Uneasy Legacy of the Chimurenga Struggle Zimbabwe Relations with Zambia 1974-1990
Conference of the International Journal of Arts & Sciences,
CD-ROM. ISSN: 1943-6114 :: 10(01):329–334 (2017)
AN UNEASY LEGACY OF THE CHIMURENGA STRUGGLE:
ZIMBABWE RELATIONS WITH ZAMBIA 1974–1990
Dylan Yanano Mangani and Theodore Nkadimeng Mahosi
University of Venda, South Africa
No serious study of the political history of Zimbabwe can ignore the otherwise celebrated influence of
the Chimurenga (liberation struggle philosophy) in the ruling Zanu-PF’s code of conduct within the
realms of international relations. As such, the paper argues that Zimbabwe-Zambia relations were borne
out of the implications of the struggle of Zimbabwe that produced interesting dimensions into an
understanding of African nationalism. These dimensions: Zambia’s proximity to ZAPU (another former
liberation movement in the struggle of Zimbabwe) and relations with the Rhodesian government as
strategies by the ruling UNIP to end the Zimbabwean problem saw the beginning of hostility with
ZANU that reached its peak following the assassination of Hebert Wilshire Chitepo, the Chairman of
ZANU in 1975, and the subsequent reaction of the Zambian government afterwards. Post independent
Zimbabwe relations with Zambia was a byproduct of the misgivings of the Cold War; a search for a
regional alliance in the wake of domestic and security concerns and the legacy of the Chimurenga
struggle that pitted ZANU-PF and the UNIP of Zambia in opposite camps. Thus, the paper seeks to
understand the legacy of the Chimurenga discourse and locate its influence in shaping the relations
between Zimbabwe and Zambia from 1980–1990.
Keywords: Chimurenga, ZANU, UNIP, Zimbabwe, Zambia.
Zimbabwe's relations with Zambia are a very important opportunity for an understanding of what
constitutes African nationalism that provided an impetus for the protracted struggle against white settler
rule. These relations are important in the sense that they exposed the limits of African nationalism where
the ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP) of Zambia's proximity to the Zimbabwe African
Peoples Union (ZAPU) suggested a false start in the nationalist struggle of Zimbabwe. Moreover, the
relations also provided an understanding of the relations between UNIP and the Rhodesian government in
the search for strategies to end the Rhodesian question(liberation struggle) (Tamarkin, 1990: 86).These
two important developments were very important in laying the basis of the relations between Zimbabwe
and Zambia in a post-independent Zimbabwe. After a protracted struggle and, the Lancaster House
negotiations of 1979 that paved way for the 1980 elections, the Zimbabwe African National Union
(ZANU) emerged as the winner in these elections (Kriger, 2003:29). ZANU thus sought to establish
regional alliances as part of its foreign policy objectives in Southern Africa (Reed, 1993:31-59 and
Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2013:36). Be that as it may, the relations between the ZANU government of Zimbabwe
and the UNIP of Zambia were not cordial. Thus, the paper seeks to understand factors that impacted on
330 An Uneasy Legacy of the Chimurenga Struggle: Zimbabwe Relations with Zambia 1974–1990
the relations between these two countries through a political history of interaction between the two
The History of the Relations between ZANU and Zambia
When Zambia became independent in 1964 under the banner of the UNIP, President Kaunda made the
country a refuge for all liberation and democratic movements in Africa. Lusaka became the nucleus of
Angolan, Mozambican, Namibia, South African and Zimbabwean national liberation movements (Chung,
2006:72).This policy, by the UNIP government, enabled Zimbabwe’s two prominent liberation
movements ZAPU and ZANU to use Zambia as a springboard to which the Chimurenga war effort
against the regime of Ian Smith would be realised. The struggle of Zimbabwe, that is celebrated as the
Chimurenga is a Shona term that is derived from the name of Murenga a Zimbabwean spirit medium who
fought against white settler rule in the early phases of African resistance (Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2013: 179).
However what was interesting about this nationalism was the fact that it was manifested in political
intolerance, absolutism and was monolithic in nature to assume exclusive nationalism (Sithole, 1979: 38
and Mhanda, 1978: 32).To be more clear, led by Joshua Nkomo, ZAPU was formed as a continuation of
the early nationalist movement in Rhodesia to become the first modernised nationalist that was effective.
