About Me

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Nairobi, Kenya
I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on yebomimi@gmail.com The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011

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Thursday, May 15, 2008


I am interested in hearing from those of you who would like to tell your side of the Fireforce story in the Rhodesian war from any angle or experience.

contact me at shawzie@hotmail.com

I am also interested in any of you who worked with the RAR on Fireforce operations.


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Prior to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953, the British South Africa Police (BSAP) had
been responsible for Rhodesia's defence. The BSAP had formed the nucleus of Rhodesia's military
contribution to the British Empire during the Boer War and World War I. Its officers and
non-commissioned officers led the Rhodesian African Rifles against the Japanese in World War II.
When the army (Security Force) was established in 1953, it was viewed with a benevolent tolerance by
the BSAP. This attitude continued through 1963 when the Federation ended. At that time, the
commissioner of the British South Africa Police recommended to the newly-formed government of
Southern Rhodesia that the army be dissolved, and the BSAP enlarge its Police Support Unit as a means
of "ensuring the national defence." This recommendation was rejected, but a concept known as the State
of Emergency Procedure was developed. In theory, the BSAP and the army held co-equal status within
the government, with each element assigned separate missions. In reality the army was reduced to a
secondary status. The BSAP held the right to call upon the army for assistance, or simply "hand over" a
particular problem to the security force. The police controlled the power of initiative and decision. This
status quo prevailed until 1966.
The institution of a Rhodesian Security Force began to develop in earnest after the Sinoia Battle of 28
April 1966. This incident was commemorated as "Chimurenga Day" by the guerrillas, and marked the
official beginning of the Rhodesian War. During this action, the BSAP, with the assistance of local
police reservists and air force helicopters, deployed against a force of ZANLA insurgents. The event
resulted in the deaths of 7 guerrillas with no BSAP casualties. As a result of the inept handling of the
situation by the BSAP, the government became convinced that the BSAP were policemen and not
soldiers.1 A shift of emphasis resulted in 1966, and the Rhodesian Security Force became the
government's primary instrument for the conduct of counterinsurgency operations.
The Sinoia incident also marked the official introduction of dedicated insurgent forces into Rhodesia.
These insurgents were organised into small groups of 8-15 men operating from bases in Zambia.
Throughout this early phase, the insurgents had two modest objectives - attack European-owned farms
and attempt to destroy the oil and powerline link between Rhodesia and the Portuguese colony of
Mozambique. These initial attempts were unsuccessful.
In 1967, small groups of insurgents continued to enter the country from Zambia with similar goals.
They remained unsuccessful, but an additional element was added to the formula. A number of captured
guerrillas were identified as members of military components of the South African "African National
Council." This led to the introduction of South African Police and prison guard detachments into
Rhodesia to assist in the "counter-terrorist" effort. This allied force effectively sealed the border with
Zambia, and guaranteed peace through 1969.
The result of this diminished activity had a long-term negative effect on the Salisbury government. In
1969 the Security Forces felt they had absolutely defeated the guerrilla threat and, as a result, they were
reluctant to accept the evidence of increased and more sophisticated insurgent activity. In addition, the
guerrilla forces spent the year under the guidance of their Soviet, Chinese and Cuban advisors. They
entered 1970 better trained and organized. There were two major incidents during the year: a partially
successful attack on a police garrison in Chisuma, and an unsuccessful attempt to cut the railway line
running from the northern frontier to Salisbury.
From 1971-1973 the complexion of the war began to change. The insurgent activity developed to a point
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that demanded the total committment of the Security Forces. Initially, the army was able to isolate the
war to the northern border region with Zambia. As the Portuguese failures in Mozambique became more
apparent, the basis for support and operations for the Rhodesian Black nationalists began to expand into
Mozambique. This extension, when linked to a larger and more well-trained insurgent element, resulted
in several guerrilla military successes throughout 1973. The insurgents began to effectively utilise
landmines, small rocket launchers, grenades and automatic weapons, including light machine guns.
Their tactics became more sophisticated, but remained essentially "hit and run." They would select an
isolated farm and mine the access roads prior to initiating an assault. Once the attack began, it would be
broken off very quickly. Local elements of the Security Forces would rush to the scene along the access
road and detonate the mine.
These tactics resulted in very few White casualties. The primary victims were the local Blacks who
supported the European-owned farms. There is little evidence that the majority of the Rhodesian black
population supported the nationalist cause, but it was also not an enthusiastic supporter of the white
minority government. Throughout this stage of escalation, the brutalization of the black tribesmen by the
insurgents may have increased their sympathies for the minority government, but it also undermined
their confidence in that government's ability to protect them.
From 1973-1975 both sides of this conflict began to learn the lessons of unconventional warfare. The
guerrillas received a higher degree of training, and demonstrated the discipline required to wage an
effective campaign. The Rhodesian Security Forces developed the counterinsurgency tactics which
would bring it so much positive recognition in the following years.
The withdrawal of the Portuguese from Mozambique in 1975 allowed the "Frontline" nations to form a
loose confederation in order to direct their support and some limited resources to the overthrow of the
white minority government in Salisbury. Rhodesia's position worsened when South Africa bowed to
President Carter's pressure; Pretoria withdrew its auxillary forces from combat and eventually from
Rhodesia. As a result of greater Chinese and Soviet support, the numbers of insurgents began to
increase, and units in excess of 100 men moved through the northern and eastern border regions. By
1976, the pressure on the Rhodesian military began to intensify. Insurgent attacks were initiated from
Botswana. The addition of Botswana a guerrilla sanctuary had a noticeable impact on white Rhodesia.
The main railway from Rhodesia to South Africa passed through this country. Salisbury could no
longer depend upon a secure line of communications with its only ally. This resulted in the construction
of the Beit Bridge-Rutenga railway line. Throughout the war, this route served as Rhodesia's only direct
link with the international community.
In order to counter the escalation of insurgent movement into the country from virtually all points of the
compass, the Security Forces separated the country into five military districts. The northern district was
identified as HURRICANE; THRASHER covered the Eastern Highlands; REPULSE included Fort
Victoria and the majority of the BEIT BRIDGE-RUTENGA railway; TANGENT was established in
the area adjacent to Botswana, and GRAPPLE occupied the centre of the country.
The immediate result of this intensification of guerrilla effort was that the Rhodesian Armed Forces lost
control of the African Trust Lands in the northeast, and most of the rural areas of the country. As in the
United States' experience in the Republic of Vietnam, the Security Forces controlled the rural areas by
day, and the guerrillas held the territory at night. This increase in strength and capabilities of the
nationalist movement resulted in an increased measure of popular support from the indigenous black
population (the tribesmen). This began to ensure the insurgent of a local source of food and shelter, but,
of more import - indigenous recruits.2
In the face of these realities, and provided with only a relatively small force and equipment, sometimes
both obsolete and elderly, General Walls, first as Army Commander, and then as Commander
Combined Operations, waged a campaign of extreme professional competence that will deserve a place
in the world's military Staff Colleges for many years to come.3 Under Walls, the Rhodesian forces
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accepted their inability to control the terrain, and directed their operational planning toward limiting and
reducing the growth of the insurgent forces within Rhodesia.
The tactics developed to accomplish this mission were based upon an accurate evaluation and the
dissemination of intelligence, ambushes, ground and aerial reconnaissance, the rapid deployment of
forces in order to gain and maintain contact with confirmed enemy movement, and the development and
use of a unique military organization known as a "PSEUDO-GANG" to disrupt enemy forces in a
particular area.4
In addition, the Rhodesians tended to disregard the international boundaries of the five black nations that
had proclaimed themselves as "Front-Line" states: Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and
Angola. The insurgents countered these incursions by the skilful use of the media. The publicised
violation of these borders greatly tempered the military benefits the Rhodesians derived from such
operations. The international reaction was intensified by the number of non-hostile Blacks who were
killed and wounded during these raids. The guerrilla base camp served as the living compound for its
soldiers. Inevitably, a large number of women and children became casualties of a Rhodesian attack.5
As a result of the United States' involvement in the Republic of Vietnam, Americans tend to equate their
experiences and perceptions to other conflicts involving an insurgent movement. At the height of the
Vietnam War, Washington had over 500,000 troops in the Republic of Vietnam. In contrast, the
Rhodesian Security Forces in 1978-1979 consisted of 10,800 regulars, 15,000 territorials (reserves),
plus 8,000 regular BSAP, with a police reserve of approximately 19,000 strong. This force was
patterned after the British model, with a separation of the Army into branches or "arms." The Air Force
was a separate service, but closely linked to the ground element by its primary role: close air support and
helicopter operations.6
The command and control of all combat operations was centred in the Combined Operations
Headquarters in Salisbury under the direction of General Peter Walls. The five military districts in
Rhodesia were controlled by Joint Operations Centres (JOCs) which were linked directly to Salisbury.
The individual JOC was a combined operations centre with representatives from the Army, Air Force,
Police, Central Intelligence Organization, and Internal Affairs. The Army commander was eventually
designated the senior service representative. The operational units assigned to a military district were
task organized in accordance to specific mission and terrain, and remained under the tactical control of
the JOC commander of that district.7 Although the combat elements in each Joint Operations Area were
task organized, the Air Force remained the most structured of all components of the Rhodesian Security
The Air Force consisted of eight operational squadrons. These included one light bomber squadron, one
fighter-attack squadron (Hunters), one fighter-attack squadron (Vampires), one reconnaissance
squadron, one counter-insurgency squadron, one transport squadron, and two helicopter squadrons. The
major aircraft types available to the Air Force included:
AIRCRAFT: Rhodesian Air Force8
25 Fighter Ground Attack
9 "Hunter" FGA9
12 "Vampire"
4 OV-10 "Bronco"
19 Trainer-Reconnaissance
8 BAC "Provost" T-52
11 T-55
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30 Counterinsurgency-Reconnaissance
12 AL-60
18 Ce-337
17 Transports
1 Be-55 "Baron"
6 BN-2 "Islanders"
10 C-47
77 Helicopters
66 SA-316/-318
11 Bell 205
The air service unit was composed of approximately 1300 personnel. Pilot training was unique by
American standards, but it followed British traditions. The pilots and crew members were trained to
become individually proficient in the maintenance of particular parts of the aircraft. If the aircraft
experienced a malfunction, the entire crew was able to perform fairly sophisticated levels of
maintenance. This system included the incorporation of maintenance technicians as members of
helicopter and transport carrier crews.
In 1978 the serviceability of the Rhodesian Air Force was 85%. This is exceptional when 60% is
considered as "good" throughout the western world. This is a greater accomplishment considering the
international sanctions levelled against Rhodesia in 1965 and 1970. The majority of its military resupply
was built upon a system of improvisation and invention.9
The Rhodesian Army consisted of one Armoured Car Regiment, six Infantry Battalions, four Special
Air Service Squadrons, one Artillery Regiment, six Engineer Squadrons, and two Special Scout
The history of the Rhodesian Army included participation in World War I, World War II, and the
