over forty miles inside Mozambique.  From a military perspective the goal was to cut ZANLA logistical lines that were facilitating cross-border operations into Rhodesia, but Smith, in light of Geneva, “…wanted to use Operation Dingo to silence Mugabe or at least diminish his influence.”[64] Over four days, Operation Dingo resulted in 1,200 ZANLA personnel killed in action and over 5,000 casualties at the cost of only two Rhodesian soldiers killed and eight wounded.[65]  Such overwhelming military success served as a grim reminder to opposition guerilla organizations of Rhodesian military supremacy, but equally blinded the minority government’s perception to the scale of popular mobilization against the minority regime; it served merely to reinforce their skewed notions of the conflict.

 In the short term Operation Dingo did in fact bring African Nationalist opposition forces to the negotiating table, but failure to adopt counterinsurgency techniques that addressed political or social needs of the black population, coupled with the policy failures of the Rhodesian government, rendered those negotiations at best short-term, if not a complete illusion.[66] Popular sentiment, in a fusion of pan-Africanism and Maoist revolutionary ideas was firmly moving with the tides of post-colonialism against the white minority regime, and had been since the early 1960s. This ultimately led to the dissolution of the power sharing government and the rise of Mugabe’s ZANU party only two years later.[67]  The disappearance of the Rhodesian state was not ironic at all, but inevitable.



Ali A. Mazrui. “Africa Between Nationalism and Nationhood: A Political Survey.” Journal of Black Studies, Sub-Saharan Africa, 13, no. 1 (September 1982): 23–44.

Andrew Cohen. The Politics and Economics of Decolonization in Africa: The Failed Experiment of the Central African Federation. I.B. Tauris, 2017.

Anirudha Gupta. “The Rhodesian Crisis: An Analysis.” Economic and Political Weekly 4, no. 6 (February 8, 1969): 321–26.

Bernard B. Fall. Last Reflections On A War. Stackpole Books, 1967.

Christopher Paul, Colin P. Clarke, Beth Grill, and Molly Dunigan. Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, 1965-1980 Case Outcome: COIN Loss. Paths to Victory: Lessons from Modern Insurgencies. RAND Corporation, 2013.

Fleet Marine Force Reference Publication (FMFRP) 12-18,. “Mao Tse-Tung on Guerilla Warfare.” U.S . Marine Corps, 05APR1989.

Interview with Robert Mugabe on ongoing Geneva Negotiations. Canadian Telivision News (CTV) Archives, 1976.

J. Bowyer Bell. “The Frustration of Insurgency: The Rhodesian Example in the Sixties.” Military Affairs 35, no. 1 (February 1971): 1–5.

J.R.T. Wood. Operation Dingo: The Rhodesian Raid on Chimoio and Tembué 1977. Vol. 1. 28 vols. Africa@War. Helion and Company; Revised & Expanded edition, 2019.

Luise White. “Heading for the Gun: Skills and Sophistication in an African Guerrilla War.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 51, no. 2 (April 2009): 236–59.

Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin. The Rhodesian War, A Military History. Stackpole Books, 2010.






[1] Bernard B. Fall, Last Reflections On A War, 216.

[2] Ali A. Mazrui, “Africa Between Nationalism and Nationhood: A Political Survey,” 24.

[3] Ali A. Mazrui, 27.  With the loss of Indochina in 1954, and embroiled in the Algerian war, DeGaulle moved all of France’s West African Holdings to independence under this sweeping pan-African pressure. After the Belgians departed, Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi quickly degenerated into violence and attacks on local white settlers, which had a profound effect on the white Rhodesian psyche.  As other European powers departed, it also become easy for Britain to rid herself of her colonies and protectorates that executive governors had ruled for the Colonial Office.

[4] J. Bowyer Bell, “The Frustration of Insurgency: The Rhodesian Example in the Sixties,” 1.

[5] Christopher Paul et al., Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, 1965-1980 Case Outcome: COIN Loss, 288.

[6] J. Bowyer Bell, “The Frustration of Insurgency: The Rhodesian Example in the Sixties.”

[7] Anirudha Gupta, “The Rhodesian Crisis: An Analysis,” 322.  Constitutionally, the British government retained authority to regulate the colony’s external affairs and to intervene in internal affairs if there was any discrimination against the Africans.  But this authority was allowed to rust by sheer disuse.  Several acts such as dispossessing Africans of land, property, and security, and later terrorizing them in the late fifties, were passed without the British government every trying to intervene.  By these laws and by perfecting the method of organized repression, the European minority achieved what has been described as a ‘Police State.’

