History Monday: Gukurahundi – Super ZAPU Part 1

Super ZAPU

Super ZAPU was the group of South African backed dissidents, which operated in Southern Matabeleland from late 1982 until mid-1984.

Super ZAPU consisted of probably fewer than 100 members who were actually actively deployed in Zimbabwe. They were largely recruited from refugee camps and led by ex ZIPRA members, who had been retrained in South Africa, in the covert operation known as Operation Drama. A Zimbabwean Government briefing paper on the situation in 1983 conceded “the recent efforts of the Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland have offered the South Africans another highly motivated dissident movement on a plate”.

Some sources claim that it was once again Matt Calloway, an ex-member of the Rhodesian CIO who acted as a double agent for the South Africans, who was a key player in the campaign to recruit from Dukwe Refugee camp in Botswana.

While they operated, South Africa provided ammunition for Super ZAPU, and some of this found its way to other dissident groups in the country: arms and ammunition used by dissidents frequently indicated South Africa as the source of origin, particularly during 1983. Super ZAPU were also directly responsible for the deaths of white farmers in southern Matabeleland, during their time of operation. However, other dissident groups treated them with suspicion because of their South African link. “We said we don’t want to be UNITA”, was the comment of one ex-dissident, who saw a connection between Super ZAPU and South Africa’s involvement in the civil war in Angola.

Loyalty to ZAPU ideals by local dissidents contributed to the fact that Super ZAPU was comparatively short-lived. By mid-1984 Super ZAPU was collapsing, partly as a result of clashes with other dissident groups, and also because of official military response and complaints to South Africa from the Zimbabwean Government. Apart from its role as a destabilising force, Super ZAPU probably also played a minor anti ANC role. Since the 1960s the ANC had used Matabeleland as one entry point to South Africa, and placing Super ZAPU in Matabeleland would have helped provide a buffer zone against their infiltration.

While some sources contend that Super ZAPU had a brief revival in 1985, evidence in support of this is not well substantiated.


1. Nehanda Radio (2012) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: Super ZAPU dissidents (Part 6)’

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