Counterinsurgency Operations in Malaya. A former Commander in Chief of NATO, General Sir Walter
Walker, described the Rhodesian soldiers as "the toughest counterinsurgency force in the world." In a
letter to the London Times newspaper he stated, "the Rhodesian Army will never be defeated in the field
by terrorists or even a much more sophisticated enemy."11
The Army's lack of sophisticated weaponry and equipment was an important element in its success. It
was a force which dealt with the terrorist on his own level. The Security Forces lacked extensive lines of
logistic support, yet they were adept at small scale operations throughout a broken and ragged
countryside. In order to compensate for their small numbers, the government forces had to rely upon the
basic ingredients of victory - professionalism and an intimate knowledge of the terrain. The combat
forces operated in small units, and depended upon mobility, surprise, flexibility and tactical dispersion
for success. The army tended to meet the guerrilla on his own ground in a man-to-man fashion of
combat. The Armed Forces reflected the spirit of the Rhodesian culture. It was a highly efficient
organization. The tight bonds within the Rhodesian society reduced the elements of traditional friction
between soldiers, civil servants and politicians. The combat and police forces were not plagued by a
sense of social isolation. The majority of the white population was willing to endure the necessary
taxation and the required conscription of its children in order to ensure the Prime Minister Ian Smith's
final objective, which was a gradual and moderate transition of political power to the black majority. The
Rhodesian armed forces were the instrument of these policies.12
In order to appreciate the effectiveness of this counterinsurgency force an understanding of the structure
and mission of its pricipal components is necessary. Each of the elements of this force had a distinct
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mission, and a unique character.
The RLI remained one of two "all white" units in the armed forces until the very end of the war in
1979-1980. It was established in 1961 as a conventional infantry battalion. In 1964 it was assigned the
mission of a commando unit, and based its reorganization upon a British pattern. The regiment was
organized into fivbe sub-units: three combat commandos, a support commando and a base group. Each
commando consisted of approximately 100-150 men. The support commando was similar to the Marine
Corps' Weapons Company, and the base group consisted of those elements found in our Headquarters
and Service Company. The regiment contained approximately 1,000 men.13
The mission of the unit became purely counterinsurgency. The emphasis of organizational training was
centred upon search and destroy operations. In addition, the Rhodesians spent a great deal of time
developing their non-commissioned officer corps. As a result, their operational committments were at
the "stick", or squad, level.
The RLI was also unique because of the large number of foreign nationals who served in its ranks. It
has been estimated that this participation went as high as 30%. They were primarily British, South
African and American. The majority of these men acquitted themselves well. The tendency was for the
foreigners to approach Rhodesia with mercenary mentality, but this was a misperception. All foreigners
enlisting in the Rhodesian Armed Forces received some degree of basic training, with an emphasis on
discipline. The Rhodesian Security Forces had a higher standard of military discipline than most western
armies, and Americans were generally surprised by the intensity and severity of this system.14
The basic training for RLI volunteers was provided within the regiment. This consisted of 16 weeks of
recruit training. The instruction consisted of basic military skills: drill, weapons, leadership, small unit
tactics, and an emphasis on focussing these skills toward the destruction of the insurgents. Upon
assignment to a commando, the soldier could expect to spend 4-6 weeks in the bush, and 10 days to 3
weeks in the RLI Base Camp at Llewellyn Barracks, near Bulawayo. These periods were dedicated to
retraining and refitting the commando prior to another assignment.15
The RAR was an elite organization and enjoyed the distinction of having more black volunteers for
billets than were available. There were two reasons for this interest. The RAR was an hereditary
organization. The sons of RAR soldiers were anxious to follow in their fathers' footsteps. Of equal
import, membership in the regiment would guarantee a higher standard of living, and more prestige to
the young black than he would have been able to achieve in most civilian pursuits.16
The RAR was originally established during World War I, and designated the Rhodesian Native
Regiment (RNR). The RAR was disbanded at the end of World War I, but with the outbreak of World
War II, the RAR was reformed and renamed. The regiment saw service as a member of the East African
Brigade in Burma, and won praise for their actions against the Japanese during the Battle of Tankwe
Chung on April 26, 1945.17
By 1977, the RAR was organized into four battalions. Each battalion consisted of approximately 700
men. The Regiment was fully integrated with both black and white officers. The internal structure of
each battalion consisted of three rifle companies. When a unit was assigned a combat mission, its base
unit for deployment was a company, but in the field it rapidly broke into 5-7 man squads. The emphasis
was on small unit tactics, ambushes and tracking. Squads may have operated for as long as a week as an
independent element.18 Because of the natural bush abilities of the black soldiers, the RAR enjoyed a
solid reputation, and performed very well.
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The Artillery Regiment was designated the 1st Field Regiment. This unit reveals a disparity between the
American concept of an artillery regiment and the reality of its Rhodesian counterpart. The 1st Field
Regiment consisted of two batteries, one active and one reserve. The reserve battery was dependent
upon British 25 pounders for support. The active battery consisted of six M101 105mm Howitzers; it
also had an additional responsibility for approximately 10 ZPU-4/20mm anti-aircraft guns which were
posted throughout Rhodesia at strategic points. The AA guns had been captured from elements of the
Patriotic Front during raids into Zambia and Mozambique.19
The RAC was established in 1972 to fulfil an armoured cavalry mission. Its primary duties involved
reconnaissance, patrolling, escort duty, crowd control, and road blocks.20
The RAC had a basic table of equipment of 60 Eland, 54 S/90 Scout Cars, approximately 50 UR-416
armoured personnel carriers, and 20 Ferret armoured cars. The latter were four-wheel drive vehicles
mounted with either a 50 calibre machine gun, twin Brownings or a 20mm aircraft gun. The Rhodesians
manufactured two additional combat vehicles. The Bullet was a wheeled infantry fighting vehicle. It
carried a 10 man crew. The vehicle commander was also the squad leader. The second was the
Vaporizer. It was a scout/reconnaissance vehicle, built upon a light chassis with a fiberglass body. It
was manufactured for less than $1500, and mounted with a 30 or 50 calibre machine gun.21
The organization of the regiment was similar to its NATO counterparts. There were four armoured
squadrons; each squadron had four troops. Three of the squadrons were commanded by a cadre of
regular officers and NCO’s, and manned by reservists who were activated for incremental periods. The
fourth squadron was a regular establishment.
The tactics initially used by the RAC reflect its British heritage, and the United Kingdom’s association
with NATO. However, as the war progressed, the RAC began to incorporate Israeli mechanized
doctrine. Although Israel fought her major armoured campaigns on a scale which paralleled World War
II desert operations, it developed many innovative and small scale armoured cavalry movements for use
in the “occupied territories”. The Rhodesians studied these tactics, and modified them to the terrain and
character of an African insurgency.
The armour column always moved with the supported mechanized infantry, with one of the elements of
combined arms in support. Air support was used only when absolutely essential. In order to compensate
for the lack of an “aerial umbrella”, the armoured car units developed a tactical doctrine which
emphasized movement, speed, and offensive action.
The RAC was reported to have achieved contact with insurgent forces in excess of 90% of their
operations. This was impressive, but should be tempered with the knowledge that a squadron was never
committed until military intelligence had established a large concentration of guerrilla forces.
Although the Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment was small and virtually self-reliant, it was a potent
force which included an anti-armour capability. The Rhodesians never possessed tanks, but they had
modified a number of their vehicles to carry anti-armour weapons. Throughout 1978-1979 they became
justifiably concerned over the introduction of approximately 200 T-34, T-54 and T-62 Soviet tanks into
Zambia accompanied by Cuban military advisors.22 With the introduction of this force into one of the
Frontline Nations, Rhodesia received considerable assistance in upgrading its anti-armour capability
from South Africa and possibly Israel. It has been impossible to define the exact nature of its
anti-armour capacity, but both Jane’s and World Armies speculate upon the existence of a credible
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The Grey’s were one of the most unique military organizations of the latter 20th Century. They were a
horse mounted infantry unit of approximately battalion size which specialized in tracking,
reconnaissance and pursuit. Because of the terrain characteristics of Rhodesia, there were very few
places within the country that were not accessible to horse mounted infantry. The unit was operationally
deployed as a squadron. This was roughly equivalent to a Marine Rifle Company with approximately
160 men. The squadron consisted of three troops; each troop had four 8-man sections. The Grey’s
consisted of three saber or combat squadrons and a support squadron which contained a combined
60mm and 81mm mortar section, a reconnaissance troop, and a tracking troop which was assisted by
specially trained dogs.
The published advantages of the Grey’s Scouts were primarily its rapidity of movement and shock
effect. A mounted 8-man section could cover a frontage of approximately 550 metres.23 Although the
unit was widely known because of its unique fashion of movement, it was not a particularly effective
combat vehicle. The horse provided the rider with height and visibility, but it also exposed him to enemy
small arms fire. Although the Grey’s suffered very few casualties throughout the war, it is possible that
this was due more to the poor marksmanship of the insurgent than the effectiveness of the unit. The
horse was certainly much more quiet than an armoured car, but it was also much more vulnerable to
enemy destruction.24
Every war produces its élite unit, and the Rhodesian War was no exception. The professional reputation
of the Rhodesian Security Force was justified, but the skills of the Selous Scouts have become
legendary. The founder and commander of the Scouts was a Rhodesian born officer, Lt.Col. Ronald
Reid-Daly. He entered the Rhodesian Army in 1951 and served with the Rhodesian Squadron of the
British Special Air Services (SAS) in operations against insurgents in Malaya in 1951. Rising to the
rank of Sergeant Major in the Rhodesian Light Infantry, he was later commissioned and achieved the
rank of Captain. He retired from the Army in 1973. In late 1973 he was persuaded to return to active
duty in order to form the Selous Scouts.25
The unit remained on active duty until Robert Mugabe was elected Prime Minister in 1980. One of his
first acts was to order the immediate disbanding of the Scouts; Mugabe also threatened to bring its
members to trial as war criminals. During the transition period under British protection, most of the
unit’s members left Zimbabwe. In 1981 Newsweek magazine reported that the Republic of South Africa
incorporated the majority of the unit as a combat element into its Self Defence Force. Its former
commanding officer is currently serving as a Major General in charge of the Defence Force of the
Transkei, an independent black state within the border of the Republic of South Africa.
Prime Minister Mugabe’s reaction to the Selous Scouts is of interest. Upon assuming office he made a
concerted effort to ensure the dignity and structure of the minority European community. This was
particularly evident in the Army. Mugabe realised that his link to a peaceful future for Zimbabwe lay in
its armed forces. He was very cautious in handling this delicate issue, but with the single exception of
the Selous Scouts.
The basis for the new government’s mistrust of the unit was founded upon the efficiency of the
organization. During the war the Scouts were credited with the deaths of 68% of the insurgents killed
within the borders of Rhodesia.26
The purpose of the unit was the clandestine elimination of the Nationalists without regard to
international borders. The foundation of the unit’s effectiveness was its members’ ability to live off the
land, combined with the tracking skills of the individual soldier. All members were volunteers and
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combat veterans. They were initiated into the Scouts via a very severe indoctrination programme which
eliminated approximately 85% of the respondents. The training course was six weeks in length and