[8] Andrew Cohen, The Politics and Economics of Decolonization in Africa: The Failed Experiment of the Central African Federation, ix.  See APPENDIX A: THE CENTRAL AFRICAN FEDERATION

[9] J. Bowyer Bell, “The Frustration of Insurgency: The Rhodesian Example in the Sixties,” 1.

[10] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, The Rhodesian War, A Military History, 27.

[11] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 27.

[12] Ali A. Mazrui, “Africa Between Nationalism and Nationhood: A Political Survey,” 28.

[13] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, The Rhodesian War, A Military History, 27.

[14] J. Bowyer Bell, “The Frustration of Insurgency: The Rhodesian Example in the Sixties,” 1.  These tensions were evident as early as 1959 when the Rhodesian Congress was banned by the minority government at the first scent of nationalism.  The National Democratic Party was disbanded in 1961, and then its successor party under nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) in 1962.

[15] J. Bowyer Bell, 1.

[16] Luise White, “Heading for the Gun: Skills and Sophistication in an African Guerrilla War,” 237.  The announcement was made on Armistice Day, November 11th as part of a political statement to invoke the country’s contributions during the World Wars.

[17] J.R.T. Wood, Operation Dingo: The Rhodesian Raid on Chimoio and Tembué 1977, 6.

[18] Ali A. Mazrui, “Africa Between Nationalism and Nationhood: A Political Survey,” 28.

[19] Anirudha Gupta, “The Rhodesian Crisis: An Analysis,” 321.

[20] Christopher Paul et al., Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, 1965-1980 Case Outcome: COIN Loss, 288.

[21] The OAU was the precursor to the African Union and the champion of Pan-Africanism.

[22] J. Bowyer Bell, “The Frustration of Insurgency: The Rhodesian Example in the Sixties,” 1–2.

[23] Anirudha Gupta, “The Rhodesian Crisis: An Analysis,” 324.

[24] Christopher Paul et al., Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, 1965-1980 Case Outcome: COIN Loss, 288. It was commanded by Alfred Nikita Mangena until his death in 1978 and then Lookout Masuku until his arrest in 1982 by Robert Mugabe.

[25] Anirudha Gupta, “The Rhodesian Crisis: An Analysis,” 325. The Chinese supported the opposition Pan Africanist Congress, or PAC, in South Africa.  The ZANU formed their Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) under Herbert Chitepo, who was replaced by Josiah Tongogara in 1973 after his assassination in Lusaka.

[26]   Mugabe would also oust Sithole from ZANU leadership in a coup in 1974 and obtain complete control both the ZANU and ZANLA.

[27] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, The Rhodesian War, A Military History, 69.

[28] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 86.

[29] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 86. “The coordinating committee was linked to the provincial field operations commander responsible for operations inside Rhodesia, whose deputy was the provincial Political commissar.  These commanded the sector commanders and sector political commissars, who in turn controlled detachment and section commanders and commissars.”

[30] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 86.

[31] Luise White, “Heading for the Gun: Skills and Sophistication in an African Guerrilla War,” 249.  ZIPRA shot down a civilian aircraft with a Russian Strella surface-to-air missile in 1978, a Man-portable air-defense system with both heat-seeking and infrared technologies operated by a single man.

[32] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, The Rhodesian War, A Military History, 88.  The subsequent infighting would characterize the next four years for ZIPRA until a negotiated settlement between Nkomo of ZAPU, Sithole of ZANU, and Bishop Abel Muzorewa of the United African National Council (UANC) emerged.

[33] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 86.

[34] Luise White, “Heading for the Gun: Skills and Sophistication in an African Guerrilla War,” 239.  Between 1969 and 1971 almost one-third of ZAPU's army defected to ZANLA, including many who had been trained in Russia.

[35] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, The Rhodesian War, A Military History, 64.

[36] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 64.

[37] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 75.

[38] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 43.

[39] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 35.

[40] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 32. 2,700 SAP personnel operated in Rhodesia in 1969, almost as large a force as the entire Rhodesian army.  Eventually South African economic relief would account for half of the annual Rhodesian defense budget. 

[41] Anirudha Gupta, “The Rhodesian Crisis: An Analysis.” (323). “London's role as South Africa's banker is also of some political significance. Well over 70 percent of South Africa's domestic bank deposits are held in British-owned banks. The Standard Bank, controlled from London, possesses South African assets worth £ 330 million, and is also one of the three dominant interests in Rhodesian banking. The National and Grindlay's Bank has major interests in both Rhodesia and South Africa. Most leading British insurance companies and building societies have a share in the Republic's £400 million insurance and £260 million building industries…It makes it obvious why Britain is not interested in extending the trade embargo on South Africa which would only jeopardize its already failing economy. Hence, despite repeated African demands, Britain and its other partners in the West have resolutely rejected the idea of extending sanctions to South Africa and Portuguese territories which act as loopholes through which Rhodesia sustains itself…The supply of oil to Rhodesia by South Africa is also a well-known fact

[42] Anirudha Gupta, 324.

