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Rhodesian Bush War
Zimbabwe War of Liberation
Second Chimurenga
Date July 1964–1979
Location Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)
Result Lancaster House Agreement, Majority rule
 South Africa
 Zimbabwe Rhodesia (1979)
FROLIZI (1978–1979)
Flag of ZANU-PF.svg ZANLA (ZANU)
Mozambique FRELIMO[1]
FROLIZI (October 1971–1978)
ANC UmkhontoweSizwe.gif Umkhonto we Sizwe
Rhodesia PM Ian Smith
Zimbabwe Rhodesia PM Abel Muzorewa
Rhodesia Defence Minister P. K. van der Byl
Commander Peter Walls
Ndabaningi Sithole (1978–1979)
James Chikerema (1978–1979)
Flag of ZANU-PF.svg Robert Mugabe
Joshua Nkomo
MLA: Samora Machel
Ndabaningi Sithole (1964–1978)
Herbert Chitepo
Josiah Tongogara
Edgar Tekere
Solomon Mujuru
ANC UmkhontoweSizwe.gif Joe Slovo
Casualties and losses
Around 30,000 [2] of which 7-8 percent (c. 2,000+) from the Rhodesian security forces [3]; the remainder, insurgents and civilians.

The Rhodesian Bush War—also known as the Zimbabwe War of Liberation or the Second Chimurenga—was a civil war in the former country of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) fought from July 1964 to 1979.[4] The Rhodesian government under Ian Smith and Zimbabwe-Rhodesian government under Abel Muzorewa fought against Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union and Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union. The war and its subsequent settlement ultimately led to the implementation of universal suffrage, the end of the white minority ruled Rhodesia and the short-lived government of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, and resulted in the creation of the Republic of Zimbabwe under the leadership of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.




Casus Belli

The origins of the war in Rhodesia can be traced to the colonization of the region by white settlers in the late 19th century, and the dissent of black African nationalist leaders who opposed white minority rule.[5] Rhodesia was settled by British and South African pioneers beginning in the 1890s and while it was never accorded full dominion status, Rhodesia effectively governed itself after 1923. In his famous "Wind of Change" speech addressed to the parliament of South Africa in 1960, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan stated Britain's intention to grant independence to British territories in Africa. As a consequence many Rhodesians were concerned at the possibility that decolonization and native rule would bring chaos, as had resulted when the Congo became independent. Britain's unwillingness to compromise on the policy of No Independence before Majority African Rule led to Rhodesia unilaterally declaring independence (UDI) on 11 November 1965. Though Rhodesia had the support of neighbouring South Africa and Portuguese-ruled Mozambique, it never gained formal recognition from any other country. Although the vote in Rhodesia was open to all, regardless of race, property ownership requirements effectively denied the franchise to most of Rhodesia's blacks. and the 1969 constitution provided for "Non-Europeans" (principally blacks) to elect representatives for 8 of the seats in the 66 seat parliament. A further 8 of these seats were reserved for chiefs.

Amidst this backdrop, black nationalists advocated armed struggle to bring about independence in Rhodesia. Resistance also stemmed from the wide disparities in wealth possession between blacks and whites. In Rhodesia, Europeans owned most of the fertile land whilst Africans were crowded on barren land,[6] following forced evictions or clearances by the colonial authorities.[7]

Two rival nationalist organizations soon emerged: the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), following a split in the former in August 1963, following dissagreements over tactics as well as tribalism and personality clashes.[8]. ZANU and its military wing ZANLA were headed initially by the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, and later Robert Mugabe, consisted mainly of the Shona speaking tribes. ZAPU and its military wing ZIPRA consisted mainly of Ndebele ethnic groups under Joshua Nkomo.[5]

Cold War politics played into the conflict also, with the Soviet Union supporting ZIPRA and Communist China providing support to ZANLA. Each group subsequently fought a separate war against the Rhodesian security forces, and the two groups sometimes fought against each other as well. In June 1979, the governments of Cuba and Mozambique offered direct military assistance to the Patriotic Front, but Mugabe and Nkomo declined.[9] Other foreign nations also contributed to the conflict, for instance North Korean military officials taught Zimbabwean militants how to use explosives and arms in a camp near Pyongyang.[10] By April 1979 12,000 ZANLA troops were training in Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Libya.[11] On the other side of the conflict South Africa clandestinely provided both material and military support to the Rhodesian government.

Inevitably the Bush War occurred within the context of regional Cold War in Africa, and became embroiled with a number of conflicts in several neighbouring countries as well. Such conflicts included the Angolan War of Independence (1961–1975) and Angolan Civil War (1975–2002), the Mozambican War of Independence (1964–1974) and Mozambican Civil War (1977–1992), and the Shaba I (1977) and Shaba II (1978) conflicts.