incorporated an excess of physical and psychological stress. The unit was entirely integrated and all
soldiers had to pass the same course of instruction in order to win access to the unit. The final test
included a 90 mile forced march with a 70 pound pack. This may not seem excessive to American
Marines, but the hike was divided into four “courses”. At the completion of each course, the volunteer
was given a difficult combat task to accomplish prior to continuing onto the next phase.
The emphasis throughout the entire training cycle was the development of “Bush and Tracking”
techniques. The Scout had to become absolutely self-reliant. The unit incorporated the same tactics that
the British had initiated in Malaya and Kenya. It was defined as a Pseudo-Gang concept. A team of 4-7
men was deployed into an operational area. All other friendly forces in that region were withdrawn. The
team was dressed in insurgent uniforms, carried communist weapons, and gave the appearance of being
a guerrilla force. The key was that they were better trained and more disciplined than the nationalists.
Once they ascertained the presence of an insurgent force, they began to stalk them. They were proficient
at remaining undetected throughout this phase. This gave them the advantage of initiating contact with
the insurgents at their discretion.27 The Selous Scouts achieved remarkable results by carrying the war
directly to the guerrillas. Their success carries the key to an effective counterinsurgency campaign. They
were simply much better at guerrilla warfare than their opponents.28
The Rhodesian SAS was modelled directly after its British counterpart. Its mission was the most diverse
of any branch of the Rhodesian Security Forces. Its primary task consisted of reconnaissance. The
training for the SAS involved static line and free fall parachuting, light and heavy weapons training,
demolitions, tracking, scuba, and in indigenous languages. A fully trained member of the SAS would
require over three years of instruction.29
The SAS remained an entirely European unit throughout the course of the war. From 1975-1977 the
unit was utilised in accordance with doctrine. As the war intensified, its role became more clandestine. It
mounted a number of pinpoint strikes at insurgent headquarters in Zambia and Mozambique, and
conducted numerous combat patrols along the border with these two nations. The unit never consisted
of more than several hundred men. It was a very professional and effective force, but limited because of
its size.30
The BSAP was a supporting force with military training. This unit was neither British nor South
African. The name originated during England’s colonial era in southern Africa and was retained by the
Rhodesian government upon its declaration of independence. The unit consisted of four elements. The
regular police force could be equated to our state police in a mobilized status. It was augmented by a
specialised regular force known as the Police Support Unit or Blackboots; and two reserve or volunteer
elements: the Special Reserve and the Police Anti-Terrorist Units.
The Special Reserve was charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order within their
residential areas. They were an unpaid paramilitary organisation similar to an auxiliary police force
found in American communities. It was nicknamed Dad’s Army because the average age of volunteers
ran between 55-65 years. The unit was integrated, but in a very limited sense. Because their ranks were
drawn from residential neighbourhoods, these were always segregated. There was active participation
from both the Asian and European communities, but the black community was a non-participant.
As terrorist attacks on the civilian population increased, the paramilitary Anti-Terrorist Units were
formed. Their main function was to ensure the security of national key points such as power stations,
waterworks, pumping stations and bulk food areas. This was later expanded to include shopping
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centres, major sporting events and other public gatherings.31
The primary counterinsurgency arm of the BSAP was the Police Support Unit. The unit was originally
formed as an Askari Unit whose sole function was ceremonial guard duty. With the advent of civil
disturbances and riots in the early 1960’s, it was felt that there was a need for a force that could be used
to support the police efforts in various districts. This was not intended to be a regular component of the
police, but a temporary reserve during periods of unrest.32
Each troop consisted of both black and white participants. The black troops served as permanent
members of the unit while Europeans were either regular policemen, or servicemen who elected to fulfill
their military obligation as a member of this organization. The training was thorough and covered
familiarisation with weapons and counterinsurgency tactics. A good deal of the basic recruit training
occurred in the field in “Battle Camps”. This training included a tough period of physical indoctrination
and an emphasis on bush warfare. The emphasis was on aggressive and offensive tactics.
The extensive use of native blacks in this unit had several advantages. These men came from a variety of
tribal backgrounds and possessed a keener awareness of unusual behaviour pattern of local villagers
than their European counterparts. In addition, they were general excellent natural trackers who were
capable of following human trails for long periods. Once their training was completed the men joined a
“troop”. This unit was comprised of 5-7 men who operated exclusively in a single area.33
Although the IntAf was not considered an element of the Rhodesian Security Forces nor a supporting
unit similar to the BSAP, it had a direct impact upon the course of the war.
The mission of the IntAf was the “programming and motivation of the tribal African towards active
participation in the development of a new and better way of life which takes into account the
socio-political and agro-economic potential of the community as a whole.”34
The role of the IntAf was frequently misunderstood. They were not organized for participation in
combat, but solely as an administrative auxillary. This was a government agency with a mission to
provide advice and the necessary skills to assist tribal farmers to combat disease and increase their
agricultural productivity. With the increase of insurgent activity, their mission was expanded to include
that of an arbitrator between the tribal blacks and the security forces.
The methods of infiltration and extortion used by the guerrilla forces resulted in making the tribesman
the man who was “caught in the middle”. On one side the insurgents demanded food, shelter, and
money on threat of torture or death. On the other, the security forces prosecuted the tribespeople for
providing aid and comfort to the enemy. This resulted in massive numbers of tribal blacks abandoning
their homes and flooding the urban centres of Salisbury and Bulawayo.
The requirement to provide more protection for the tribesmen resulted in the establishment of a
paramilitary wing of the IntAf in 1977. The formation of this military element, IntAf National
Servicemen (IANS), was important primarily because of its mission. As the guerrillas increased their
pressure on the minority government, they endeavoured to demonstrate to the non-aligned blacks the
inability of the security forces to protect them. This resulted in an increase in the number of vicious and
bloody atrocities. It also assisted the nationalists by flooding the capabilities of a strained government
with a sizeable refugee problem. By 1979 both Salisbury and Bulawayo had developed serious social
and health problems due to the influx of over 500,000 tribespeople attempting to find safety in the large
In order to check the insurgents’use of the indigenous population and counter the refugee flow from the
bush to the cities, Rhodesia embarked upon its most controversial policy of the war, the Protected
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Village concept. This policy was initiated and administered through the Ministery of Internal Affairs,
and monitored/enforced by the IANS.
This idea was not an original strategy of the Rhodesian Government. It evolved as a result of
Rhodesia’s participation with Commonwealth Forces during the British crisis in Malaya. This concept
served as the basis for the British pacification effort. The United States attempted to use a similar
strategy in the Republic of Vietnam: the Strategic Hamlet, and the Portuguese had initiated a similar
programme during its war with the Frelimo insurgents in Mozambique. With the exception of the British
effort, the tactic has been a failure.
The Salisbury government attempted to reinforce British success by incorporating tribal heritage with
the village concept. The Tribal Trustlands were divided into existing communities. The denominator
consisted of a formula based upon arable land, traditional grazing areas and water supplies. On the
strategic ground within this area the government established the village. The intent was to ensure that the
tribesmen would be able to continue their normal pattern of existence.
The protected village was to place an additional strain on the guerrillas’ supply source. Within the village
the store merchant was required to restrict his sales only to registered villagers; and he could also sell
only in designated quantities. Every person was checked upon entering or leaving the compound to
ensure that excess food and equipment did not leave the village, and that unauthorized weapons were not
introduced into the hamlet.
The physical structure consisted of a wall around the entire compound with a fortified “Keep”located at
its most strategic point. There was a single entrance which was guarded “around the clock”. The area
was patrolled throughout the night, and a perimeter sweep was accomplished at dawn, prior to allowing
the tribesmen to leave for the day.
In actuality, the protected villages were of limited value, and the government suffered a great deal of
international criticism because of this effort. The tribesmen remained unenthusiastic participants. By the
time the concept was introduced into an area, they had probably come to some type of arrangement with
the local guerrilla cadre. They obviously resented the interruption of their lives and the loss of their
individual freedom of movement.
Although the Rhodesian Security Forces and the Salisbury government made a sincere effort to create a
bi-racial and professional armed force, they were hampered from the beginning. The intensity of the
insurgent pressure and the refusal of any nation other than the Republic of South Africa to recognize
their right to existence combined to create an atmosphere of intransigent resignation throughout the
entire society. The decision to create an integrated security force with black officers was heralded as
proof of Ian Smith’s desire to create a co-equal bi-racial society. In actuality, the decision was reached
only after the strength of the insurgent forces had increased to a point that the principally
European-manned army was in danger of being overrun.
The Salisbury government never retreated from its desire to retain as much European domination of the
country as was possible. Throughout the 1960’s and early 1970’s it refused to consider a negotiated
settlement to its political status. The white minority could never have imagined the depth and conviction
of the blacks to have “their” nation returned to them. Even when Bishop Muzorewa assumed power in
1979 and the state of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia was formed, the white minority controlled the key element to
power – the Security Forces. Any effort to reach a settlement within the government, or a racial
compromise within the security forces only surfaced when the story of Rhodesia was in its final chapter.
The blacks were aware of the inevitable outcome and were unwilling to accept anything other than
“their” own nation – Zimbabwe.
1 Lt.Col. Ron Reid-Daly, Selous Scouts, Top Secret War (Galago, RSA, 1982), pp. 261-262.
2 John Keegan, World Armies (New York: Facts on File, 1979), pp. 587-593.
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3 Keegan, World Armies, p. 588.
4 Keegan, World Armies, pp. 587-593.
5 Keegan, World Armies, pp. 587-590.
6 "Rhodesia", Deadline Data on World Affairs, 1 October, 1979, pp. 1-5.
7 Captain James K. Bruton, Jr., USA, "Counterinsurgency in Rhodesia," The Military Review, Vol.
LIX, March 1979, pp. 26-39.
8 Deadline Data, pp. 1-5.
9 Captain M.L.M. Blackman, Fighting Forces of Rhodesia, (Salisbury, CentAfrican Publications,
1978), pp. 4-11.
10 Deadline Data, pp. 1-5.
11 Blackman, Fighting Forces, pp. 4-11.
12 Robin Moore, Rhodesia, (New York: Condor, 1977), pp. 155-161.
13 Barry Cohen, The War in Rhodesia: A Dissident's View," African Affairs, vol. 76, #305, October
1977, p. 493.
14 Bruton, Counterinsurgency, p. 33.
15 Bruton, Counterinsurgency, p. 33.
16 Moore, Rhodesia, p. 147.
17 Keegan, World Armies, p. 589
18 Keegan, World Armies, p. 589
19 Keegan, World Armies, p. 589
20 Robert K. Brown, “The Black Devils”, Soldier of Fortune, January 1979, pp. 38-43
21 Bruton, Counterinsurgency, p. 33
22 Moore, Rhodesia, p. 132-136
23 Daly, Selous, p. 14
24 Daly, Selous, p. 14
25 Daly, Selous, p. 14
26 Moore, Rhodesia, p. 127
27 Daly, Selous, p. 102
28 Bruton, Counterinsurgency, p. 33
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29 Moore, Rhodesia, pp. 148-151
30 Blackman, Fighting Forces, pp. 19-29
31 Bruton, Counterinsurgency, p. 33
32 Blackman, Fighting Forces, pp. 19-29
33 Blackman, Fighting Forces, p. 45
34 Blackman, Fighting Forces, pp. 49-57
War Since 1945, Seminar: Chapter 4 Online Book Project - Main Rhodesia: Military History