However, as the time progressed differences emerged over what constituted African nationalism and
broadly what the Rhodesian question was. (Kriger, 2003: 23; Fray, 2010:21 and Riley, 1982:100). The
ultimate result was the split of ZAPU and a breakaway faction formed ZANU in 1963 and this according
to Chimhanda( 2003:66) was regarded as divisive and counter-revolutionary thus earning ZANU the
status of a splinter organisation. Such perception heralded a dimensional twist in the politics of liberation
subsequently forming a basis of enduring animosity between ZAPU and ZANU.
The Détente Period 1974-1976
As the struggle for Zimbabwe intensified a number of recorded military victories for ZANU’s Zimbabwe
African National Liberation Army(ZANLA) coincided with the end of Portuguese rule in Angola and
Mozambique respectively in 1975. The independence and assumptions of Marxists governments in these
states provided an impetus one to which Southern Africa would supposedly fall under Marxism control.
In the twisted politics of the Cold War(ideological battle between the capitalist United States and the
communist Soviet Union), a Marxist Southern Africa would threaten the white capitalists' states of
Rhodesia and South Africa (Alao, 2012: 109). As such was imperative for a cessation of hostilities
between the Rhodesian government and nationalists movements in Rhodesia and a peace settlement to be
hatched. However, the real motive behind this détente was to circumvent the prospects of a military
victory for the Marxist ZANU movement in favor of a more moderate movement that would be
accommodative of white monopoly capital and interests (Chung, 2006:84).
Against the aforementioned background, Zambia and South Africa became interested parties to the
Rhodesian question by virtue of assuming regional hegemony at the time. The Lusaka and Pretoria effort
were aimed at necessitating that Joshua Nkomo the leader of ZAPU begin talks with the government of
Ian Smith. Zambia's gradual economic decline of the 1970s made President Kaunda willing to participate
in the talks in search of a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia (Tamarkin, 1990:78-81). The present author
maintains that the regional initiative led by Zambia and South Africa was also part of a search to find an
acceptable nationalist leader acceptable to white communities possibly in Rhodesia and South Africa that
would command appeal from both white and non-white communities and Joshua Nkomo seemed to be the
preferred candidate(ibid:86) This search for a moderate leader would pre-empt ZANU's radical and
extreme militancy that had been professed earlier by its external Chair Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo and also
shown by the military successes of ZANU’s military wing the Zimbabwe African National Liberation
Army (ZANLA) (Martin & Johnson, 1985: 3,5).
Dylan Yanano Mangani and Theodore Nkadimeng Mahosi 331
The high successes in the military campaigns and operations of ZANLA suggested that the
independence of Zimbabwe was imminent and one in which ZANU felt was solely responsible for
attaining it. Thus, ZANU was not ready to compromise on militant nationalism with movements such as
ZAPU, the newly formed African National Congress(ANC) and the Front for the Liberation of
Zimbabwe(FROLIZI) (Chung, 2006:88). The Zambian position was to weaken ZANU and insist on non-
military strategies to attain independence in a way that ensured a victory of Joshua Nkomo.When leaders
such as Josiah Tongogara opposed non-military strategies Zambia threatened to expel ZANU and its
military bases from as safe havens in the country
The Assassination of Chitepo and the Subsequent Arrests of ZANU Figures
In the midst of these differences between ZANU and the Zambian government on 18 March 1975 Herbert
Chitepo was assassinated in a car bomb at his home in Lusaka Zambia. The assassination cast a very dark
cloud in the understanding of Zimbabwean nationalism and further strained relations between the
Zambian government and ZANU. It is suffice to say that the death of Herbert Chitepo, as the leader of
ZANU's external wing, was read from different manuscript with the Zambian government and some in
ZANU accusing other veterans such as Josiah Tongogara , who was at the time commanding ZANLA, as
having a hand in the act whilst ZANU fingered the Rhodesian intelligence service. These accusations
could not be oversimplified and thus became a focal point of contestation given the contradictions in the
nationalist struggle. The fact that the liberation struggle of Zimbabwe was riven by exclusive nationalism
and political intolerance between the old style politicians such as Herbert Chitepo against military
veterans such as Josiah Tongogara became very important factors in trying to come to terms with
Chitepo's death (Holland, 2008: 42 ; Chung, 2006: 132). However, other scholars are of a different
opinion that the plot was a result of the never-ending pursuit of the clandestine policies of the Rhodesian
government in trying to wade off the nationalist liberation movements. As a result Reid-Daily (1999:173)