The conflict was seen by the nationalist groups and the British government of the time as a war of national and racial liberation. The Rhodesian government saw the conflict as a fight between one part of the country's population (the whites) on behalf of the whole population (including the black majority) against several externally financed parties made up of predominantly black radicals and communists. The Nationalists saw their country as having been occupied and dominated by a foreign power, namely, Britain, since 1890. The British government, in the person of the Governor General, directly ruled the country from 1923, when it took over from the British South Africa Company. In 1965, Ian Smith's Rhodesian Front party took over the government when it unilaterally declared independence.[12] The minority Rhodesian government believed they were defending Western values, Christianity, the rule of law and democracy by fighting Communists. They were unwilling to compromise on most political, economic and social inequalities. The Smith administration said the traditional chiefs were the legitimate voice of the black Shona and Ndebele population and that the nationalists were dangerous usurpers.

In 1978-1979 the Smith administration attempted to blunt the power of the nationalist cause by acceding to an "Internal Settlement" which ended minority rule, changed the name of the country to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, and installed the country's first black head of government, Abel Muzorewa. However, unsatisfied with this and spurred on by Britain's refusal to recognise the new order, the nationalist forces persisted. Ultimately the war ended when the white-dominated government of Rhodesia returned power to the British government with the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement. The Rhodesian government did so at the behest of both South Africa (its major backer) and the United States. Britain recognised this new government, headed by Robert Mugabe, and the newly independent and internationally recognised country was renamed Zimbabwe.


Rhodesian Security Forces


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Recruiting poster for the Rhodesian Army.

Despite the impact of economic and diplomatic sanctions, Rhodesia was able to develop and maintain a potent and professional military capability.[13] The army and air force were complemented by the para-military British South Africa Police force and both the regular army and police were backed up by thousands of trained reservists.

The war saw the extensive operation of Rhodesian regulars as well as elite units such as the Selous Scouts and the Rhodesian SAS. The Rhodesian Army fought bitterly against the black nationalist guerrillas. The Rhodesian Army also comprised mostly black regiments such as the Rhodesian African Rifles. As the war went on, the frequent callup of reservists was increasingly utilized to supplement the professional soldiers and the many volunteers from overseas. By 1978 all white males up to the age of 60 were subject to periodic call-up into the army; younger men up to 35 might expect to spend alternating blocks of six weeks in the army and at home. Many of the overseas volunteers came from Britain, Ireland, South Africa, Portugal, Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America with the latter three being held in high regard for their recent Vietnam War experience.

The Rhodesian Army was, considering the arms embargo, well-equipped. The standard infantry weapon was the Belgian FN FAL Rifle as produced in South Africa under license as the R1 Rifle and supplemented by the H&K G3 rifle that came from Portugese forces. However other weapons such as the British L1A1 variant of the FAL and the older British Lee-Enfield bolt action rifle were used by reservists and the British South Africa Police. Other weapons included the Bren LMG, Sten SMG, Uzi, Browning Hi-Power pistol, Colt M16 rifle (very late in the war), FN MAG general-purpose machine-gun, 81 mm mortar, and Claymore mines. After UDI Rhodesia was heavily reliant on South African and domestically-produced weapons and equipment, as well as international smuggling operations.

The Rhodesian General Service Medal awarded to Rhodesian armed forces and featuring Cecil Rhodes.

The Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF) operated a variety of equipment and carried out numerous roles, with air power providing the Rhodesians with a significant advantage over their enemy.[13] When the arms embargo was introduced, the RhAF was suddenly lacking spare parts from external suppliers and was forced to find alternative means of keeping their aircraft flying. The RhAF was also relatively well equipped and used a large proportion of equipment which was obsolete, such as the World War II vintage Douglas Dakota transport aircraft and the early British jet-fighter the de Havilland Vampire. It also used more modern types of aircraft like the Hawker Hunter and Canberra bombers, the Cessna Skymaster as well as Aérospatiale Alouette III helicopters until they were supplemented by the Augusta Bell 205.[13] Very late in the war, the Rhodesian forces were able to obtain and use a very few smuggled in Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters.[14]

At the beginning of the war much of Rhodesia's military hardware was of British and Commonwealth origin but during the course of the conflict new equipment such as armoured cars were procured from the South Africans. Several captured Soviet Bloc T-55 tanks were provided to Rhodesia by the South Africans, though only in the last year of the war.[15] The Rhodesians also produced some of their own armoured vehicles, including unlicensed copies of the Mercedes-Benz UR-416.[16] The means with which the Rhodesians procured weaponry meant that the arms embargoes had little effect on the Rhodesian war effort. During the course of the war most white citizens carried personal weapons, and it was not unusual to see white housewives carrying submachine guns. A siege mentality set in and all civilian transport had to be escorted in convoys for safety against ambushes. Farms and villages in rural areas were frequently attacked.

The Rhodesian government divided the nation into eight geographical operational areas: North West Border (Operation Ranger), Eastern Border (Operation Thrasher), North East Border (Operation Hurricane), South East Border (Operation Repulse), Midlands (Operation Grapple), Kariba (Operation Splinter), Matabeleland (Operation Tangent), Salisbury and District ("SALOPS").