Rhodesian Ambush Story

This is a factual story from a terrorist ambush survivor in the Rhodesian Bush war:-

11 April
Life is a gift - Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)…
I was living away from home in Chiredzi with friends. Over the “Rhodes and Founders” weekend I went home to visit my family in Gwelo. The people that I was boarding with had kindly offered to give me a lift even though it was out of their way. On the way back we missed the convoy at Fort Victoria, my Landlord the driver of the car said we could catch the convoy up. We were not afraid we did not envision what lay ahead of us. It was like a dream gone bad I couldn’t absorb it as it took place. As we went over a little bridge we drove into a corner all I heard was loud bangs of thunder. I had no real idea of what was taking place it took time to realize we had driven into an ambush. I tried to push myself forwards to get down between the vehicle seats, as I did I felt something brush across my arm. I looked down at my arm, I saw that I had been shot and started screaming “my arm had been shot off”. The car did not go far it stalled and my Landlord could not start it again. He jumped out of the vehicle and from behind the door started returning fire with a 303 shotgun. He told us to run towards a missionary which apparently was not far away. I could taste the fear in my mouth. My Landlord's son and I had gotten out of the car. I called to my Landlord's oldest daughter who was sitting in the car with her eyes wide open. I was screaming as I leaned over and pulled her to run with us. Her eyes rolled back, I knew she hadn’t made it. I screamed at my Landlord that his daughter was dead he shouted back that I must run. I grabbed my Landlords's son his mother was crying and running holding their three-year-old daughter. She tripped and fell her son and I were helping her up and my Landlord shouted at us to come back. Their youngest daughter had blood running down her head and was crying I was praying if there was a God please save us. My Landlord had stopped another vehicle that had turned around we all bundled into it as it speed of taking us to safety. My landlord stayed behind, the driver of the vehicle took us to Ngundu Halt where my Landlord joined us later. His oldest daughter was dead, she was nine years old and her life had been taken from her. Her mother and her brother were unharmed. Their three year old daughter was hurt when her mother had fallen. My Landlord was shot in his wrist and through his upper arm into his back. My arm had not been shot off; I was shot in my upper arm. Had I have not been pushing myself forwards I would have been shot as my Landlord's oldest daughter was, through her lungs and her heart. I had just turned seventeen. Their son was seven at the time.
The Doctors informed my parents that I had lost the use of my arm my mother told me gently what had been said. I though about it for a while with a sick feeling in my stomach. Not only did I have to go through this horrifying ordeal, I was never going to use my right arm again. How cruel was fate, I am right handed. I wanted to cry as I stared into space. Then I remembered when my Landlord told us to run I had used my right hand to pull his oldest daughter to run with us, I also remembered when we were running I was using my arm to climb the kopje we were running up. When my Landlord's wife fell their son and myself helped her up, I used my arm then. I looked at my mother and told her about the incidents that had taken place. I told her that if I could use my arm then why not now. At this time when I lifted my arm, it lifted but only in my head. My brain was telling my arm to lift and all the nerves that send the messages to the brain saying that my arm had lifted were intact thus my brain was completing the action but my arm was limp it was not completing it's part of the task. Did that perhaps not happen during the ambush. My mother asked the Doctor to speak to me. The Doctor explained that I had been shot with a “tracer” it had burned through my arm and severed the nerves. Damaged nerves never heal. He cautioned that it would be easier for me to accept than to go into denial. I couldn’t he had to be joking. I told my mother that I would use my arm again.
Everyday I would keep trying to lift my arm up. I was sure it was moving, everyone believed it was my mind playing tricks when I told them. It couldn't be my mind playing tricks it had to be moving. I kept on trying; I did not tell anyone about my progress. I prayed that my arm would not let me down. When I could pick my arm up noticeably a few centimetres I showed my mother, she started crying. My father was joining us that day it was a nice surprise for him. The Doctor’s were surprised as well. I am not sure if it was determination or prayer, I am happy that I now have full use of my arm. All that remains is an ugly scar that I can live with to remind me of the day we missed the convoy. The day I learned that life is a gift “Just as easy as it is given so it can be taken away.”


Here is some interesting stuff on Mbuya Nehanda and spirit worship by the Shona people

Mbuya NehandaGandangakadzi Guru reZimbabwe

In the Shona society, it is believed that the spirits of our great great ancestors of many generations past are still among our supernatural protectors. However among them were especially powerful and respected spirits, Midzimu Mikurukuru. Such great spirits were called mhondoro or lions. Spirits that overlooked the well being of entire regions of different tribes are believed to reside in lions. These spirits were among the most powerful as they were responsible of giving advice to several tribes, ensuring peace among these tribes as well as presiding over rainmaking and other important ceremonies and rituals. One such spirit was a woman by the name of Mbuya Nehanda whose spiritual leadership spanned the entire region on Zimbabwe. Her spirit possessed only those who were most respected and had leadership skills and qualities. Her spirit mediums here only women. A woman who became Nehanda's spirit medium remained single and was immediately bestored the spirit name, Mbuya Nehanda. Nehanda was so powerful and well respected that when people had any social concerns, they could not come directly to her. Instead they went to her assistant who was always given the name Nechombo. Nechombo would listen to people's concerns and relay them to Mbuya Nehanda. Indeed it was an honor to be Nehanda's assistant. At one point in time, Mbuya Nehanda spirit medium was the daughter of Chief Mutota (Ishe Mutota), who led the VaRozvi tribe. This young woman was given the name Mbuya Nehanda at birth and subsequently became Mbuya Nehanda's spirit medium. She died near a mountain which, to this day bears her name, Gomo reNehanda or Nehanda Mountain.
When Europeans arrived in Zimbabwe, Nehanda's spirit medium was a woman by the name of Nyakasikana. She lived in the northern part of Zimbabwe. Some believe she was of the VaRozvi tribe but others suggest she was from the VaHera tribe. It so happened that during Nyakasikana's mediumship, another great regional Shona spirit medium (Mhodoro Huru), by the name of Kaguvi possed a man by the name of Gumboreshumba (lit. the lion's foot). Gumboreshumba's spirit is affectionately known in Shona circles as Sekuru Kaguvi. Kaguvi and Nehanda used their leadership to spearhead the first war of resistance (Chimurenga CheKutanga) against European domination of the region. They instructed all the regional chiefs to arm and resist this domination in whatever way they could. It is during this resistance that some of the great Shona warriors emerged. Chief Mashayamombe who lived near Mhondoro, chiefs Gondo and Zhanda were also instrumental warriors during this time. They armed and spread the around the nation. Regions like Makoni, Shangani, Chishawasha and Mazoe where hotbeds of struggle during Zimbabwe first war of liberation.
Nehanda and Kaguvi where captured, tried and sentenced to death by hanging. They were hung on a hill near what is now the city of Harare in Zimbabwe. However before she was hung Nehanda promised the Europeans that her bones will rise to lead the second struggle against them.

© 2004 Solomon Murungu & Zambuko Projects® Unlimited

Zimbabwe: I Dreamt of Nehanda

I dreamt of Nehanda; had visions of her standing in the middle of a treeless plain that seemed to shimmer as the sun’s rays refracted off of the early morning dew that sat atop long blades of grass; golden flat-leaved grass that seemingly swayed to the rhythm of an unsung melody as the wind swirled through the landscape; and in it I heard the hidden chorus of whispers; heard the voices of our ancestors tell tales of creation, tales of nobility, purity and strength; She said “my child, look to the horizon, close your eyes, then set your soul free, let fly, let it rise”; and so I began to rise; I flew over rivers that meandered through the land and cut through the fertile earth; and as I sailed through darkening skies I felt raindrops; heard them pitter patter on grass rooftops as mothers sheltered their hungry sons and daughters from lightning bolts and thunderclaps; I heard screams permeate through the humid air and as I strained to peer through the foggy haze of the storm I saw baron, blood soaked lands stained by the blood of Nehanda’s children; in this spiritual realm I saw the graves of those that came before me and every tombstone was etched with the summary of a tragic story; they spoke of brother killing brother; knife in one hand, baton in the other; they told tales of shady politicians intoxicated by greed; a greed that seemed to erode any remnants of compassion & remorse; they spoke of a people blinded by darkness and bound by the chains of helplessness and hopelessness; indeed I saw a world through tainted eyes; I saw my people’s yesterday, today and the uncertainty of our tomorrow; I saw joyful smiles turn to crimson tears and peace of mind turn to anger and fear; I dreamt of pain, heartache and betrayal; I dreamt of a potent greed, misery and strife; I dreamt a dream of shattered dreams; I dreamt of Nehanda; and she told me to look to the horizon, close my eyes, then set my soul free, let fly, let it rise.

Note on Shona spirits
Shona peoples believe in two types of spirits. Shave spirits are most often considered to be outside or wandering spirits, and vadzimu are ancestor spirits. Shave spirits are associated with populations living outside of Shona territory and may be connected to neighboring peoples, Europeans, or even animals. These spirits may be either malevolent or benevolent. Bad spirits are associated with witchcraft, while good spirits may inspire individual talents associated with healing, music, or artistic ability. Vadzimu represent all that is ideal and moral about a Shona way of life and are usually associated with recent ancestors or with more remote culture heroes whose exact genealogy has been forgotten. They serve to protect society, but may withdraw this protection if Shona moral ideals are not respected

The Role of Mbira in Shona Culture
Mbira (the name of both the instrument and the music) is mystical music which has been played for over a thousand years by certain tribes of the Shona people, a group which forms the vast majority of the population of Zimbabwe, and extends into Mozambique. Mbira pervades all aspects of Shona culture, both sacred and secular. Its most important function is as a "telephone to the spirits", used to contact both deceased ancestors and tribal guardians, at all-night bira (pl. mapira) ceremonies. At these ceremonies, vadzimu (spirits of family ancestors), mhondoro (spirits of deceased chiefs) and makombwe (the most powerful guardian spirits of the Shona) give guidance on family and community matters and exert power over weather and health.
Mbira is required to bring rain during drought, stop rain during floods, and bring clouds when crops are burned by the sun. Mbira is used to chase away harmful spirits, and to cure illnesses with or without a n'anga (traditional diviner/herbalist). Mbira is included in celebrations of all kinds, including weddings, installation of new chiefs, and, more recently, government events such as independence day and international conferences.
Mbira is also required at death ceremonies, and is played for a week following a chief's death before the community is informed of his passing. At the guva ceremony, approximately one year after a person's physical death, mbira is used to welcome that individual's spirit back to the community.
In previous centuries, court musicians played mbira for Shona kings and their diviners. Although the mbira was originally used in a limited number of Shona areas, today it is popular throughout Zimbabwe. Mbira is desired for the general qualities it imparts: peaceful mind and strong life force. The Shona mbira is also rapidly becoming known around the world, due to tours by both traditional musicians and Zimbabwean electric bands which include the instrument.
During Zimbabwe's colonial period (when it was known as Rhodesia), missionaries taught that mbira was evil, and the popularity of mbira in Zimbabwe declined. Since independence in 1980, mbira has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. Traditional musicians remind their communities that mbira is played to encourage the spirits which protect the land and people of Zimbabwe - neither mbira nor the spirits should be neglected if Zimbabweans wish to enjoy health and prosperity. As for the new phenomenon of foreigners playing mbira, Zimbabweans report that their spirits are more pleased with non-Shona mbira players than with some of their own descendants who have turned away from tradition. Of course, respect for other aspects of tradition is required for this approval, not just musical ability.
MBIRA, Box 7863, Berkeley, CA 94707-0863, USA, tel (510) 548-6053, fax (510) 548-2454, email info@mbira.org

