History Monday: Gukurahundi Part 2

Hi everyone, this is the series written by  Nehanda Radio on the atrocities of Gukurahundi

While it has been pointed out that too much can be made of antagonisms between, and differences in the “modus operandi” of ZANLA and ZIPRA, there was nonetheless a legacy of unease between the two armies of liberation and their respective political followings which played an incontrovertible role in the events of the 1980s.

In 1963 there was a political rift within Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU party, which until then had been the main liberation movement. This led to a split and the setting up of ZANU, under the leadership of Ndabaningi Sithole. The causes were multiple, and involved not only policy, but personal differences between members, such as Enos Nkala and Nkomo. The dislike between these two men in particular was to be exploited by the ZANU-PF government in the 1980s.

During the 1970s, there were outbreaks of fierce fighting between ZIPRA and ZANLA, both in training camps in Tanzania, and within Zimbabwean borders. These incidents were frequent, resulted in many casualties and left a legacy of distrust between the two guerrilla armies. The training and mobilisation of ZIPRA and ZANLA also differed in some respects. While the two were united in wanting an independent Zimbabwe, ZIPRA was Russian-trained, and ZANLA was Chinese-trained. ZANLA had a policy of politically mobilising the masses by the use of the “pungwe”, or night-time meetings, involving a combination of song, dance and politics.

ZIPRA did not use pungwes. ZIPRA prided itself on superior military training, and by the end of the war, ZIPRA had operational tank and air units, in addition to ground forces, which ZANLA did not. ZIPRA also had a very well established intelligence network, unlike ZANLA.

ZIPRA and ZANLA also traditionally recruited from different parts of the country, with ZANLA relying on the eastern half, and ZIPRA on the western parts, and also on black Rhodesians working in South Africa. ZAPU and ZANU, and their military wings ZIPRA and ZANLA were not tribalist by policy, and both Shona-speakers and Ndebele-speakers could be found in both groups, but increasingly regional recruitment, together with mutual antagonism, led to a growing association between ZAPU and Ndebele-speakers.

Many would claim that regional antagonisms in Zimbabwe date back to the very arrival of the Ndebele in Matabeleland, in the middle of the nineteenth century. They believe that the Ndebele were intensely disliked and feared by the Shona, whose tribes were raided and whose cattle were stolen by the Ndebele. Other historians have contradicted this view of “the Shona” and “the Ndebele” as existing as dual tribal entities dividing Zimbabwe in the nineteenth century.

According to these historians, the opposition of the Shona to the Ndebele is, in fact, of very recent origin and most significantly the product of competition for followers and leadership positions among the nationalist parties. The former view that such antagonism has old historical precedents nonetheless remains a prevalent one, and it took perhaps its most virulent form in 5 Brigade’s justification of its violence as revenge for 19th century Ndebele raiding.

The differences and similarities between ZIPRA and ZANLA, and the manipulation of popular belief about antagonism between “Shona” and “Ndebele” are contentious topics. Suffice it to say, first, that there were some differences between ZIPRA and ZANLA in training and outlook, and some negative memories of one another which added to the complexity of integrating the two forces into one army after independence.

And, second, that divisions created by recruitment patterns and party loyalties played all too easily into oppositions between Shona and Ndebele speakers. The partial failure of this integration process is one important factor in the outbreak of disturbances in the 1980s.


1. Nehanda Radio (2012) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: Zanla-Zipra antagonism (Part 2)’


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