[43] Anirudha Gupta, 324.

[44] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, The Rhodesian War, A Military History, 43.  Angola’s independence led to the local garrison of 20,000 of Castro’s soldiers prepared to support the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) in the struggle for independence in the South West African province of South Africa (Namibia).

[45] Anirudha Gupta, “The Rhodesian Crisis: An Analysis,” 323.

[46] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 64.

[47] J.R.T. Wood, Operation Dingo: The Rhodesian Raid on Chimoio and Tembué 1977, 6.

[48] Fleet Marine Force Reference Publication (FMFRP) 12-18, “Mao Tse-Tung on Guerilla Warfare,” 93.  “…the relationship that should exist between the people and the troops...the former may be likened to water and the latter to the fish who inhabit it.”

[49] Christopher Paul et al., Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, 1965-1980 Case Outcome: COIN Loss, 289.  “Special

branch officers in the Rhodesian police force able launched intelligence operations against the groups (often penetrating their organizations with local recruits), which enabled them to identify the guerrillas and gain advance notice of their infiltrations and movement on the ground.

[50] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, The Rhodesian War, A Military History, 103–4.  This tactic typically utilized four Alouette III helicopters, with one acting as a “Command Car,” one acting as a gun ship, all which supported a DC-3 Dakota, normally carrying a stick of 15 soldiers.  When a guerilla group was spotted, intelligence networks would direct the Fire Force to a forward airfield (FAF), the Alouettes would cordon the guerilla location with 4-man “Stop” groups either by landing and disembarking or through parachute infiltration, the DC-3 would then land an assault element, and the entire operation would be synchronized with Lynx fighter bombers providing air support.  See APPENDIX B.

[51] J.R.T. Wood, Operation Dingo: The Rhodesian Raid on Chimoio and Tembué 1977.  See APPENDICES E, F, and G, respectively.

[52] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, The Rhodesian War, A Military History, 33–34.

[53] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 74.

[54] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 74.  In 1972 ZANLA deployed its first detachment of 60 “political commissars across the border to seek out populations and carry out Mao’s directives to “explain, persuade, discuss, convince.”

[55] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 34.

[56] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 72–73.  “ZANLA claimed 50,000 mujibas by 1979…that number could probably be multiplied several times if the men, women and children gave occasional but vital assistance to the guerillas are counted for their contribution to the guerillas’ military effort.” (73)

[57] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 69.

[58] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 44–45.  Op Eland targeted a base near Nyadzonaya.  Selous Scouts disguised in Mozambiquan military vehicles drove onto the guerilla base undetected and opened fire on a parade formation of 5000 unsuspecting guerillas.  They escaped unharmed. (44)

[59] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, 44.

[60] Interview with Robert Mugabe on ongoing Geneva Negotiations.

[61] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, The Rhodesian War, A Military History, 59–62.

[62] Bernard B. Fall, Last Reflections On A War, 210.  Fall notes on page 210: “The political, administrative, ideological aspect is the primary aspect. Everybody, of course, by definition, will seek a military solution to the insurgency problem, whereas by its very nature, the insurgency problem is militarily only in a secondary sense, and politically, ideologically, and administratively in a primary sense.”

[63] Paul L. Moorcraft and Peter McLaughlin, The Rhodesian War, A Military History, 65.

[64] J.R.T. Wood, Operation Dingo: The Rhodesian Raid on Chimoio and Tembué 1977, 6.

[65] J.R.T. Wood, 62.  20% of ZANLAs fighting force was put out of action with this operation.  See APPENDIX F for a mapped timeline of the operation.

[66] J.R.T. Wood, 63. In 1978, an internal agreement between Smith’s government and the nationalists led to an election ending Bishop Abel Muzorewa elected Prime Minister and Josiah Zion Gumede became President of a shared government.

[67] J.R.T. Wood, 63.  Mugabe and Nkomo refused to cease violence, claiming the new government was a Rhodesian puppet; they understood they possessed popular inertia. So, then the Thatcher government hosted the Lancaster Conference in Britain for all parties, and because of this negotiated settlement, new elections were held.  Mugabe and the ZANU were elected with 63% of the vote and installed in 1980.

About the Author(s)

Will Turner is an active-duty U.S. Army officer and a student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The author’s views do not reflect the position of Johns Hopkins SAIS, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.