Shona and Ndebele Religions
Hilde Arntsen, Lecturer, Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo
In Shona and Ndebele religions, God, or the Supreme Being, is seen as the creator and sustainer of the universe in much the same manner as within Christianity. Shona Mwari (literally "He who is"), or Ndebele uMlimu are both believed to be active in the everyday lives of people, and even in politics. The more widely encompassing realm of the religious sphere compared to Western societies, as indicated by the central governing principle of traditional beliefs and practices, indicate that Pat Robertson's inclusion of politics into religious practices, or religious practices for political purposes is by no means unknown in this area. In general, people communicate with Mwari through the vadzimu (Shona), or amadhlozi (Ndebele). These are the deceased ancestors. The vadzimu are believed to constitute an invisible community within the community of the living, always around their descendants, caring for them and participating in their joys and sorrows (Moyo, 1988: 199). Spirit mediums communicate with the vadzimu on behalf of the people.
In Shona religion, in addition to the guarding characteristics of the vadzimu, there are also avenging or evil spirits, ngozi, and witches who communicate with them. The ngozi are, briefly, the spirits of deceased individuals who were greatly wronged, neglected by a spouse, murdered, or otherwise neglected, and they attack through sudden death of several members of the same family, or through ill people who fail to respond to treatment. Bucher (1980) and others stress the fear with which the ngozi are surrounded, in opposition to the guarding role of the vadzimu.
Communication between the living and the dead is taken care of by the spirit mediums who are vital parts of Shona culture and religion. The role of the spirit mediums and their communication with and appeasement of the ancestors were considered by many, missionaries and colonialists in particular, to be ancestor worship. However, the spirit mediums were instead acting as intermediaries between Mwari/uMlimu and the living, carrying messages, prayers and thanks from the human being to God. Where ancestors are subject to appeasement by human beings, it is believed that God is appeased as well. It must be noted, however, that it is not the ancestors themselves, the vadzimu, who are worshipped, but rather God through them. In the words of one of my sources, the sprit mediums "intercede between you and the ancestral spirits. The ancestral spirits will intercede who will carry it forward to God, because we also believe in God."
African traditional religions have a strong foothold in contemporary Zimbabwe as an integral part of the everyday lives of many Zimbabweans. Religion, in this view, constitutes an element within culture, as religion is seen as a way of life. The religious influence goes beyond what can be termed religious in a narrow (or Western) sense: it is seen to be evident in cultures, the literature, politics, medicine and so on. In practice, Christianity is being mixed with traditional religious beliefs and pra