Rebel/Guerilla Forces

The Zimbabwean Liberation Medal, awarded to fighters of the war.

The two major armed groups campaigning against Ian Smith's government were:

The fighting was largely rural, with both movements attempting to secure peasant support and to recruit fighters while harassing the administration and the white civilians. Unlike the town-dwellers, rural whites faced danger and many were killed but in 1979 there were still 6,000 white farmers. They were vulnerable every time they left the homestead.


ZANLA was the armed wing of ZANU.[17] The organization also had strong links with Mozambique's independence movement, FRELIMO. ZANLA, in the end, was present on a more or less permanent basis in over half the country, as evidenced by the location of the demobilisation bases at the end of the war, which were in every province except Matabeleland North.[18] In addition, they were fighting a civil war against ZIPRA, despite the formation of a joint front by their political parties after 1978. It was ZANLA's intention to occupy the ground, supplant the administration in rural areas, and then mount the final conventional campaign. ZANLA concentrated on the politicisation of the rural areas using force, persuasion, ties of kinship and collaboration with spirit mediums.

ZANLA tried to paralyze the Rhodesian effort and economy by planting Soviet anti-tank land mines on the roads. From 1972 to 1980 there were 2,504 vehicle detonations of land mines (mainly Soviet TM46s), killing 632 people and injuring 4,410. The mining of roads increased as the war intensified; indeed the increase from 1978 (894 mines or 2.44 mines were detonated or recovered a day) to 1979 (2,089 mines or 5.72 mines a day) was 233.7%. In response, the Rhodesians co-operated with the South Africans to develop a range of mine protected vehicles. They began by replacing air in tyres with water which absorbed some of the blast and reduced the heat of the explosion. Initially, they protected the bodies with steel deflector plates, sandbags and mine conveyor belting. Later, purpose built vehicles with V shaped blast hulls dispersed the blast and deaths in such vehicles became unusual events.[19]


ZIPRA was the anti-government force based around the Ndebele ethnicity, led by Joshua Nkomo, and the ZAPU political organization. In contrast to ZANLA's Mozambique links, Nkomo's ZIPRA was more oriented towards Zambia for local bases. However, this was not always with full Zambian government support, and by 1979 ZIPRA's forces, combined with ANC and SWAPO forces in Zambia, was a major threat to Zambia's internal security. Because ZAPU's political strategy relied more heavily on negotiations than armed force, ZIPRA did not grow as quickly or elaborately as ZANLA, but by 1979 it had an estimated 20,000 combatants, almost all based in camps around Lusaka, Zambia.

ZIPRA was responsible for two attacks on civilian Air Rhodesia Viscount airplanes, using a SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles. Ten out of the eighteen civilians on board who survived the first crash were subsequently and systematically massacred by the ZIPRA militants. Nkomo later spoke to the BBC of the attack in a way some considered gloating. In his memoirs, Story of My Life (1985), Nkomo expressed regret for the shooting down of both planes, claiming ZIPRA intelligence believed the plane was carrying General Walls and his aides.[18]

ZIPRA took advice from its Soviet instructors in formulating its version of popular revolution and its strategy for taking over the country. On the advice of the Soviets, ZIPRA built up its conventional forces, and motorised with Soviet armored vehicles and a number of small airplanes,[20] in Zambia. ZIPRA's (i.e. ZAPU's) intention was to allow ZANLA to bring the Rhodesian forces to the point of defeat, and then to take the victory from the much lighter forces of ZANLA and the essentially defeated Rhodesians. ZIPRA kept a light presence within Rhodesia, reconnoitering, keeping contact with the peasants and sometimes skirmishing with ZANLA. ZIPRA's conventional threat actually distracted the Rhodesians from fighting ZANLA to an extent. By the late 1970s, ZIPRA had developed a strategy known as Storming the Heavens to launch a conventional invasion from Zambia. An operation by the Rhodesian armed forces to destroy a ZIPRA base near Livingstone in Zambia was never launched.[21]

The ZAPU/ZIPRA strategy for taking over Zimbabwe proved unsuccessful. In any event, the transfer of power to black nationalists took place not by the military take-over expected by ZAPU/ZIPRA, but by a peaceful and internationally supervised election. Rhodesia reverted briefly to real British rule, and a general election took place in early 1980. This election was supervised both by the UK and international forces. Robert Mugabe (of ZANLA/ZANU) won this election, being the only major competitor for the vote of the majority ethnicity, the Shona. Once in power, Mugabe was internationally recognised as Zimbabwe's leader and was installed as head of government, as well as having the backing of the overwhelming majority ethnic group. He was therefore able to quickly and irreversibly consolidate his power in Zimbabwe, forcing ZAPU, and therefore ZIPRA which was ZAPU's army, to give up hope of taking over the country in the place of ZANU/ZANLA.

