Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army

Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army

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Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) was the military wing of the Zimbabwe African National Union
Zimbabwe African National Union
The Zimbabwe African National Union was a militant organization that fought against the standing government in Rhodesia, formed as a split from the Zimbabwe African People's Union...

, a militant African nationalist organization, and participated in the Rhodesian Bush War
Rhodesian Bush War
The Rhodesian Bush War – also known as the Second Chimurenga or the Zimbabwe War of Liberation – was a civil war which took place between July 1964 and December 1979 in the unrecognised country of Rhodesia...

 against Republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

an Rule in Rhodesia
Rhodesia , officially the Republic of Rhodesia from 1970, was an unrecognised state located in southern Africa that existed between 1965 and 1979 following its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965...


ZANLA was formed in 1965 in Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

, although until the early 1970s ZANLA was based in camps around Lusaka
Lusaka is the capital and largest city of Zambia. It is located in the southern part of the central plateau, at an elevation of about 1,300 metres . It has a population of about 1.7 million . It is a commercial centre as well as the centre of government, and the four main highways of Zambia head...

, Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

. Until 1972 ZANLA was led by the nationalist leader Herbert Chitepo
Herbert Chitepo
Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo led the Zimbabwe African National Union until he was assassinated on March 1975. Although his murderer remains unidentified, the Rhodesian author Peter Stiff says that a former British SAS soldier, Hugh Hind was responsible.Chitepo became the first black citizen of...

, followed by Josiah Tongogara
Josiah Tongogara
Josiah Magama Tongogara was a commander of the ZANLA guerrilla army in Rhodesia. He attended the Lancaster House conference that led to Zimbabwe's independence and the end of white minority rule...

 from 1973 until his death in 1979. With the war drawing to a close, command fell to Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe
Robert Gabriel Mugabe is the President of Zimbabwe. As one of the leaders of the liberation movement against white-minority rule, he was elected into power in 1980...

, previously ZANU's number two leader after Tongogara and head of the movement's political wing.

Until about 1971, ZANLA's strategy was based on direct confrontation with Rhodesian armed forces. From 1972 onwards, ZANLA adopted the Maoist
Maoism, also known as the Mao Zedong Thought , is claimed by Maoists as an anti-Revisionist form of Marxist communist theory, derived from the teachings of the Chinese political leader Mao Zedong . Developed during the 1950s and 1960s, it was widely applied as the political and military guiding...

Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

 tactics that had been used with success by FRELIMO in Mozambique: infiltrating combatants into the country, politicising the peasantry and participating in 'hit-and-run' ambush operations.

ZANLA's close association with Mozambique's FRELIMO helped it after Mozambican
Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

 independence in 1975. From about 1972, ZANLA had operated from Tete
-External links:* *...

 Province in northern Mozambique, which was FRELIMO-controlled, and, after Mozambican independence, ZANLA was permitted to open additional training and supply camps along the Rhodesian-Mozambican border. This greatly assisted the recruitment and training of cadres.

Beside their overall political ideologies, the main differences between ZIPRA
Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army was the armed wing of the Zimbabwe African People's Union, a political party in Rhodesia. It participated in the Second Chimurenga against white minority rule in the former Rhodesia....

, the armed wing of the pro-Soviet ZAPU party, and ZANLA were that:
  • ZANLA drew its recruits mostly from Shona-speaking
    Shona language
    Shona is a Bantu language, native to the Shona people of Zimbabwe and southern Zambia; the term is also used to identify peoples who speak one of the Shona language dialects: Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika, Ndau and Korekore...

     ethnic groups
  • ZANLA followed a strategy of politicisation of the peasant population (inspired by the Maoist teachings of "protracted people's war"), most often by intimidation and outright terrorism. ZIPRA cadres were usually not based in Rhodesia for any length of time and consequently did not enjoy a close relationship with local peasant populations
  • After about 1972, ZANLA introduced combatants into the country for long-term campaigns of guerrilla fighting, while ZIPRA was designed to be used as a conventional armed force: entering the country, striking and pulling back to its bases in Zambia and Angola
    Angola, officially the Republic of Angola , is a country in south-central Africa bordered by Namibia on the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the north, and Zambia on the east; its west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with Luanda as its capital city...

During the late 1970s, some ZANLA fighters were deployed in the Matabeleland and midlands provinces, areas where Zipra mainly operated. There were a lot of clashes between the two forces. ZANLA fighters were well known for their savagery when it came to dealing with Ndebele civilians who were usually taken into what were called overnight bases and forced to sing songs in Shona denouncing ZAPU and its leader Joshua Nkomo
Joshua Nkomo
Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo was the leader and founder of the Zimbabwe African People's Union and a member of the Kalanga tribe...

. These ZANLA cadres had a strange love for chicken and a local staple food known as Sadza
Sadza in Shona, Isitshwala in isiNdebele, pap in South Africa or nsima in the Chichewa language of Malawi, is a cooked corn meal that is the staple food in Zimbabwe and other parts of southern and eastern Africa. This food is cooked widely in other countries of the region.Sadza in appearance is a...

. Each time they came to a Ndebele homestead given their lack of the Ndebele language, they would simply demand "ndipe sadza nehuku" hence the local Ndebele nickname for them "Osadza nehuku". They were known as well for saying "Down with Nkomo" most of the time, hence another Matebele name for them became "OPASI"

Aside from these tribal issues, in Mashonaland their home ground, the ZANLA fighter gave a different account of himself. Like their more polished and better organised fellow fighters in ZIPRA, in Mashonaland they helped inflict many casualties on the Rhodesian Security Forces. In fact, until today, the then ZANLA command still maintains that it was their forces, not ZIPRA, that attacked the Salisbury fuel depot in December 1978, resulting in a massive shortage of fuel in Rhodesia.

Whilst there was undoubtedly intense rivalry between the two fellow movements, the Rhodesian government treated both the same. As much as the Rhodesian security forces attacked and killed hundreds of ZAPU recruits across the borders in Zambia and Angola at Mkushi and Freedom Camps, ZANU also recorded many losses in Chimoio and Nyadzonia in Mozambique.

Following the 1980 elections large portions of ZANLA were integrated into the new Zimbabwe National Army
Zimbabwe National Army
The Zimbabwe National Army is the land warfare branch of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. The ZNA currently has an active duty strength of 30,000.-History:...


Further reading

  • Rasmussen, R. K., & Rubert, S. C., 1990. A Historical Dictionary of Zimbabwe
    Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern part of the African continent, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia and a tip of Namibia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east. Zimbabwe has three...

    , Scarecrow
    A scarecrow is, essentially, a decoy, though traditionally, a human figure dressed in old clothes and placed in fields by farmers to discourage birds such as crows or sparrows from disturbing and feeding on recently cast seed and growing crops.-History:In Kojiki, the oldest surviving book in Japan...

    Press, Inc., Metuchen, NJ, United States of America.
  • Norma J Kriger, Guerrilla Veterans in Post-war Zimbabwe: Symbolic and Violent Politics, 1980-1987, Cambridge UP, 2003