(University of Zimbabwe)
The Land Reform program has attracted the attention of many a commentator and has
elicited a multiplicity of interpretations, some of which are mutually exclusive of each
other. It is however not an overstatement to say that by and large, the exercise has been
politicised, that is, those who have either justified or criticised the program have done so
on political and economic grounds. The relationship between land and indigenous
religion has not been sufficiently developed. This paper seeks to explore this relationship
through activities of reburial of fallen heroes spearheaded by war veterans2 in Zimbabwe.
It argues that reburial activities reflect Zimbabwe's appropriation of religion into political
It has been noted by other scholars that spirits and land are central to the liberation
struggle and independence of Zimbabwe. Such previous works include David Lan
(1985)3, Terrence Ranger (1967)4, Terrence Ranger and Ngwabi Bhebe (eds) (1996),5
Martinus Daneel (1995)6. Terrence Ranger (1999)7, Brian Rutherford (2001)8, Marja
Spierenburg (2004)9 and recent publications Ezra Chitando (2005)10 and James Cox
(2005)11. Almost every author tends to agree that the first and second Chimurenga are
accreted to two spirit mediums Nehanda and Chaminuka who were charged and executed
for insurgency. It is the prophetic voice of Chaminuka, one of the fallen heroes, 'My
bones shall arise again' that influenced the revolution and land reform. The prophecy has
become the bedrock of all successive revolutions in Zimbabwe. This paper will explore
the 'body politic' pertaining reburial activities conducted by war veterans identified from
field research in Zimbabwe as aftermath of land reform. My topic resonates James Cox's
study in which he examined land reform as 'religious intolerance'12 but this paper makes a
point of departure by testing the anthropologist Katherine Verdery's theory of reburials
and 'politics of dead bodies'13 on three areas affected by land reform policy. By its
emphasis on 'body politic,' the paper will contribute to debates on the land reform. It
addresses these questions? To what extent do dead bodies affect political ideology. What
is the effect of the body politic on the nation, surviving relatives and leadership? What is
the overall effect on land reform?
In order to understand the relationship between traditional religion and politics on the
land issue, I will first provide a brief background of the political scenario that has led to
the land reform before turning to the reburial activities connected with spirits.
The land question starts when Robert Mugabe assumed power in 1980, promising to give
white owned land to the majority black people. But after 20 years into independence, the
land had not been adequately redistributed with 4500 white farmers still owning 70% of
the prime land. What followed were successive struggles for land by Africans against
whites. Disputes surrounding the issue of land has created a serious problem that has
plunged the country into economic meltdown.
The land question draws us back to the period before the settlers when Rhodesia (now
Zimbabwe) was populated by the Shona and Ndebele people, who claim sovereignty. It is
believed that the Shona occupied the area 1000 years earlier ahead of the Ndebele arrival
in the 1830s. Both displaced the Bushmen who had moved in much earlier in their
nomadic movements. In 1890 Cecil John Rhodes’s British South Africa Company
(BSAC), based in South Africa signed a controversial agreement called the Rudd
Concession that conferred exclusive mining rights to the BSAC. After the Great Trek by
British settlers from South Africa with a band of wagons called the Pioneer Column they
settled at Fort Salisbury in 1890. They named the new colony Rhodesia, after Cecil John
In 1965, the then Prime Minister Ian Smith unilaterally declared independence (UDI)
after Britain refused Rhodesia decolonise as white state. The colonial government then
introduced new administrative law. The Land Apportionment Act 1930 that barred
African landownership outside 'reserves' triggered widespread opposition to colonial
occupation by both the Shona and Ndebele. Other causes of tension were forced labour
supply, hut tax of 10 shillings.15 Natural disasters such as drought and rinderpest and
locusts exacerbated the situation culminating in wars of resistance by the Ndebele and
Shona. The first Chimurenga war occurred in 1896-97, inspired by spirit mediums of
Mbuya Nehanda, Chaminuka and Kaguvi but was put off when leaders were hanged.
Chaminuka’s last prophetic words on the verge of death, 'My Bones shall rise again',
greatly influenced the struggle for land by the Shona and Ndebele against white settlers.
In Shona culture a person's last words before death are highly valued and have lasting
effect in the memory of the living. The second protracted armed struggle took place
between 1962-80. It was led by two major liberation movements ZANU under Robert
Mugabe and ZAPU under Joshua Nkomo. Most scholars are unanimous that the land
issue was the major cause of the guerrilla war in Zimbabwe.16
In 1976 the Geneva Conference failed to stop the war and Abel Muzorewa’s UANC
Government of National Unity renewed negotiations that led to the Lancaster House
Agreement and paved way for independence. After ascension to power at independence
in 1980 by a landslide victory at the polls, the new government promised to resettle
blacks on white land.17.
The land question reached its watershed at the Lancaster House agreement. Since the
liberation struggle was a fight for land, revolutionary leaders insisted on constitutional
clauses that guaranteed firm commitment to reallocating land on non-racial basis. Under
the Lancaster Agreement land would be disposed on a 'willing-buyer' 'willing seller basis'.
When this expired after ten years the incumbent government would pass a law to effect
compulsory purchases. The bone of contention brewed over compensation. Britain claims
to have given the new government GBP44 million which was allegedly misappropriated,
a charge government denies. In 1977 the new government set 1 500 farms for compulsory
acquisition and expected Britain to compensate for having 'stolen the land from blacks in
the first place.'18 Whilst the government claims to have made great strides to resettle
landless people, Britain regards land invasions as chaotic and disrupting the agro-based
economy that has catapulted Zimbabwe into economic decline. Herein lay the crunch of
the land question that has stirred controversies over the years and placed Zimbabwe on
international spotlight.
Land Reform and Aftermath
Since 2000 the political climate of Zimbabwe's situation turned bad due to macroeconomic
hardships. The West imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe with IMF on 24th
September 2001, United States law S494, Zimbabwe Recovery Act of 2001 and the
European Union in 2002. The depressed economic climate led to inflation, shortages of
basic commodities, fuel, electricity etc. As sign of disgruntlement opposition parties such
as Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and pressure groups demanding
constitutional change like National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) emerged. After the
failure of the referendum on the constitution, the government faced new threat by war
veterans demanding gratuity for war compensation. All these factors exerted pressure on
the government to address land reform. All this exacerbated by drought greatly
contributed to the current economic crisis.19 Whilst analysts hold that the Zimbabwe's
land seizure is the source of the problems, the government attributes them to sanctions
imposed by IMF, Britain, USA, EU and its allies. In order to offset the crisis the
government has adopted 'Look East Policy'.20
In the same year 2000, groups of war veterans occupied many white owned farms in a
move meant to reclaim land. This came to be known as Jambanja, third Chimurenga. The
revolution was originally started by Chief Svosve of Mashonaland and his people in 70's
but subsequently spread rapidly across several places in the country. In mid 2000, the
government passed the Land Acquisition Act that made possible compulsory acquisition
of land. As a result almost 4 000 white farmers had their farms listed for acquisition.
They had to leave their homes and farms before getting compensation. Finally through
the Zimbabwe Amendment (no. 17), the government nationalised land, thus declaring all
land state property. The government has since embarked on full scale land redistribution
alongside continuing invasions.
Soon after independence, the government embarked on a program of resettling people in
fulfilment of the war promises. According to Spierenburg, the first post independence
resettlement scheme projected resettling 162 000 on white owned land by 1986. The
government accomplished the following; 'By 1991 about 48 000 families had been
resettled21; by 1998 the number had risen to about 70 000 families'.22
Between 1980-1990 the government resettled people in Greeenspan and Hofmeyer in
Mberengwa, DeBeers in Zvishavane in the Midlands Province alone. This province has
also seen the construction of new dams such as Mundi and Chingoma irrigation schemes.
In fact throughout the country the government implemented the first phase of resettlement
along the same model as in the Midlands Province. Alongside the government initiatives,
some private companies like Rio Tinto have resettled the Ngowa people to give room to a
diamond mine opening in the area.
In August 2006, following the land reform, the chiefs supported by government held
celebratory national biras (rituals) throughout the country. The traditional religious
ceremonies were organised to pay homage to the thousands of Zimbabwean freedom
fighters and the nation' spirits for liberating the country from colonial bondage. August is
traditional period suitable for holding such ceremonies. The purpose of the biras was that
Zimbabweans have reclaimed their identity, values, customs and religion in the same way
the nation recovered the land.
In the past biras brought good fortunes such as rains and good harvests. Recent good
rains in Zimbabwe seem to have vindicated the efficacy of rituals. The rains have buoyed
hopes of a bumper harvest in the 2006 agricultural season.
Since 2004 the government had instituted commemorative galas to honour the fallen
heroes of Zimbabwe of the calibre of former Vice Presidents, such as the Nkomo Gala
for Joshua Nkomo, Bira Mzee for Simon Muzenda. In the same vein, prominent persons
deemed to have participated 'actively' and 'consistently' in the liberation struggle are
accorded National Heroes' status and are buried at the Heroes Acre in Harare. Today 91
people lie buried at this acre. Some fallen heroes of lower rank are buried in provincial
cemeteries. Then for those who died outside the country, solidarity bashes are held in
those countries that hosted them during the war such as Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania.
The rest who died in the country undergo the process of identification, exhumation and
reburial in the country.
Zimbabwe has also embarked on a controversial exercise called Operation
Murambatsvina that saw demolition of shantytowns and informal business kiosks. The
government explained the act as a 'clean-up' exercise to curb crime, prostitution and drug
trafficking. However the government has been criticised for carrying out illegal evictions
that violate human rights and cause homelessness and worsen the condition of the poor.
To date the state is exploring a forest -based land reform programme that aims to cater for
indigenous people in forestry business. The Minister of Environment and Tourism,
Francis Nhema has announced that the government was considering allocating land for
forestry development with a view to promote sustainable development.23 Following a new
discovery recently the government has also set aside land for commercial cultivation of
the jatropha carcus popularly known as 'jirimono' a species whose seeds can be
processed into bio-diesel.24 Daneel's project on African earth keeping has already set the
pace for indigenous initiatives on land reform in Zimbabwe.
At this point we provide a brief overview of Shona indigenous religion in Zimbabwe that
will enable us to understand the religious dimension of the land, especially the potency of
spirits in land reform.
Indigenous Religion
Ancestral Spirits
In Zimbabwe the relationship between religion, land and the people has always been
close. In the traditional past the land is intimately associated with the history of the
chiefdom, with the ruling chief and with ancestral spirits who live in it. Ancestor spirits
known as vadzimu (pl, mudzimu, sl) are spirits of dead relatives considered as the 'kingpin'
of the Shona society. They influence the activities and lives of their dependents, the
living members of the community. Failure to honour ancestral spirits invokes bad luck for
both the individual and community. Misfortunes like droughts, floods, crop failure,
sickness and death are blamed on the presence of angered spirits because they have not
been accorded honour with proper funeral rites. Moreover they would have been
deprived of a very important ritual called kurova guva (bringing home ritual). The ritual
is supposed to take place a year after the funeral. It inaugurates the ancestral spirits into
the family hierarchy.
Rituals are performed for the ancestors by the living descendents. Such rituals include
prayers for rain in times of drought wherein spirits of the guardians of the chiefdom,
mhondoro are believed to control rainfall and fertility.25Ancestors operate at three levels
namely the family, ethnic and national levels.
As 'guardians of the land' ancestors mediate between the Supreme Being Mwari and the
living descendants. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Mwari is his
“personal” name derives from either tradition, Christianity or Islam.26 The Shona also call
God by other names, referred to as 'praise names' or 'attributes'. The names are used to
describe his nature and functions. They include Musiki (Creator), Muvumbi (Moulder)
Nyadenga (Owner of Heavens), Dzivaguru (Huge Pool).27
Alien and Nature Spirits
The Shona also believe in a host of other spiritual entities that populate their traditional
cosmology. One type is mashavi (alien spirits). These are spirits of people unknown to
the Shona families who die far away from their home without proper burial rites. They
include spirits of infants (chipunha); white men (chizungu), strangers from neighbouring
countries such as Mozambique (chisena), and animal spirits such as baboon spirit (shavi
regudo). The general belief is that spirits confer benefits and arts of healing, divination,
singing or dance. However some can confer negative qualities like witchcraft, theft and
The Shona also believe in other nature spirits. These comprise human spirits raised from
the graves such as tokolotches and zvidhoma. Some spirits like zvitupwani and zvikwambo
(puppies) are associated with witchcraft.
Sacred Practitioners
The chief plays an important role in traditional religious belief. As embodiment of
tradition and culture the chief is regarded as sacred. He occupies a central position in the
administration of land. Traditionally a chief is not removable from power till death, a
situation associated with President Robert Mugabe, hailed by his supporters as 'King',
'Moses' or 'Messiah'. In recognition of the importance of chiefs, the government has
introduced a Chief's Council in the House of Assembly. Chiefs get benefits such as
lucrative allowances, vehicles loans, medical aid and schemes for school fees.
From this indigenous religious structure, the Shona show a tripartite view of the
cosmology. There is belief in a 'world above' inhabited by a Supreme God. Then the