maintains "The decision by Ken Flower…to assassinate Herbert Chitepo, head of the ZANU War
Council,now showed how badly Flower has misread the ZANU/ZANLA situation. The death of Chitepo
purged ZANU of its many dissenting factions and a new and highly successful leader emerged.Robert
Mugabe gave ZANLA the means to consolidate its efforts by providing ZANLA with an indispensable
Of much importance was the reaction by the Zambian government and how the response had a
bearing on the liberation struggle of Zimbabwe and the future relations with ZANU. Following the death
and funeral of Chitepo, the Zambian government arrested some of the top leaders of the War Council of
ZANU including Josiah Tongogara, Rugare Gumbo, Henry Hamadziripi and Kumbirai Kangai. In
addition, the Zambian government set up an International Commission that comprised of judges from
fourteen different countries in Africa (Nyarota, 2006:103). On the 28th
of March 1975, the Zambian Home
Affairs Minister Aaron Milner hinted that the assassination was an inside job carried out by ZANU and
subsequently President Kaunda announced that the Commission was aimed at discovering the culprits and
“sort out” the Rhodesian problem (Tamarkin,2011: 66). Perhaps, President Kaunda’s actions were
motivated by the conversation he had earlier with Herbert Chitepo that he was fearful of his life from
Josiah Tongogara in the dimensional twists of ZANU politics (Chikuhwa, 2013: 23). It is believed that on
many occasions Josiah Tongogara and Herbert Chitepo as leaders of the party had disagreed on strategies
and policies. As if that had been enough there was also the never-ending dimension of ethnic politics that
had come to ravage the nationalist movements. Tongogara was a Karanga and Chitepo was a Manyika
and many believed that Tongogara may have sought to take Chitepo's life based on the competition for
power that rose from this ethnic factor.
Regardless of these interpretations what is important is to note that this “sort out” meant by President
Kaunda was aimed at neutralising militant and radical ZANU leaders who since Chitepo had refused to
accept the détente in any future political prospects of the Zimbabwean question. (Chikuhwa, 2013: 21) It
was President Kaunda’s prerogative to neutralise ZANU through the arrests of more than 1,500 ZANU
332 An Uneasy Legacy of the Chimurenga Struggle: Zimbabwe Relations with Zambia 1974–1990
guerrillas,the banning of ZANU and the subsequently promote the African National Congress(ANC)
under moderate leadership that would provide an alternative to ZANU as a liberation movement. These
measures became very ruinous for ZANU and at the same time very beneficial to the Rhodesian
government of Ian Smith (Tamarkin, 2011:65).
Events that occurred between the arrests of these leaders to their release were recorded as one of the
setbacks of the liberation movement of Zimbabwe were the nationalists' leaders were subjected to
torture,victimisation and denial of human rights by the Zambian government and security forces. The trial
and the commission was said to lack competency as the prerogative was to charge the nationalists and
clear the Zambian government only. This subsequently led to international calls by pressure groups such
as Amnesty International ,Zimbabwe Detainees Defense Committee and the Roman Catholic Church
division of Britain to lobby for a free and fair trial of these nationalists. These nationalists were
subsequently released from incarceration in September 1976. (Chung, 2006:136). The assassination of
Chitepo marked a turning point in Zambia-ZANU relations resulting in the latter seeking sanctuary and
military bases from Zambia to Mozambique for the liberation cause (Scarrit and Nkiwane, 1996: 10).
Zimbabwe’s Relations with Zambia after Independence in 1980
In the light of the perception that ZANU was a splinter organisation from ZAPU and the fractured
relations that followed, these seem to have been an important factor defining security concerns in the
search for a foreign policy by Zimbabwe within Southern Africa. Zimbabwe's post-independence
relations with Zambia were informed by the yesteryears' relations of the liberation struggle (Alao, 2012:
110; Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2011: 4 and 7). While on the surface the liberation struggle was a protracted
struggle against white settler rule, the undercurrents mirrored cracks within the overall camp of the
liberation movements across the continent, particularly the Southern African region where liberation
movements were pitted in the Sino-Soviet Union dichotomy as a dimension of the Cold War (Ndlovu-
Gatsheni, 2011: 8). The Cold War ensured that Africa became a hotbed of this ideological war, with
China’s pre-eminence adding another dimension. Zimbabwe’s ZANU had received military training and
support from China whereas the ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP) in Zambia had
received military training from the Soviet Union. These differences were important in shaping post-
independence politics in Zimbabwe as Zambia continued to support ZAPU a former beneficiary of the
Soviet Union (Reeds, 1993: 40).
