Military Review

Zimbabwe, its army and its president

Zimbabwe is one of the few African countries whose events regularly attract the attention of the international community. The recent events in Harare, which put an end to decades of authoritarian rule by Robert Mugabe, are no exception. The origins of today's events lie in the unusual stories This controversial country, which has numerous mineral deposits and precious stones, but is most famous in the world for its fantastic hyperinflation. How did the state of Zimbabwe appear on the world map, what makes Robert Mugabe in power and what events led to the recent “bloodless transfer of power”?


At the turn of the І and ІІ millennia AD Between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers, the Bantu-speaking tribes of Shona who came from the north created an early class state. It went down in history under the name of Monomotop - by the title of its ruler "Mveni Mupap". He was both the leader of the army, and the high priest. The state flourished in the XIII – XIV centuries: at this time stone construction, metalworking, ceramics reached a high level, and trade was actively developing. The source of the country's wealth were gold and silver mines.

Rumors about the wealth of Monomotops attracted the attention of the Portuguese colonialists, who settled in the beginning of the XVI century on the coast of modern Mozambique. Monk João dos Santos, who visited the country, reported that “this mighty empire was created, full of powerful stone buildings, people who call themselves canarans, the country itself is called Zimbabwe, named after the main palace of the emperor, called a monomotope, and there is more gold than one can imagine the king of castile. "

Monomotopes on the Portuguese map of the XVI century

Attempt by the Portuguese under the leadership of Francisco Barrett in 1569 – 1572 to conquer Monomotap failed. Along the way, it turned out that rumors of an "African Eldorado" were greatly exaggerated. As the monk dos Santos sadly stated, “good Christians hoped, like the Spaniards in Peru, to immediately fill their bags with gold and carry away as much as they could find, but when they (...) saw with what labor and risk to the life of the Kaffra they extracted metal from the depths of the earth and the rocks, their hopes were dispelled. "

The Portuguese lost interest in Monomotope. And soon the country plunged into civil strife. Full decline came at the end of the XVII century.

Ndebele Warriors, drawing 1835 of the year

Later in the south of Africa, turbulent events unfolded in connection with the conquests of the great Zulu ruler Chucky. In the 1834 year, the Ndebele tribes, formerly members of the Zulu alliance, led by the leader Mzilikazi, invaded from the south on the lands of present-day Zimbabwe. They conquered the local Shona. Heir Mzilikazi, who ruled the country, which the British called Matabeleland, faced with new European colonizers.

The advent of rhodes

Rumors about the wealth of the subsoil between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers, where allegedly the “mines of King Solomon” were located in antiquity, in 1880-s attracted attention to these lands of the “diamond king” of South Africa Cecil Rhodes. In 1888, his emissaries obtained from the ruler Matabeleland Lobengula "full and exclusive use of all minerals" in his lands, as well as the right "to do everything that they may find necessary to extract such."

Established next year, the British South African Company (BUAC) received exclusive rights from the British Crown "in the South African region north of British Bechuanaland, north and west of the Republic of South Africa and west of Portuguese East Africa." The company could use "all the benefits of (concluded with local leaders on behalf of the crown - author's note) concessions and contracts." In return, she pledged to "maintain peace and order," "gradually eliminate all forms of slavery," "respect the customs and laws of groups, tribes and nations," and even "protect elephants."

Zimbabwe, its army and its president

Cecile Rhodes, the builder of the Empire. Caricature from Punch, 1892 year

Gold-diggers rushed to the lands north of Limpopo. They were followed by white colonists, who were actively attracted by BUAC with promises of "the best and most fertile land" and "the abundance of native labor." The ruler Lobengula, realizing that the aliens were taking away his country, rebelled in 1893. But the old rifles and assegais of the natives could not resist the White Maxims and Gatlings. In the decisive battle on the shores of Shangani, the British destroyed one and a half thousand soldiers of Lobengula, losing only four killed. In 1897, the uprising of Shona, which went down in history as “Chimurenga”, was suppressed - in the language of Shona this word means “uprising”. After these events, a new country appeared north of Limpopo, named after Cecil Rhodes for Rhodesia.

Map of Rhodesia, 1911 year

From war to war

BUAC controlled the lands of Rhodesia until 1923. Then they came under the direct control of the British crown. North of Zambezi, a protectorate of Northern Rhodesia arose, to the south, a self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia, in which power belonged to white settlers. The Rhodesians took an active part in the wars of the Empire: with the Boers, the two world wars, the fight against the communist rebels in Malaya in the 1950s, the resolution of the emergency situation in the Suez Canal zone.