'human world' physically located on earth. Sacred phenomena such as animals, rocks,
mountains, hills, trees, rivers and forests also form part of this world. Natural places are
believed to be the abode of spirits. Then the other level, the 'underworld' is the 'world
below'. On the whole spirits pervade the worlds 'above', 'below' and 'underground'. All
worlds are not separate entities but they are interlinked through ritual and conciliation.
The Shona also believe in the “anthropocentric” worldview that places the human being
in a central position in the cosmology.
In light of this spiritual worldview, what the people expected after the liberation war and
land redistribution was descent burial of the victims of war in order to put their souls at
rest and make it possible to hold kurova guva ritual. In the traditional past man used to be
buried next to their cattle and women next to their fields, whilst infants would be buried
at the river bed. So this is what the people anticipated of fallen heroes that they would be
given proper burial at or close home. In that way the living and dead would be re-united
spiritually after long separation during the war. It is upon this cultural and spiritual basis
that the government, through the war veterans, instituted exhumation, identification and
reburial of the dead.
But prior to the land reform, reburial of former freedom fighters had commenced. Such
reburials testify the potency of spirits in Zimbabwe's revolutionary history. The Gutu
reburial ceremony of fallen heroes illustrates the point.
Gutu Ceremony
On 19th August 1989, Mafuranhunzi Gumbo (Martinus Daneel)'s field work reports on
reburial activities of fallen ZANLA fighters at Gutu Mission in the Masvingo Province in
Zimbabwe moved by traditional artefacts of 'guerrilla snuff'.28 Daneel attended reburials
of war victims, "More than half of them had died in battle: eight in raids, seven in direct
skirmishes with Rhodesian soldiers. At least a third - eleven- died of food poisoning."29
Mafuranhunzi also notes that alongside traditional religion, Christianity which played a
significant role during Chimurenga by attending pungwe (night vigils) and providing
logistical support in form of medicines, clothes, money, and food supplies to freedom
fighters, actively participated at the reburial ceremony. Both the Roman Catholic and
independent church leaders said prayers for intercession for the dead fallen heroes. 30
Since the liberation war had nurtured 'heroes within the church', their presence at Gutu
ceremony was significant. After all the reburials were not exclusively for war heroes but
meant to serve all civil dead, alongside the fighters. However it is outside the purview of
this paper to treat in depth the Christian religion and land. This is treated extensively in a
separate project.
Daneel succinctly captures the significance of the Gutu reburial ceremony, 'By
identification of the living with the living dead, Gutu recaptures the living religion of
Chimurenga, the spirit of Africa'.31 Quite striking is that participants confessed their
dependence upon Mwari, the supreme "guardian of the land."32 Once the reburial was
done, the dead would have kurova guva held for them. The ritual is important for the
living cannot perform any functions prior to the event. The ritual liberates the souls of the
dead and the living. Through the Gutu incident Mafuranhunzi relates his theme of
liberation of the ecology through tree planting and game conservation to the struggle for
Mt Darwin Case
In a field research conducted in Mt Darwin,34 Northern District town of Zimbabwe in
Mashonaland Central Province, it emerged there are certain religious activities
surrounding reburial of the dead bodies of people who died in mass atrocities conducted
by the white regime during the war of liberation. The exercise is spearheaded by War
Veterans who form an Association. They have established Administrative Offices at the
Headquarters at Mt Darwin. An executive body comprises the Reburial Committee
Chaired by Comrade (Cde) D.A. Chihobo, Historic and Monuments Department by Cde
Gumbeze and Education Department by Cde Goto Mukanya. The reburial committee
operates under the guidance of a spirit medium. Identifying the graves is extremely
complex given very few people witnessed the incidents of massacre in a war situation.
The exhumation and identification of the fighters is made possible through the
cooperation of the burial committee, spirit mediums, prophets, and local people who
witnessed the massacres during the liberation war. The spirit medium acts as host of a
national spirit. He leads a group of young male mediums who call themselves
'comrades'.35 They sniff out the graves and imitate guerrilla fighters during the war. They
declare that war is still on until land is redistributed to the landless blacks.
The activities in Mt Darwin commenced in June 2004 with the discovery of graves
containing human remains of freedom fighters. Specifically 19 mass graves containing 5
000 bodies, arguably the largest number in the country were discovered, prompting the
efforts to search for more.36 According to an interviewee, Mt Darwin experienced
intensive fighting during the liberation war due to its proximity with Mozambique, a
country that played host to ZANLA forces fighting the white regime in Rhodesia.37
Mt Darwin lies in the border with Mozambique which used by guerrilla fighters as entry
point by during the war. The area experienced fierce battles and is laced with landmines
that claim beasts and humans.38 The aerodrome was the scene of all the horrors during the
war of liberation. The Rhodesian soldiers with helicopters tied 'terrorists' they captured
with ropes and dangled them in the air for public viewing. Then they either dumped them
on the ground for display or burnt them in shallow graves.39 In one incident a deceased's
medium got possessed and identified himself to reburial committee, by voice and attire
as host of a fallen hero. The medium described his attire at time of death, 'a khaki trousers
dumped in a piles of three in a mass grave'.40 The medium then directed the party to the
burial spot. The war veterans dug and exhumed the body for reburial at his home and the
family ritual of kurova guva was held.41As the interviewee stressed the ritual is important.
The deceased must be attached to his home, to his ancestors where the umbilical cord lies
buried.42 A connection is thus established between the living and dead.
People in Mt Darwin strongly believe that the happenings in the area are not only
confined to their locality but are national matters. Spirits are alleged to be calling upon all
Zimbabweans to urgently assist them by provision of decent burial. The Herald reports
the story about the spirit of one of the fighters, who possessed his younger brother known
by his Chimurenga name, Comrade Hama Yesango from Zimunya in Manicaland
province, who said, 'All Zimbabweans must help in according us descent burials. I want
to be buried where my ancestors are. We died trying to free this country from colonial
rule and all patriotic Zimbabweans owe us descent burial'.43 Another freedom fighter
pleads, 'I want to be buried in my home area here in Mt Darwin so that my soul will find
peace and rest at last. My remains are in Buhera where I was killed by Smith's soldiers in
1978'.44 It is estimated that over 5 000 people including villagers and war collaborators
were massacred by Rhodesian forces in Mashonaland Central. Their bodies were left
lying in the bush, buried in shallow graves or dumped in disused mines and pits. Some
were devoured by wild animals when relatives were barred from burying them. By 2004
a total 19 graves had been identified in Mashonaland Central Province.45
When bones were discovered in Mt Darwin, they had to be taken by policemen to a
pathologist for forensic test. The forensic scientist, specialist in the area of the bones
would examine the bones to possibly deduce the gender, age, height, race as well as
medical history and manner of death.46 The Mt Darwin reburial program set precedent for
similar efforts to give descent burial to fallen heroes of Zimbabwe who died during the
war in neighbouring countries such as Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, Angola,
Rehabilitating Graves
The government of Zimbabwe through the National Museum and Monuments of
Zimbabwe (NMMZ) has embarked on a project of rehabilitating the graves of fallen
heroes both in and outside the country. According to NNMZ's curator of militaria, Retired
Lieutenant-Colonel Edgar Nkiwane, the project comprises four phases that include
identification of the liberation war sites, traditional acknowledgement of the souls of
fallen freedom fighters, physical rehabilitation of the burials, erecting memorial shrines
and site museums or interpreting centres as well as conservation and promotion of
Zimbabwe's liberation heritage.47 The significance of the shrine is that it honours the
heroes who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the country.
The project has identified liberation war camps and battle sites in several places. In
Mozambique, the sites are Chimoio, Nyadzonya, Doroie, Chibawawa, Nyangawo,
Tembwe, Maroro, Mavonde, Mapai, Madulu etc. In Zambia there are at Freedom Camp,
Nampundwe, Mkushi, Mulungushi, Kabanga, Kavalamanja, Sinde, Solwezi etc, In
Botswana there is Selebi-Phikwe, Dukwe and Francistown. In Angola there is Luso and
Boma and Tanzania there is Nachingwea, Morogoro, Mgagao, Iringa etc.48
From mass graves identified thus far, Mukushi camp scored the highest number of the
unburied human remains throughout the entire liberation war. According to statistics a
total 1 500 girls might have been killed at Mukushi. At Nyadzonya statistics on metal tags
show 732, and Chimoio casualties are estimated to be 700 trained male adults, 1000
untrained male adults, 300 trained female adults, 1500 untrained female adults, 2000
juvenile males and females, 200 guerrillas wounded from the front and 300 refugees.49 At
Freedom camp 367 freedom fighters were killed by Rhodesian forces.50
According to the curator of museums, the remains in most of the graves showed various
ages. Bones displayed injuries caused by arms, machine gun, mortar fire, burns by
incendiary weapons such as napalm, or grenades. Some parts of human remains showed
bullet riddles. At Mulungushi camp, some paraphernalia associated with ZIPRA forces
were identified; 'Green denim trousers, Russian F1 fragmentation and blast hand
grenades, AK-47 magazine clips, Russian V-shape military boots, East German type
combat uniform, green nylon wet proofs...individual utensils such as knives,
toothbrushes, spoons and a few Zambian coins'.51 At Nyadzonya refugee camp, artefacts
associated with remains were found and these include, carvings, personal utensils like
spoons, cups, plates, toothbrushes, etc. The clothing recovered was civilian and no
military uniforms.52
Reburial projects are linked with traditional leaders, continuing the trend by guerrillas
during the liberation war. Traditional leaders still enjoy considerable respect in Zambia
and Mozambique. As 'owners of the land', the reburial team need their advice and
guidance to conduct traditional rites in their areas.
Our field research also established that reburial activities in Zimbabwe are not only a
government driven project, some private companies have also been involved in resettling
people as part of land redistribution with government approval. The Murowa incident is a
case in point.
Murowa Episode
Rio- Tinto opened a commercial diamond mining company in 2004 at Murowa, some
40km away from Zvishavane in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe. Operations at
Murowa mine only started when 142 families were moved from their original homes to
Shashe farms north of Gaths Mine, Mashava in order to make way for the diamond
mining project. Their homesteads were removed and new ones built for them. Those
affected moved and occupied new plots.53 Today the community enjoys the comfort of
modern homes constructed by the mine with fenced yards, cattle pens, foul runs, etc. New
facilities such as school, clinic and church have been built at the new settlement. However
some residents complain about what they perceive as inadequate compensation relative
to the wealth procured by the diamond mine.
In its planning stage, the mine faced serious cultural resilience by resettle people due to
traditional beliefs. The Shona have profound concerns about the treatment of the dead.
When resettlement started the local community raised fears of separating with their dead
ones buried in their homesteads. So the mine undertook to exhume the bodies and
relocate the graves for reburial at a new site just outside the mining zone.54 By so doing
the mine acted in accordance with traditional belief that consider the dead as not having
been abandoned. The exhumation and reburial was conducted by prominent undertakers
Doves Morgan. During exhumation the most spectacular aspect was the discovery of
bodies 'intact'55 but with some crinkles. Some people identified their deceased by clothes,
blankets and special possessions like mats, pots, cups, buried alongside the dead. After
identification by their families, the remains were marked by tags and carried in coffins. At
the gravesite, traditional rites were performed by the elders. However 3 bodies were
found missing.56 In traditional belief the witches had taken their bodies but undertakers
suspected false identification and would return to do the exercise again. Such continued
attachment of the living and dead has sustained through rituals of commemoration of the
dead conducted by resettled people from time to time at the cemetery.
The above exposition shows that the Shona people have profound concerns about the
treatment of the dead. Through activities of war veterans, spirits and the mine in the
reburial exercise approved by government, religion and politics become closely tied
together. The Shona people understand this link in terms of their traditional cosmology.
In its approach to land reform, the government of Zimbabwe treats the land issue and
reburials, spearheaded by War Veterans within the traditional religious framework. But
the political issue of the land remains the key one. It has been the sole reason for fighting
the war. So all matters pertaining to the land especially reburials are interpreted from that
perspective. By so doing the government manipulates the traditional beliefs to advance a
political project .
Land reform adopts the traditional format of land acquisition-cleansing-appeasement. In
the past when elders acquire new land for settlement, the new space was marked by ritual
cleansing. Then ritual appeasement of departed souls would follow. The purpose of the
traditional rites is to appease the dead and exorcise evil spirits. So by embarking on land
invasion, resettlement and 'clean up', ending up with activities of exhumation and reburial
such as in Gutu and Mt Darwin, the government assimilated traditional cultural practices.
It acted in line with traditional spirit world but also aroused political sentiments of
national unity against a common enemy, the white regime. It adopts a political rhetoric
that Zimbabwe was a victim of British and US led conspiracy against Zimbabwe's land
reforms and had profound interest to re-colonise Zimbabwe and that the West was
undermining the economy through sanctions. So for the government reburial project is
imperative and justified component of land reform. What establishes in the traditional
mindset is government's overt intention to help families reconcile with dead relatives. In
the whole process, the spirits and chiefs play a central role. Traditional religion and
politics become intricately connected. But one may argue that Zimbabwe government
has assimilated traditional religious worldviews in political context.