Pre-war events

Civil disobedience (1957–1964)

In September 1956, bus fares in Salisbury were raised to the point at which workers were spending between 18% and 30% of their earnings on transportation. The City Youth League responded by boycotting the United Transport Company's buses and succeeded in preventing the price change. On 12 September 1957 members of the Youth League and the defunct ANC formed the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress, led by Joshua Nkomo. The Whitehead administration banned the SRANC in 1959 and arrested 307 leaders, excluding Nkomo who was out of the country, on 29 February in Operation Sunrise.[4][22][23]

Nkomo, Mugabe, Herbert Chitepo, and Ndabaningi Sithole established the National Democratic Party in January 1960. Nkomo became its leader in October. An NDP delegation headed by Nkomo attended the constitutional conference in January 1961. While Nkomo initially supported the constitution, he reversed his position after other NDP leaders disagreed. The government banned the NDP in December 1961 and arrested NDP leaders, excluding Nkomo who, again, was out of the country. Nkomo formed the Zimbabwe African People's Union which the Whitehead administration banned in September 1962.[4][22][23]

The United Federal Party, campaigning on majority rule, lost overwhelmingly in the 1962 general election to the more conservative Rhodesian Front. Nkomo, legally barred from forming a new political party, moved ZAPU's headquarters to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.[22]

In July 1963 Nkomo suspended Ndabaningi Sithole, Robert Mugabe, Leopold Takawira, and Washington Malianga for their opposition to his continued leadership of ZAPU.[24] On 8 August they announced the establishment of the Zimbabwe African National Union. ZANU members formed a militant wing, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, and sent ZANLA members to the People's Republic of China for training.[22]

In July 1964 ZANLA forces assassinated a Rhodesian Front official and the war began.[4]

Course of the war

First phase (1964–1972)

In July 1964 ZANLA ambushed and killed a white civilian, Petrus Oberholtzer, in the first act of war to occur in Rhodesia since the 1890s. The murder had a lasting effect on the small, close-knit white community, even though it was an isolated incident.[25] The Smith administration subsequently moved to detain the ZANU and ZAPU political leadership in August 1964. The major political leaders imprisoned were Ndabaningi Sithole, Leopold Takawira, Edgar Tekere, Enos Nkala, Maurice Nyagumbo. The remaining military leaders of ZANLA, consisted of Dare ReChimurenga, the barrister Herbert Chitepo, and Josiah Tongogara. Operating from bases in Zambia and later from Mozambique, militants subsequently began launching attacks against Rhodesia.[26]

The conflict intensified after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain on 11 November 1965.[25] Sanctions were implemented by the British government after UDI, and member states of the United Nations endorsed the British embargo. The embargo meant the Rhodesians were hampered by a lack of modern equipment but used other means to receive vital war supplies such as receiving oil, munitions, and arms via the government of apartheid-era South Africa. War material was also obtained through elaborate international smuggling schemes, domestic production, and equipment captured from infiltrating enemy combatants.

Five months later on 28 April 1966, the Rhodesian Security Forces engaged militants in Sinoia, during the first major engagement of the war.[4] Seven ZANLA men were killed during the fighting and in retaliation the survivors murdered two civilians at their farm near Hartley three weeks later.[25]

Prior to the collapse of Portuguese rule in Mozambique in 1974-75, the Rhodesians were able to defend their frontier with Zambia with relative ease and prevent many guerrilla incursions. The Rhodesians were able to set up a strong defensive line along the Zambezi River running from Lake Kariba to the Mozambique border. Here 30-man camps were etablished at 8 kilometer intervals supported by mobile rapid reaction units. Between 1966 and 1970 these defences accounted for 175 insurgents killed for the loss of 14 defenders.[27]

In the latter months of 1971, the black nationalist factions united and formed a coalition which became known as the 'Joint Guerrilla Alliance to Overthrow the Government.' Regardless, the conflict continued at a low level until 21 December 1972 when ZANLA attacked Altena Farm in north-east Rhodesia. In response the Rhodesians moved to hit their enemy in their foreign camps and staging areas before they could infiltrate into Rhodesia.[28 ]

Secret cross-border operations by the Special Air Service began in the mid-1960s, with Rhodesian Security Forces already engaging in hot-pursuits into Mozambique. However three weeks after the attack on Altena Farm, ZANLA murdered two civilians and abducted another who was subsequently taken into Mozambique and then Tanzania. In response SAS troops were inserted into Mozambique with the approval of the Portuguese administration, in the first officially sanctioned external operation. The Rhodesian government began authorizing an increasing number of external operations.[28 ]

In the first phase of the conflict (up until the end of 1972), Rhodesia's political and military position appeared to be a strong one. Nationalist guerrillas had been unable to make serious military inroads against Rhodesia and Britain's efforts to isolate Rhodesia economically had not forced major compromises from the Smith Government. Indeed, late in 1971 the British and Rhodesian Governments had negotiated a compromise political settlement which would have bowed to the Smith Government's agenda of postponing majority rule into the indefinite future. Nevertheless, when it was found that such a delayed approach to majority rule was completely unacceptable to most of Rhodesia's African population, the deal fell apart. [29]It would take the collapse of Portuguese rule in Mozambique to create new military and political pressures on the Rhodesian Government to accept the principle of immediate majority rule.