Soldiers of the Rhodesian regiment marching around Cape Town, 1914 year

In April 1953, during the decolonization, both Rhodesia and present-day Malawi were merged into a self-governing territory called the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In the future, it was to become a separate dominion of the Commonwealth. But these plans were disrupted by the growth of African nationalism in the late 1950s. The white Southern Hebrew elite that dominated the Federation naturally did not want to share power.

In Southern Rhodesia itself, in 1957, the first African nationalist party, the Southern African African National Congress, was established. He was led by trade union activist Joshua Nkomo. Supporters of the party demanded the introduction of universal suffrage and the redistribution of land in favor of Africans. At the start of 1960, school teacher Robert Mugabe joined the congress. Thanks to his intelligence and oratorical gift, he quickly came to the fore.

Nationalists staged demonstrations and strikes. White authorities responded with reprisals. Gradually, the actions of Africans became more and more violent. At this time, the right-wing Rhodesian front became the leading party of the white population.

The Nkomo party, after several bans in 1961, formed into the Union of African People of Zimbabwe (ZAPU). Two years later, the radicals who were dissatisfied with Nkomo’s too moderate policy left ZAPU and organized their own party, the African National Union of Zimbabwe (ZANU). Both organizations began to train their militants.

The capital of Rhodesia is Salisbury in 1950's

Preparing for war and the Rhodesians. In the era of growth of African nationalism, the whites could no longer rely only on a regular battalion of royal Rhodesian riflemen staffed by black soldiers with white officers and sergeants and three territorial battalions of the white militia of the Rhodesian regiment. In 1961, the first regular white units were formed: the battalion of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, the squadron of the Rhodesian SAS and the Ferret armored vehicle unit. For the Rhodesian Air Force, Hunter fighters, Canberra light bombers and Aluette helicopters were purchased. All white males between the ages of 18 and 50 years were enlisted in the territorial militia.

In the 1963 year, after unsuccessful attempts to reform, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved. The following year, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland became independent states of Zambia and Malawi. Independence of Southern Rhodesia remained on the agenda.

"Second Chimurenga"

By the middle of the 1960-s of the 4,5 million inhabitants of Southern Rhodesia, whites made up 275 thousands. But in their hands was control over all spheres of life, enshrined in the formation of government bodies, taking into account property and educational qualifications. Negotiations of the Government of Southern Rhodesia, led by Jan Smith, and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, on the future of the colony, were fruitless. The demand of the British to transfer power to the "black majority" was unacceptable for the Rhodesians. 11 November 1965, Southern Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence.

Prime Minister Ian Smith signs the Declaration of Independence of Rhodesia, 1965 Year

The Wilson government imposed economic sanctions against the self-proclaimed state, but did not decide to conduct a military operation, doubting the loyalty of its own officers in the current situation. The state of Rhodesia, which became a republic since 1970, was not officially recognized by anyone in the world - even its main allies, South Africa and Portugal.

In April, 1966, a small group of militants ZANU penetrated into Rhodesia from the territory of neighboring Zambia, attacking the farms of white Rhodesians and cutting off telephone lines. On April 28, near the town of Xinoy, the Rhodesian police surrounded an armed group and completely destroyed it with air support. In September of the same year, to prevent the penetration of militants from Zambia, units of the Rhodesian army were deployed on the northern border. The war began, which the White Rhodesians usually call the “war in the bush”, and the black Zimbabweans - the “Second Chimurengo”. In modern Zimbabwe, 28 April is celebrated as a national holiday - “Day of Chimurengi”.

Rhodesia was opposed by the African National Liberation Army of Zimbabwe (ZANLA) and the Zimbabwean People’s Revolutionary Army (ZiPRA) - the armed wings of the two main parties, ZANU and ZAPU. ZANU was guided by pan-African ideas. Over time, Maoism began to play an increasingly large role in its ideology, and it received the main support from the PRC. Zapu, rather, to orthodox Marxism and had close ties with the USSR and Cuba.

ZANLA Fighters Group, 1970s

One of the leading commanders of ZANL, Rex Ngomo, who started the fight as part of ZiPRA, and later became commander-in-chief of the Zimbabwean army under his real name Solomon Mujuru, in one interview with the British press compared the Soviet and Chinese approaches to military training:
"In the Soviet Union, I was taught that the decisive factor in a war is weapon. When I got to Itumbi (the main training center of ZAPLA in the south of Tanzania), where Chinese instructors worked, I realized that the decisive factor in the war was people. ”

The binding of ZANU and ZAPU to the two main ethnic groups, Shona and Ndebele, is a tenacious myth of Rhodesian propaganda, albeit not without certain grounds. Ideological factors and the ordinary struggle for leadership played a similar role in the split. Most of the leadership of ZAPU always constituted Shona, and Nkomo himself belonged to the Kalanga people, “ndebelezirovannymi Shona”. On the other hand, the first leader of ZANU was the priest Ndabagingi Sitole from the “Shonized Ndebele”. However, the fact that ZANLA acted from the territory of Mozambique, and ZIPRA - from the territory of Zambia and Botstvany, influenced the recruitment of personnel for these organizations: respectively, from areas inhabited by Shona and Ndebele.