The most puzzling question is how did the government influence the people to make
political interpretation of a religious discourse. In other words what is the effect of
religious and political factors on land reform? A convincing explanation stems from the
value accorded the dead bodies in Shona culture. According to Verdery, dead bodies have
certain properties that make them symbols. Dead bodies don't speak but words can be put
into mouths or their words can be interpreted out of context. Dead bodies provide a
'Curriculum Vitae' or 'resume'57 upon which people can rewrite history. So what gives a
dead body its effectiveness in politics is precisely its ambiguity. Also dead bodies are
associated with awe, fear and sacrality as people grapple with questions of ultimate
reality. According to Verdery, politics benefits from the aura of sanctity presented by the
corpse and reburials (re) sacralise the political order.58
Politics of Dead Bodies
With the reburial process, the theory of the dead 'body politics' plays a part. Anthropology
holds that a remembered dead body is much more than a dead corpse. It is a material
symbol of history. A dead body reorders the world of meaning and establishes cosmic
order.59 In Shona tradition a dead person's body is sacred. The dead become more
powerful after death. In our case studies above, the significance of dead bodies
personified as humans, derive from their 'biographies'. As part of the human system bones
contain a sacral element and thus become effective political symbols.
By selling the verdict and power of the fallen heroes, the government plays or
manoeuvres the body politic. When the dead bodies are exhumed, paraded and reburied
they become 'magic' and can influence perceptions. Reburials reorganise world of
meaning centred on issues of justice, suffering, blame, and compensation. These issues
characterise the land question. As ritual practice, reburials are effective tools for shaping
the politics of restitution, nation building and moral accountability. On a broader
perspective manoeuvring of dead bodies in both the physical and symbolic senses help re12
write national history. According to Molchanov, deep social change inevitably raptures
time and space continuities. Reburials help to restore them.60
In post war trauma such as Zimbabwe experiences, reburial rituals are meant to effect
healing. The whole exercise of reburial is to help the nation recover from the devastation
of several years of violent conflict and war. In the case of human remains identified in
and outside the country, thousands of unmarked graves were not accorded proper burial
rites. The bodies of war victims lay in a disrespectful state, just as their murderers
dumped them. They lay in unmarked graves, without coffins, 'facedown' but reburials
ensure they are buried 'face up' in coffins.61 So reburials restore human hood and dignity
to its original state as in life. As such reburials, as cosmogonic experience, recreate and
reorder community.
In the Shona culture when the dead bodies are given descent burial, rites of kurova can
take place. By this the soul of the deceased is put to 'rest' and is 'at peace'. So surviving
relatives are 'liberated' and can perform their normal duties. Once this is accomplished, a
state of 'normalcy' is attained. The rites play an important role in the grieving process. It
is on this basis that the government embarked on the exhumation, documentation and
reburial of Zimbabwe's dead.
During the reburial exercise, relatives were able to identify the bodies of their own
deceased relatives, owing to their intact state of clothing, which would retain its normal
colour and shape. It is this process of verifying long standing eye witness accounts, and
giving the families a clear vision of their family history in all its details that matters. The
process is 'edifying'. It amounts to returning 'more' than the bones.62 According to a
psychologist, the exhumation process is 'intense and devastating' but 'ultimately worthy
the effort'63 because surviving families can then begin the process of healing.
Exhumations, spearheaded by war veterans and backed by government turned to be
community-driven healing process. The primary aim was to 'heal the dead'. In Shona
belief such a process effects 'drying the tears of the dead'. In Gutu and Mt Darwin the
rituals brought about the desired effect, to console war victims. The massacres committed
by Smith's regime during the war of liberation is perceived as violation of the burial
rituals and desacralisation of the burial sites. For the traditional Shona people such acts
are a 'denial' of the dead. Depriving them of descent burial is to deny they ever lived and
are thus erased from history. Such attitude is abominable and demeaning. So as 'healing',
reburial reasserts their position. It acknowledges their identities and attaches them with
their families. The white regime had 'dehumanised them through false claims, labelling
them magandanga (terrorists). By this they deprived them their humanity. But through
reburial, 'the bones restore the truth, the bones tell the truth back, and this restores self
esteem and dignity to the dead'.64 Reburials open avenues for reinterpretation of the past.
Forensic Anthropology of the Bones believes, 'The Stories Bones Tell'.65 From the
reburial experiences, the message that bones tell is 'healing' and 'truth. As such, 'Bones
don't lie'. So by conducting reburial activities, it seems the government capitalised upon
this belief.
Monuments also play an important role that shows the indebtedness of the people to the
spirits. In the traditional cultural belief, monuments erected to commemorate the dead
freedom fighters are significant. They serve as a spiritual link with the fallen heroes. The
shrines help preserve permanent natural values upheld by the people. They arouse
regional and national unity and identity as a distinguished heritage in Zimbabwe, Zambia,
and Southern Africa where shrines have been built. It is an expression as well as symbol
of collective will of Africans to be makers of their own history. From the point of view
of party leadership in Zimbabwe, the sites inspire all people, especially the youth to
follow in the footsteps of the heroes.66 So monuments play an important role to confirm
the potency of spirits. As Gough observes, public space surrounding war memorials and
military monuments has always been important in the iconography of remembrance. In
the 19th centuries these spaces took the form of garden cemeteries and memorial
plantations. 67
Debates on land reform amount to the fact that it is a noble cause but the method applied
for acquisition has created serious problems and is blamed for plunging the Southern
African nation into severe shortages of basic commodities; food, fuel, electricity etc.
Land reform has been riddled with problems such as lack of collateral, inadequate
agricultural training and planning for new farmers, insufficient inputs, no irrigation,
infrastructure of roads, electricity, schools, hospitals. But Mugabe says the economic and
political troubles are the result of sabotage by domestic and Western opponents of his
policy of seizing white owned farms to give to landless blacks.68 The land debates create
a vicious cycle of accusation and counter accusations turning the land issue into a 'crisis'.
From this perspective, land reform is seen as reneging by Robert Mugabe of his promise
of reconciliation over the land, 'We will not seize land from anyone who has a use for it.
Farmers who are able to produce and prove useful to society will find us co-operative'.69
Recent government efforts to offer white farmers moratorium to return to farms has made
farmers sceptical about land grab reversal. As for manipulation of chiefs into political
game, critics accuse Mugabe of receding into style of idolism, cult status typical of
African politics.70
For Mugabe invocation of ancestors and bones of dead bodies manifest in rituals testify to
its spiritual basis. The rationale is, since spirits have been involved in the liberation war
their goals had not been met at Lancaster since economic power remained as white
monopoly. So land reform, epitomised through nationalisation is meant to seal land
redistribution and solve the problem but albeit sparking new one.
The selective criteria used for reburials of fallen heroes has received sharp criticism. The
critical question is what happens to spirits of other war victims such as ex -Rhodesian
soldiers and people in Matabeleland who died during the war but were not accorded
proper burial in a war situation. This issue of forgotten bodies has remained politically
and culturally sensitive. In a parliamentary motion raised by Ms Misihairambwi-
Mushonga, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Member of Parliament and
applauded by the house, there is a call to honour the widows of fallen heroes. The idea is
to document contributions made by widows of fallen heroes to the liberation struggle.
In light of macro-economic problems inflicting the people of Zimbabwe, many feel the
incumbent regime is spent force. They should discontinue and give way to younger
generation since the land has been re-distributed. However others see the President as
charismatic leader, bold and unflinching, possessing virtues, 'lucid intellect, command of
language and unwavering commitment to a united Zimbabwe make him stand as a
leader."71 Someone observed, 'Like him or not the man has left an indelible mark in the
annals of history'. As a result some of his speeches have been recorded on CD and will
soon appear on market.
War Veterans, through reburial exercise re-interpret and reconstruct the Shona cosmology
in religious terms. They create new worlds of meaning for the people. The use of war
rhetoric and appeal to ancestry are ironically instruments to entrench power. Dead bodies
have been manipulated for 'political profit' to attain political legitimacy. Invocation of the
spirits or dead bodies, a technique designed to recycle history is meant to recreate the
world that has been vandalised by enemies, the colonizers. The reburials, national rituals
and gala meant to heal the wounds or post war trauma tend to manipulate traditional
psyche. The land reform appears to have appropriated religious themes into political
Internal perspectives on land reform reflect that despite its multifaceted picture for and
against it, the program is a political and spiritual matter. Its religiosity can be verified but
also politicised. Reburials convert sacred values into political discourse. But by and large
the land issue remains one of the most vexing problems Zimbabwe ever had pitting
Zimbabwe government and Britain. But a popular belief says, 'Whenever two elephants
fight, it is the grass that suffers'. Perhaps as way forward, the West should understand the
African mindset, devise new diplomatic strategies to solve the problem and lift economic
'sanctions' at least for the sake of the people. Conversely Mugabe should desist from the
'revenge motif' of 'stolen land', allow real political and economic reform. Lately, Sweden
has urged Zimbabwe to mend relations with the West, to start 'building bridges' and
regain confidence and trust with the international world.
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Ranger, Terence. 1999. Voices from the Rock: Nature Culture and History in the Matopo
Hills of Zimbabwe. Oxford: James Currey.
Ranger, Terence. 1967. Revolt in Southern Rhodesia 1896-97. London: Heinemann, 1st
Ranger, Terence. 1985. Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe, London:
James Currey.
Ranger, Terrence and Ngwabi, Bhebe. 1996. Society in Zimbabwe's Liberation War.
Oxford: Currey.
Rutherford, Blair. 2001, Working on the Margins: Black Workers, White Farmers in Post
Colonial Zimbabwe. Harare: Weaver Press.
Spierenburg, Marja. 2004. Strangers, Spirits, and Land Reform: Conflicts about Land in
Dande, Northern Zimbabwe. Leiden: Brill.
Verdery, Katherine. 1999. Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Post socialist
Change. New York: Columbia University Press.
1This paper combines research I did in Zimbabwe with field research conducted by Jim Cox and myself as
colleagues in Zimbabwe in July-August 2004, funded by University of Edinburgh. Some aspects
corroborate Cox (2005). I am grateful for sponsorship and library facilities for research and write up
offered by the Afrika Studiecentrum, University of Leiden, The Netherlands where I served as Research
Fellow from Jan-March 2006. I also thank comments obtained from the Agency group and discussions in
seminars at ASC; SAGA at IIMO, University of Utrecht on 24 Feb 2006; School of Divinity, University of
Edinburgh in April 2004 and BASR Conference, University of Cambridge on 12-16th September 2004.
2 Former ZANLA and ZIPRA freedom fighters during the liberation war against the Rhodesian army. They
are also called 'ex-combatants', 'guerrillas'.
3 David Lan, Guns and Rain: Spirit Mediums and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe, Harare: Zimbabwe
Publishing House, 1985.
4 Terence Ranger, 1896-7 Rebellion, London: Heinemann, 1967.
5 Terrence Ranger and Ngwabi Bhebe, Society in Zimbabwe's Liberation War, Oxford: Currey, 1996.
6 Martinus Daneel, Guerilla Snuff, Baobab Books, Harare: Zimbabwe, 1995.
7 Terence Ranger, Voices from the Rock, Nature, Culture and History in the Matopo Hills in Zimbabwe,
Oxford: James Currey, 1999.
8 Blair Rutherford, Working on the Margins, Black Workers, White Colonial Farmers in Post Colonial
Zimbabwe, Weaver Press: Harare, 2001.
9 Marja Spierenburg, Strangers, Spirits, and Land Reform: Conflicts about Land in Dande, Northern
Zimbabwe, Leiden: Brill, 2004.
10 Ezra Chitando, 'In the Beginning was the Land': the Appropriation of Religious Themes in Political
Discourse in Zimbabwe', Journal of the International African Institute, Vol 75, 2, July 2005, p.220-239 (20)
11 James Cox, 'The Land Crisis in Zimbabwe: A Case of Religious Intolerance?', Fieldwork In Religion, 1.1.
2005, p. 35-48.
12 Ibid. p.35.
13 Katherine Verdery, 'The Political lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Post socialist Change', Columbia
University Press, 1999. Online http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/v/verdery-bodies.html, 2/2/2006.
14 'Zimbabwe Crisis: The Battle for Land'. BBC News Online:htt://news.bbc.co.uk, 04/04/2004.
15 H.Moyana and M.Sibanda, The African Heritage, Harare: Zimbabwe Educational Books, 1984, p. 29.
16 See Ranger 1967, Lan 1985.
17 Moyana, Sibanda, 1984, p. 46
18 Ibid.
19 The Sunday Mail 20-26 November, 2005.
20 Economic partnerships with Eastern countries like China, Malaysia etc.
21 Palmer 1990 and Blackenburg 1994:30 Quoted in Spierenburg, 2004, p.2.
22 Moyo 2000: 5. 'The Political Economy of Land Aquisition and Redistribution in Zimbabwe', Journal of
Southern African Studies, 26 (10): 5-28. Quoted in Spierenburgh, 2004, p.2.
23 The Herald 3/01/06.
24 The Herald 29/12/05.
25 M.F.C.Bourdillon, The Shona People, Gweru, Mambo Press, 1982.
26 Ambrose Moyo, 'Religion and Politics in Zimbabwe', in Petersen, K.H., Religion, Development and
African Identity. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 1987, pp59-72. See also Marthinus Daneel, Mwari
God of the Matopo Hills, 1970.
27 Ibid pp59-72
28 Daneel, 1995.
29 Ibid p.9
30 Ibid p.38.
31 Ibid p. 36.
32 Daneel, op.cit., 1995, p. 10.
33 Martinus Daneel, 'Environmental Reform: A new Venture for Traditional Custodians of the Land',ctices.
Moyo, A. 1988: "Religion and Political Thought in Independent Zimbabwe", in C. Hallencreutz and A. Moyo. Church and State in Zimbabwe. Gweru: Mambo Press, 1988.
[From Hilde Antsen, The Battle of the Mind: International New Media Elements of the New Religious Political Right in Zimbabwe. Oslo:University of Oslo, 1997, pages 49-50. Available from Department of Media and Communications [info@media.uio.no].