History Monday: Gukurahundi -Why soldiers deserted Part 1

Hi, this is from Nehanda Radio

The Dumbutshena Report

The Government instituted a Commission of Inquiry into events surrounding Entumbane, conducted by the then Chief Justice Enock Dumbutshena. However, Mr Mugabe complained about its findings, and the Dumbutshena Report has never been made public.

Army defectors

The Entumbane uprising led to mass defections of ZIPRA members from the Assembly Points (AP). Defectors interviewed in the 1990s have stated they saw their decisions to leave the AP as life-preserving, or alternatively as reflections of their disillusionment with their experiences in the AP.

Some of this disillusionment was with what was perceived as a political bias in the army towards favoring ZANLA, especially where promotions were concerned. ZIPRA members also commented on the growing number of ZIPRA soldiers who seemed to be “disappearing” under mysterious circumstances from army ranks, and to a growing paranoia among ZIPRA members, who, for example, began to imagine plots to poison them in the army. It was thus disillusionment and fear, rather than any strong political motivation, that led ZIPRA soldiers to defect from the army and hence to a life on the run.

Those who defected took their weapons with them, and armed banditry increased.

The “discovery” of large arms caches in Matabeleland in February 1982 had major political repercussions for ZAPU. The ZANU-PF leadership now openly accused ZAPU of planning an armed revolt, to make up for ZAPU comparatively poor showing in the 1980 General Elections.

ZAPU Cabinet Ministers Nkomo, Chinamano, Muchachi and Msika were dismissed from the Government and ZIPRA  former military leaders Dumiso Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku were arrested with four others, and subsequently tried for treason. The High Court later acquitted all the men on the treason charges, and referred to Dabengwa as “the most impressive witness this court has seen in a long time” and “the antithesis of [a person] scheming to overthrow the government”.

However, Dabengwa and Masuku and the four others were re-arrested and held in detention for many years.

The seriously ill Masuku was released in March 1986, to die in April, and Dabengwa was released in December 1986. The harsh treatment given to ZAPU leaders in the wake of the finding of the arms caches – at least some of which were later found to have been planted at the instigation of white former members of the CIO working as South African agents – convinced many more ex ZIPRA that they could not expect fair treatment if they remained in the AP or in ZNA units.

Many – possibly thousands – of ex-combatants deserted at this time: the exact number remains speculative. The perception among ex ZIPRA soldiers that they were being increasingly persecuted as 1982 progressed, led to more defections. For example, six dissidents made the decision to leave the ZNA after their company commander announced in Lupane, in the late 1982 search for dissidents, that he would kill “dissidents” – meaning former ZIPRA guerrillas – in the company first.

By the end of 1982, there were many hundreds of ex ZIPRA soldiers who had deserted the ZNA for one reason or another, and the availability of weapons in the bush helped snowball dissident growth. At first, dissident operations were piecemeal, and complicated by the existence of Super ZAPU, although how active Super ZAPU was, in particular in Matabeleland North, is still partly a matter of conjecture.

They appear to have used southern Nyamandlovu as a corridor into the country at times, but whether they committed any crimes in that area or further north is not clear. The Government increasingly used the anti ZIPRA and anti ZAPU rhetoric which had become apparent as early as 1980, and there was a change in semantics at this time, so that all armed robberies in Matabeleland became referred to as the work of “bandits” or “dissidents”.


1. Nehanda Radio (2012) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: Why Zipra soldiers deserted ZNA (Part 5)’

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