Second phase (1972–1979)

White civilians; A woman and two children murdered by guerrillas during the Bush War.

The black nationalists continued to operate from secluded bases in neighbouring Zambia and from FRELIMO-controlled areas in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, making periodic raids into Rhodesia. In April 1974, a left wing coup in Portugal heralded the coming end of colonial rule in Mozambique. FRELIMO formed a transitional government within months, and officially took over the country in June 1975. Such events proved beneficial to ZANLA but disastrous for the Rhodesians, adding an additional 800 miles of hostile border.[30] Indeed with the demise of the Portuguese empire Ian Smith realised Rhodesia was surrounded on three sides by hostile nations and declared a formal state of emergency. Soon Mozambique closed its border, however Rhodesian forces continued to cross the border in "hot pursuit" raids, attacking the nationalists and their training camps.

By 1976 it was clear that an indefinite postponment of majority rule, which had been the cornerstone of the Smith Government's strategy since UDI, was no longer viable. Late in 1976, Ian Smith accepted the basic elements of the compromise proposals made by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to introduce majority rule within two years. [31] The Smith Government then sought to negotiate an acceptable settlement with moderate black leaders, while retaining strong white influence in key areas. The Rhodesian military, in turn, had the job of eroding the rising military strength of the ZANLA and ZIPRA to the greatest extent possible in order "buy time" for an acceptable political settlement to be reached.

The Rhodesian Security Forces called up part-time soldiers in preparation for a major counter-offensive on 2 May 1976.[32] In August 1976, Rhodesian Selous Scouts destroyed a camp in Mozambique containing many hundreds of trainees, which they claimed was a military target. The Rhodesians reported more than 1,000 insurgents killed when they were caught by surprise on the parade ground [33], while the nationalists claimed the site was a refugee camp. The Rhodesians also operated into Zambia after Nkomo's nationalists shot down two unarmed Vickers Viscount civilian airliners with Soviet supplied SAM-7 heat-seeking missiles. In the first incident, Air Rhodesia Flight RH825, ten passengers who survived the crash landing were shot and killed at the crash scene. Militants bombed a railroad bridge over Matetsi River on 7 October 1976 when a train carrying ore passed over.[34]

Rhodesian soldiers on patrol with FN FAL rifles during the 1970s.

As the conflict intensified, the United States and Britain attempted to negotiate a peaceful settlement. However this was rejected by the Rhodesian government insofar at it involved any potential surrender of power to the ZANLA or ZIPRA.

By 1977 the war had spread throughout Rhodesia. ZANLA continued to operate from Mozambique, remained dominant among the Mashona peoples in eastern and central Rhodesia. Meanwhile ZIPRA remained active in the north and west, using bases in Zambia and Botswana, and were mainly supported by the Ndebele tribes.[30] With this escalation came increasing sophistication and organisation. No longer were the guerrillas the disorganised force they had been in the 1960s. Indeed now they were well-equipped with modern weapons, and although many were still untrained, an increasing number had received training in Communist bloc and other sympathetic countries. Weapons fielded included AK47 and SKS assault rifles, RPD and RPK light machine guns, as well as RPG-2 and RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade launchers. Just how well equipped the nationalists had become only became evident from Rhodesian raids on guerrilla base areas which even revealed mortars as well as 12.7mm and 14.5mm heavy machine guns, and even heavier calibre weapons such as 122mm multiple rocket launchers towards the end of the war.[35]

On 3 April 1977, General Peter Walls announced the government would launch a campaign to win the "hearts and minds" of Rhodesia's black citizens.[36] In May Walls received reports of ZANLA forces massing in the city of Mapai in Gaza Province, Mozambique. Prime Minister Smith gave Walls permission to destroy the base. Walls told the media the Rhodesian forces were changing tactics from contain and hold to search and destroy, "adopting hot pursuit when necessary."

