History Monday : Gukurahundi -The Dissident Problem Part 1

Hi, this is from Nehanda Radio

An overview of the dissident problem

a.) A summary of contributing factors

Factors contributing to the growth of dissident numbers are complex. The relative importance of these factors has been variously highlighted in existing accounts of these years, depending in part on the implicit agenda of researchers, and in part on their sources.

Some explanations as to why dissidents became an entity, include:

1. The view of the Government and ZANU-PF that the dissidents were actively sponsored by ZAPU leaders, who were hoping to gain through renewed fighting what they had failed to gain in the elections.

2. ZAPU view, that the heavy-handed Government reaction to the dissident issue, and its targeting of ZAPU as solely responsible, expressed a long-held desire either to punish ZAPU, or crush ZAPU totally and create a one party state.

3. The well-established view that South Africa exacerbated events by training and funding dissidents, known as Super ZAPU, with the intention of disrupting the newly Independent Zimbabwe.

4. The dissidents’ view, that they were driven to desert the National Army by the persecution of ex ZIPRA members within its ranks, and that once outside the Army, they found themselves further persecuted and on the run.

While there is evidence to support the last three views, at least in part, to date there is no documentary or material evidence to support the contention that ZAPU leadership concretely supported or instructed the dissidents, apart from an abundance of Government rhetoric at the time, insisting on links between ZAPU and dissidents. Two lengthy treason trials, one in 1982 and one in 1986, both failed to prove ZAPU dissident collusion.

The political and military violence of the 1980s resulted in huge losses for the citizens of Zimbabwe, in terms of human life, property, and economic development in affected areas. The dissidents themselves became answerable for this in no small measure, and are certainly known to have committed deeds of heinous cruelty against their fellow Zimbabweans during these years.

Civilians who lived in the rural areas and came into contact with them describe them as “cruel, uncontrollable, leaderless”. Their activities led to the abandonment of around 200 000 hectares of commercial farmland in Matabeleland, the murders of scores of civilians, the destruction of many homesteads, and scores of robberies.

At the same time, the dissidents were few, numbering no more than around 400 at their peak, and experiencing large numbers of deaths, captures and desertion. It is also now clear that many dissidents consider themselves to have been driven to lead the lives of fugitives by the partial failure of the Army’s integration process, and the persecution of all former ZIPRA as the conflict escalated.

Whatever the initial causes of the rising numbers of “dissidents”, the Government certainly had a serious security problem on its hands by mid-1982. The situation needed a military response, but unfortunately, the Government used it to launch a “double edged conflict” in Matabeleland.

The first offensive was against the dissidents, and involved the use of various ZNA units and the Police Support Unit. However, the Government also launched an offensive against the ordinary civilians of Matabeleland, through 5 Brigade: this served both to increase dissident numbers and to exacerbate the plight of those most vulnerable to the dissidents.

These two conflicts escalated into what has been called, including by Government itself, a “civil war”. While there is little love for dissidents in the memories of those who lived with them, it must be acknowledged that it is 5 Brigade that people remember with the most intense hatred and fear.


1. Nehanda Radio (2012) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: The Dissident Problem (Part 4)’

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