The independence of Zimbabwe did not immediately alter the situation in view of the belated
invitation of former Zambia’s president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda to President Mugabe’s inauguration
ceremony at independence (Chan 2011: 55-56). Zimbabwe’s foreign policy to Zambia became more
apparent following the arms cache that was allegedly found in Matabeleland on farms belonging to
ZAPU. The arms cache discovery was interpreted as ZAPU was trying to usurp power from ZANU
unconstitutionally (Alexander, McGregor, & Ranger , 2000: 181). Zimbabwe is said to have suspected
Zambia of playing a central role in facilitating the weapons to ZAPU by virtue of Lusaka having
historical ties with ZAPU in the past especially during the struggle as have stated above (Alao, 2012:
130). These security challenges in Zimbabwe resulted in the Matabeleland debacle where more than 20
000 people lost their lives.
However, Chan (1993: 151 and 72) has tried to capture the relations between Zimbabwe and Zambia
as part of President Mugabe’s regional foreign policy. The author maintains that the relations between the
two countries mirrored a quest for regional hegemony that was encapsulated in the rivalry between
President Mugabe and President Kaunda. For some time Zambia had enjoyed the status of being the hub
of the struggle of Southern Africa as it hosted the liberation movements of South Africa, Namibia,
Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The independence of Zimbabwe and her ability to shape regional affairs
coincided with the fall of Zambia’s economy and her ability to influence regional affairs. Thus hegemony
had shifted from Zambia to Zimbabwe and the latter assumed the role of being a diplomatic hub for
Africa (Mashingaidze, 2006:57). To capture this following the independence of Zimbabwe and the threat
Dylan Yanano Mangani and Theodore Nkadimeng Mahosi 333
of apartheid South Africa's Total Strategy foreign policy, the operationalisation of the Front Line States
and the formation of the Southern African Development Coordinating Committee became apparent and
thus was realised. At the same time Zimbabwe assumed the leadership role in intervening militarily in the
civil war in Mozambique and President Mugabe also became open about his support for the government
of Angola in its war against Jonas Savimbi’s rebel movement, the National Union for the Total
Independence of Angola (UNITA) (Scarrit and Nkiwane, 1996: 13; Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2013: 36).
However, the threat of apartheid South Africa and the untimely death of President Samora Machel of
Mozambique in 1986 created opportunities to re-invent close cooperation between Zimbabwe and Zambia
(Scarrit and Nkiwane, 1996: 13). The cooperation between Zimbabwe and Zambia was of paramount
importance in regional cooperation. Zimbabwe’s independence not only ended Zambia’s military
confrontation with a Rhodesian white regime but changed the focus to apartheid South Africa, thus
involving a new ally, Zimbabwe, in the struggle (Scarrit and Nkiwane, 1996: 13). The importance of the
cooperation was illuminated shortly after Zimbabwe’s independence through the founding of SADCC
where security concerns of the Southern African region were formally addressed (Scarrit and Nkiwane,
Furthermore, Scarrit and Nkiwane (1996: 13) argue that the death of President Samora Machel saw
President Mugabe seeking closeness with President Kaunda in search for regional solidarity. From this
premise one is inclined to say that this closeness was also as a result of apartheid South Africa's
insurgency against these two countries which brought old foes together in the process, thus uniting the
hawks and the doves in Harare and Lusaka in a concerted effort against the apartheid regime.
Accordingly, it is possible to assume that there was a nexus between security and ideological concerns as
indicated by the shift in ZANU government's foreign policy towards Zambia. The death of President
Machel, a staunch Marxist, and the threat of a capitalist apartheid government in South Africa were both a
problem in and an antithesis of the socialist camp in Southern Africa.
The relations between Zimbabwe and Zambia in the period from 1974 to 1990 were never cordial because
of the legacy of the nationalist liberation struggle that pitted ZANU and the Zambian government in
diverse camps. This not only had the impact of arresting the liberation struggle but also questioned the
sincerity of President Kaunda commitment to the total emancipation of the Zimbabwean cause. These
insights impacted heavily on the post-1980 relations between Zimbabwe and Zambia in the first decade of
the latter's independence as reflected in Zimbabwe's search for regional security. Be that as it may, it is
also important to underscore how the threat of apartheid and the death of President Samora Machel united
the hawks and doves together in the search for regional security buttressing the fact that in international
relations there are no permanent enemies but permanent interests.
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