The Chimurenga war left too many bloody memories that still haunt many to this day. The sad part was that the villagers were the ones who faced the music as they served as the sea for the Freedom Fighters who deemed themselves the fish. Their side of the story always landed them in danger from either of the fighting sides. In a lot of ways, they remained victims of the war in both sides regardless of what they believed as the true cause to root for. Today, they still remain victims of elections through gruesome punishments in case they choose not to vote for Zanu PF. Their suffering continues even though the regimes have changed.
Freedom Fighters wanted full commitment and support because they were fighting for the liberation of the black person against the obnoxious colonial system. The Rhodesia Front on the other side was fighting a war to defend the system that had given them sovereignty and control over the native populations. Both sides had a common hunting ground. The villages were the war front where they hunted and killed each other. Cases of deflected blows and stray bullets or fierce retribution after losing some team members to the enemy or as a way to punish the villagers to comply with the demands of either side were common. Many atrocities were committed and yet no side claimed full responsibility. The propaganda machinery made it easier for either side to push blame on the sought enemy yet no one knew exactly who had done what among the vulnerable villagers. The only known evidence was when the villagers were rounded up to witness a retribution exercise.
The RF used advanced military hardware, Dakota planes, land mines, Selous scouts and cavalry teams as they roamed and bombed lots of places and villages to the extent of reaching even Chimoio and Nyadzonya in Mozambique. Of course some have maintained that the Mozambique bombings were an inside job by some selfish Zanu PF leaders who actually disclosed the finer details in exchange for rewards. Those still living have varying facts about this issue and the truth still remains to emerge. The hunt for “terrorists” and innocent villagers in refugee camps was an obsession driven by fear of loss of control over a place that they had come to consider as home. Rhodesians were not willing to surrender their grip on farms, mines and factories. Thousands of lives were therefore lost that way and there was no looking back. Simultaneously, acid or poison could be sprayed on water holes or abandoned clothes and left for desperate or unwary Freedom Fighters to help themselves and they would die from that sulfuric acid eating their flesh.
On the Freedom Fighters side, their anger was manifested whenever they felt betrayed by the masses. They had to send a clear message through instant but gruesome justice that gave villagers permanent injuries, excruciating pain and disfigurement. Reported sellouts were punished before fellow villagers and there were no consequences. With such gruesome punishments, villagers towed the support line easily as fear and trauma ruled their environments. Of course some used that opportunity to bring their hatred and jealous on fellow villagers whose names they tendered to the freedom Fighters for atrocities to take place to their pleasure and satisfaction. Many incidents were reported of villagers turning against each other and using Freedom Fighters’ anger for justice to be invoked. It became more or less like an eye for an eye as many lived in fear of each other.
In an unprecedented probate on some of the acts of magandanga during the war as committed against their own blood, some former Rhodesian soldiers have disclosed pieces of hair-raising atrocities that are supported by gripping images. On December 3, 1975, a terrorist gang cut off the ears, nose and chin from Chikombe Mazvidza of Kandeya Tribal Trust Land in Mount Darwin. They then forced his wife to cook and eat the flesh. A burning ember was thrust into his mother’s genitals and two other locals were also assaulted. His five children and 60 villagers were forced to watch. Some were burnt in their mud and dagga huts. Some lost their upper lips, ears or eyes. And at another, Anna, an innocent woman of Mt Darwin district, had her upper lip pulled with a pair of pliers and hacked off with a bayonet by “terrorists”. All the said acts were part of a retribution exercise meant to silence them from coordinating with Rhodesia front Forces.
Upon news reaching the Freedom Fighter that so and so had been seen to be coordinating or selling out their whereabouts to Rhodesia Front forces, the Freedom Fighters would be quick to descend on the named culprits and perform “justice”.
Some participants in the war confirm that such acts happened so many times as the Freedom Fighter were too angry with the situation and wanted the povo to support them.. In light of the seriousness of the war, where cooperation was not forthcoming or where their lives were exposed to danger, they took to their heels, sought cover and then made concerted efforts to return for a purging ceremony. Such a ceremony was also meant to instill fear among the villagers so that they could empathize with the cause of the Freedom Fighters.
While the Freedom Fighters committed such atrocities, those in the Rhodesia front were not saints either. Like they say when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Where the Rhodesia front Forces felt betrayed by the villagers as they nefariously supported the Freedom Fighters during night times, they also swooped on the same villagers and did their own forms of justice. Some were arrested and detained as some were shot and killed in broad day lights.
The RF side believes that “ZPF was running a “terror” war and the brutality was committed by way of design. In their previous attempts at incursions in the late 60s and early 70s early reporting by some communal people and farm workers made extended stays in areas too risky. At that time the RG Security Forces had very high levels of success in their anti-incursion operations. The support of the locals for the insurgents could only be reliably forced by terror tactics – as we all well know the rule of fear is far stronger than the rule of love. In his own words Mugabe has “degrees in terror” and still relies on this form of support from the general population of Zimbabwe.
I was for a short period involved with “Phyacs operations” (the retention of the “hearts and minds”) of the populous.
There were a few of us from Internal Affairs and single reps from some of the other RG Services. Our mission was to “educate” some of the operational personnel in the services on the approach to be made to various senior members of the tribal community especially the vakuru of the Tribal Authority and of course the nangas and svikiros (spirit mediums) who held great sway of opinion in all the so called “Shona” areas. Unfortunately we were all stood-down and the function was passed to members of the military. One of their brain-waves was to produce the booklet “Anatomy of Terror” which was distributed far and wide. It was one of the greatest propaganda blunders ever committed in a terrorist war : all that was achieved was the distribution of the very message Mugabe was trying to disseminate with his terror machine and that was “If you do not support us fully we will kill you and your family in the worst possible manner”. Information to the SF from that time reduced to a trickle and much of our war effort had to transfer to external operations.
Initially many of the atrocities were committed willy-nilly just to instill fear and trepidation. Once the fear was established then the commitment of the locals came close behind by forcing their support rather like a schoolboy involves all those around him in having a drag on his cigarette to commit them to the “crime”, get them on sides as an accomplice and prevent their future reporting of the incident. This system still operates well with Mugabe’s members of the “gravy-train” – they all involved in the kleptocracy. Unfortunately we in the old RG security forces found the situation frustrating and there were many occasions when force was used to gain information when we were sure the individuals concerned knew more than they were relating (“andizivi, andioni”). Of course the natives were in a very invidious position as they always knew that all they would get from us was some slaps and kicks but this was far preferable to the loss of ears, noses, tongues, eyes or even the entire family. We simply could not match “fear for fear”. The Terror War was difficult to repel, a fact worth remembering in all walks of life and one which is best understood by Mugabe himself.
It is probable that well over 20,000 people were killed by the “liberation forces” (ZANLA and ZIPRA) in their establishment of Fear. Another similar number perished in the Gukuruhundi in Matebeleland (I happened to be there too !!) and of course many more hundreds of thousands have now been forced back to a subsistence form of lively-hood, a state of means that Mugabe maintains they should “be proud of”. This is highly debatable but I have to say that looking at the consumer society we have here in the industrial World I do wonder whether he is right.”
These are the two sides of the same war. Both sides religiously believed in the cause for their being right yet the villagers remained vulnerable to such atrocities.