On 30 May 1977, 500 troops passed the border and travelled 60 miles to Mapai, engaging the ZANLA forces with air cover from the Rhodesian Air Force and paratroopers in C-47 Dakotas. The Rhodesian government said the military killed 32 ZANLA fighters and lost one Rhodesian pilot. The Mozambican government disputed the number of casualties, saying it shot down three Rhodesian planes and a helicopter and took several troops prisoner, all of which Minister of Combined Operations Roger Hawkins denied.[37][38][39] The United Nations Security Council subsequently denounced the incursion of the "illegal racist minority regime in Southern Rhodesia" into Mozambique in Resolution 411, on 30 June 1977.[40] Walls announced a day later that the Rhodesian military would occupy Mapai until they had eliminated ZANLA's presence. Kurt Waldheim, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, condemned the incident on 1 June, and Rhodesian forces withdrew. The American, British, and Soviet governments also condemned the raid.[37]

Militants bombed a department store in Salisbury on 11 August, killing 11 and injuring 70.[41] They killed sixteen black civilians in eastern Rhodesia on 21 August, burning their homes on a white-owned farm.[42] In November, 1977, in response to the buildup of ZANLA guerrillas in Mozambique, Rhodesian forces launched Operation Dingo, a pre-emptive combined arms surprise attack on guerrilla camps at Chimoio and Tembue in Mozambique. The attack was carried out over three days, from November 23 to 25, 1977. While these operations reportedly inflicted extremely heavy casualties on Robert Mugabe's ZANLA cadres, probably blunting guerrilla incursions in the months that followed, a steady intensification of the insurgency neverthless continued through 1978.

In order to disrupt FRELIMO's hold on Mozambique, the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organization helped to create and support its own insurgency movement within Mozambique. This guerrilla group, known as RENAMO battled with FRELIMO even as Rhodesian forces fought the ZANLA within Mozambique.

Map showing operational areas of Rhodesian security forces during the conflict. Note that "SALOPS" refers to operations around Salisbury.

In May 1978, 50 civilians were killed in crossfire exchanged between Marxist militants and the Rhodesian military, the highest number of civilians to be killed in an engagement up to that point.[43] In July Patriotic Front members killed 39 black civilians and the Rhodesian government killed 106 militants.[44] On 4 November 1978 Walls said 2,000 Patriotic Front militants had been persuaded to defect and fight for the Rhodesian Security Forces. In reality only 50 militants defected.[36]

Leopard APC, mine-protected vehicle, designed and built in Rhodesia during the late 1970s and based on a Volkswagen engine. This example is displayed in the Imperial War Museum North, Manchester, UK

In 1978 450 ZANLA militants crossed the Mozambique border and attacked the town of Umtali. At the time ZANU said the militants were women, an unusual characteristic, but in 1996 Joyce Mujuru said the vast majority involved were men and ZANU concocted the story to make Western organizations believe women were involved in the fighting.[45] In retaliation for these acts the Rhodesian Air Force bombed guerrilla camps 125 miles inside Mozambique, using 'fatigued' Canberra B2 aircraft and Hawker Hunters — actively, but clandestinely, supported by several of the more capable Canberra B(I)12 aircraft of the South African Air Force. A number of joint-force bomber raids on guerrilla encampments and assembly areas in Mozambique and Zambia were mounted in 1978, and extensive air reconnaissance and surveillance of guerrilla encampments and logistical build-up was carried out by the South African Air Force on behalf of the RhAF. In October, 1978 Rhodesian Air Force Canberra bombers, Hunter fighter-bombers and helicopter gunships attacked the ZIPRA guerrilla base at Westlands farm near Lusaka, Zambia while Zambian forces were warned by radio not to interfere. [46]

The increased effectiveness of the bombing and follow-up 'air mobile' strikes using Dakota-dropped parachutists and helicopter 'air cav' techniques had a significant effect on the development of the conflict. However, a successful raid on the Rhodesian strategic fuel reserves in Salisbury underscored the importance of concluding a negotiated settlement and achieving international recognition before the war expanded further.

The larger problem was that by 1979, combined ZIRPA and ZANLA strength inside Rhodesia totalled at least 20,000 guerrillas and it was evident that insurgents were entering the country in greater numbers than Rhodesian forces were able to kill or capture. In addition, Joshua Nkomo's ZIPRA forces were preparing a larger army in Zambia with the intent of confronting the Rhodesians through a conventional invasion. Whether or not such an invasion could have been successful in the short term against the well trained Rhodesian army and air force is questionable. However, what was clear was that the insurgency was growing in strength daily and the ability of the security forces to continue to control large sections of the country was coming under serious challenge. [47] By putting the civilian population at risk, ZIPRA and the ZANLA had been particularly effective in creating conditions that accelerated white emigration. This not only seriously undermined the morale of the white population, it was also gradually reducing the availability of trained reserves for the army and the police.

Politically, the Rhodesians were therefore pinning all their hopes on the "internal" political settlement that had been negotiated with moderate black nationalist leaders in 1978 and its ability to acheive external recognition and support. This internal settlement led to the creation of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia under a new constitution in 1979.


Under the agreement of March 1978, the country was to be known as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, and in the general election of 24 April 1979, Bishop Abel Muzorewa became the country's first black prime minister. The factions led by Nkomo and Mugabe denounced the new government as a puppet of white Rhodesians and fighting continued. The hoped for recognition of the internal settlement, and of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, by the newly elected Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher did not materialize after the latter's election in May, 1979. Likewise, despite the fact that the US Senate voted to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, the Carter administration also refused to recognize the internal settlement.

While Prime Minister Thatcher clearly sympathized with the internal settlement and thought of the ZANLA and ZIPRA leaders as "terrorists", she was prepared to support a push for further compromise if it could end the fighting. [48] Britain was also reluctant to recognize the internal settlement for fear of fracturing the unity of the Commonwealth. Thus later in 1979, the Thatcher government called a peace conference in London to which all nationalist leaders were invited. The outcome of this conference would become known as the Lancaster House Agreement. During the conference, the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian Government accepted a watering down of the 1978 internal settlement while Mugabe and Nkomo agreed to end the war in exchange for new elections in which they could participate. The economic sanctions imposed on the country were lifted in late 1979, and British rule resumed under a transitional arrangement leading to full independence.[18] On 21 December 1979 a cease-fire was subsequently announced.[49]

The elections of 1980 resulted in a victory for Robert Mugabe, who assumed the post of prime minister after ZANU-PF received 63% of the vote. Accusations of voter intimidation by Mugabe's guerrilla cadres, sections of which were accused of not having assembled in the designated guerrilla assembly points as required under the Lancaster House Agreement, may have led the Rhodesian military to give serious consideration to a coup d'etat in March 1980. This alleged coup was to have included the assassination of Mugabe and coordinated assaults on ZANLA guerrilla assembly points within the country. However, even in the context of alleged voter intimidation by ZANLA elements, widespread support for Mugabe from large sections of the black population (in particular from his own Shona tribal group which made up the overwhelming majority of the country's population) could not be seriously disputed. Moreover, the clear absence of any external support for such an coup and the inevitable conflagration that would have engulfed Rhodesia thereafter, scuttled the plan. [50]

The result was that on 18 April, 1980 the country gained independence and international recognition. Two years later the government changed the name of the country's capital from Salisbury to Harare.


Following independence, Robert Mugabe acted incrementally to consolidate his power. Fighting between ZANLA and ZIPRA units broke out in 1981 and led to what has become known as Gukurahundi (Shona: "the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains")[51]) or the Matabeleland Massacres, which ran from 1982 until 1985. Mugabe used his North Korean trained Fifth Brigade to crush any resistance in Matabeleland. It has been estimated that 20,000 Matabele were murdered and buried in mass graves which they were forced to dig themselves and hundreds of others were allegedly tortured. [52]

By 1987 the parliamentary seats reserved for the white population were abolished and a new constitution promulgated with Mugabe as state president. The country increasingly became a one-party state characterized by political repression. Nevertheless, the country's economy continued to perform reasonably well during the 1980s. Thereafter, however, economic mismanagement and the initiation of compulsory land confiscation from prosperous white farmers in 2000, led to the collapse of the Economy of Zimbabwe. While by 2008-09 the Movement for Democratic Change was seriously challenging Mugabe's monopoly on power and had forced a power sharing arrangement, in general, thirty years after the end of the Bush War, Zimbabwe has become a dysfunctional state with massive unemployment, political repression and the out migration of more than 3 million refugees. [53]

Beyond Zimbabwe's borders, as a result of Rhodesian aid and support for RENAMO, the Bush War also led to the outbreak of the Mozambique Civil War, which lasted from 1977 until 1992. That conflict claimed about 30 times the number of lives lost in the Rhodesian War and also led to some 5 million people being made homeless.

See also


  1. ^ Page 65 Robert Mugabe and the Betrayal of Zimbabwe, 2004.
  2. ^ Government compromise in 1971 Rhodesian talks - BBC News 2 January 2002
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e Peter N. Stearns and William Leonard Langer. The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Chronologically Arranged, 2001. Page 1069.
  5. ^ a b Rogers 1998, p. 37.
  6. ^ Ranger, Terence (1985). Peasant consciousness and guerilla war in Zimbabwe: a comparative study. James Currey. pp. 377. ISBN 97808525500104.  
  7. ^ Moore, D.S. (2005). Suffering for Territory: Race, Place, and Power in Zimbabwe. Duke University Press. pp. 424. ISBN 9780822335702.  
  8. ^ Sibanda, Eliakim (2005). The Zimbabwe African People's Union 1961-87: A Political History of Insurgency in Southern Rhodesia. Africa World Press. pp. 321. ISBN 1592212751.  
  9. ^ Preston, Matthew. Ending Civil War: Rhodesia and Lebanon in Perspective, 2004. Page 55.
  10. ^ [ sts.htm Red Africa: Communist support and assistance to nationalist political groups in Rhodesia] Embassy of Rhodesia in Iceland
  11. ^ Preston, Matthew. Ending Civil War: Rhodesia and Lebanon in Perspective, 2004. Page 66.
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b c Rogers 1998, p. 41.
  14. ^ Brent, W. A., "Rhodesian Air Force A Brief History 1947-1980", Freeworld Publications, 1988, p. 14.
  15. ^ Reference in: R. Allport, "Operation Quartz - Rhodesia 1980"
  16. ^ Stiff, Peter, "Selous Scouts Top Secret War", Galago Publishing (Pty) Ltd., 1983, P. 425.
  17. ^ Soldiers in Zimbabwe's Liberation War. Volume One by N. Bhebe, T. Ranger, IV. Zimbabwe: War and Youth, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 686-688. JSTOR.
  18. ^ a b c Martin, D. and Johnson, P. 1981. The struggle for Zimbabwe. Boston, Faberand Faber
  19. ^ These developments subsequently led to the South African Hippo, Casspir, Mamba and Nyala wheeled light troop carriers.
  20. ^ N. Bhebe and T. Ranger (eds), 1995. Soldiers in Zimbabwe's Liberation War. Volume One (James Currey, London)
  21. ^ N. Bhebe and T. Ranger (eds), Soldiers in Zimbabwe's Liberation War. Volume One (James Currey, London)
  22. ^ a b c d Lake, Anthony. The "Tar Baby" Option: American Policy Toward Southern Rhodesia, 1976. Page 32.
  23. ^ a b Muzondidya, James. Walking on a Tightrope: Towards a Social History of the Coloured Community of Zimbabwe, 2005. Page 167-170.
  24. ^ Robert Cary and Diana Mitchell. African Nationalist Leaders in Rhodesia Who's who, 1977. Page 101.
  25. ^ a b c Rogers 1998, p. 39.
  26. ^ St. John, Lauren. Rainbow's End: A Memoir of Childhood, War, and an African Farm, 2007. Page 1.
  27. ^ Ranger, Robin, "Defense", Britannica Book of the Year 1971, p. 259.
  28. ^ a b Rogers 1998, pp. 39-40.
  29. ^ Ryan, Johnny, "Principled Failure: British Policy Toward Rhodesia, 1971-72" The History Review 2004
  30. ^ a b Rogers 1998, p. 40.
  31. ^ BBC News, September 24, 1976
  32. ^ Rhodesia, planning offensive, to call up part-time soldiers The New York Times
  33. ^ Major Charles Lohman and Major Robert MacPherson, "Rhodesia: Tactical Victory, Strategic Defeat" WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR AND SYMPOSIUM, US Marine Corps Command and Staff College, June 1983 - See Chapter 4 re. "Operation Eland"
  34. ^ Rhodesia says rebels bomb bridge, sending train crashing into river, 8 October 1976. The New York Times.
  35. ^ Rogers 1998, pp. 40-41.
  36. ^ a b Rhodesia Psychological Operations 1965-1980 Psychological Operations
  37. ^ a b Kalley, Jacqueline Audrey. Southern African Political History: A chronological of key political events from independence to mid-1997, 1999. Page 224.
  38. ^ Smith Takes a Dangerous New Gamble TIME magazine and CNN
  39. ^ Getting ready for war TIME magazine and CNN
  40. ^ Resolution 411 (1977) United Nations
  41. ^ Muzondidya, James. Walking on a Tightrope: Towards a Social History of the Coloured Community of Zimbabwe, 2005. Page 246.
  42. ^ 16 Rhodesian blacks reported killed by guerrillas 22 August 1977. Reuters via The New York Times
  43. ^ 50 black civilians killed in crossfire In Rhodesian War; Varying Curfew Restrictions, 17 May 1978. The New York Times.
  44. ^ Rhodesia Reports 39 Blacks Slain, Says Military Killed 106 Guerrillas; 106 Guerrillas Reported Slain Guerrillas Kill 39 Black Civilians, Rhodesia Reports, 23 July 1978. The New York Times.
  45. ^ Lyons, Tanya. Guns and Guerilla Girls: Women in the Zimbabwean National Liberation Struggle, 2003. Page 167.
  46. ^ A radio recording of the Rhodesian warning and Air Force pilot chatter during the attack is found at (WARNING: Strong and disturbing language):
  47. ^ Major Charles Lohman and Major Robert MacPherson, "Rhodesia: Tactical Victory, Strategic Defeat" WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR AND SYMPOSIUM, US Marine Corps Command and Staff College, June 1983 - See Chapter 4
  48. ^ Margaret Thatcher blocked talks with 'Terrorist' Mugabe, December 30, 2009
  49. ^ Rogers 1998, p. 65.
  50. ^ See discussion of the planned "Operation Quartz" in: R. Allport, "Operation Quartz - Rhodesia 1980"
  51. ^ Nyarota, Geoffrey. Against the Grain. p. 134.
  52. ^ "Matabeleland: Its Struggle for National Legitimacy, and the Relevance of this in the 2008 Election". Heinrich Böll Stiftung.  
  53. ^ "Refugees flood from Zimbabwe The Observer".,,2115988,00.html.  


  • Rogers, Anthony (1998). Someone Else's War: Mercenaries from 1960 to the Present. Hammersmith: Harper Collins. pp. 255. ISBN 9780004720777.  

External links


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