Map of the main routes of infiltration of ZANLA and ZiPRA partisans in Rhodesia

By the end of the war, ZANL units numbered 17 thousands of fighters, ZIPRA - about 6 thousands. Also on the side of the latter, the units of the Umkhonto ve Sizwe, the armed wing of the South African ANC (African National Congress), fought. Militant groups carried out raids on the territory of Rhodesia, attacked white farms, mined roads, blew up infrastructure, organized terrorist acts in cities. With the help of the Strela-2 MANPADS, two Rhodesian civil airliners were shot down. In 1976, ZANU and ZAPU formally merged into the Patriotic Front, but retained their independence. The struggle between the two factions, with the assistance of the Rhodesian intelligence services, was never stopped.

Debris shot down by Vickers Vikont’s ZiPRA fighters, 1978 year

The Rhodesian army by the end of the war numbered 10 800 fighters and about 40 thousands of reservists, among whom were quite a few blacks. The shock units were the Rhodesian SAS, deployed in a full-fledged regiment, the battalion of the “Saints” of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, and a special anti-terrorist unit of the Selous Scouts. Many foreign volunteers served in the Rhodesian units: British, Americans, Australians, Israelis and many others who came to Rhodesia to fight “world communism”.

Group of Rhodesian light infantry fighters before combat landing, 1970's

An increasingly important role in the defense of Rhodesia was played by South Africa, which began with sending 1967 thousands of policemen to a neighboring country in 2 year. By the end of the war in Rhodesia, there were secretly up to 6 thousands of South African soldiers dressed in Rhodesian uniforms.

At first, the Rhodesians effectively restrained the penetration of partisans across the border with Zambia. Guerrilla actions dramatically intensified in the 1972 year, after the start of large-scale arms transfers from the countries of the socialist camp. But the collapse of the Portuguese colonial empire was a real disaster for Rhodesia. With the independence of Mozambique in 1975, the entire eastern border of Rhodesia turned into a potential front line. Rhodesian troops could no longer prevent militants from entering the country.

Selus Scouts Fighters Group, 1970s

It was in 1976 – 1979 that the Rhodesians conducted the most ambitious and well-known raids against militant bases ZANU and ZAPU in neighboring Zambia and Mozambique. The Rhodesian Air Force at that time raided the bases in Angola. Such actions allowed at least a little to restrain the activity of militants. 26 July 1979, during one of these raids in the Rhodesian ambush in Mozambique, killed three Soviet military advisers.

The Rhodesian authorities negotiated with moderate African leaders. In the first general election in June 1979, black bishop Abel Muzorev became the new prime minister, and the country received the name Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

However, Ian Smith remained in the government as a minister without a portfolio, or, as Nkomo quipped, “a minister with all portfolios”. The real power in the country, on 95% of the territory of which martial law was in effect, was actually in the hands of army commander General Peter Walls and head of the Central Intelligence Organization (CRO) Ken Flowers.

Armored car "Eland" of the Rhodesian armored corps, 1970-s

From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe

By the end of 1979, it became clear that only full-scale South African intervention could save Rhodesia from a military defeat. But Pretoria, which had already fought on several fronts, could not take such a step, fearing, among other things, the reaction of the USSR. The economic situation in the country worsened. Pessimism reigned among the white population, which resulted in a sharp increase in evasions from military service and emigration. It was time to give up.

In September, 1979 began direct talks between the Rhodesian authorities and ZANU and ZAPU under the mediation of the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carington, in London Lancaster House. December 21 peace agreement was signed. Rhodesia was temporarily returning to the state it was in before 1965. Power in the country passed into the hands of the British colonial administration, headed by Lord Christopher Soams, who took up the demobilization of the opposing sides and the organization of free elections.

Conference in Lancaster House. From left to right: Abel Muzorewa, his deputy Mundavarara, Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo.

War is over. She claimed about 30 thousands of lives. Rhodesian security forces lost 1 047 people killed, destroying more than 10 thousands of militants.

The first free election in February, 1980, brought victory to ZANU. 18 April, independence of Zimbabwe was proclaimed. Robert Mugabe took over as prime minister. Contrary to the fears of many, Mugabe, having come to power, did not touch the whites - they maintained their position in the economy.

Against the background of Nkomo, who demanded the immediate nationalization and return of all the black lands, Mugabe looked like a moderate and respectable politician. In this way, he was perceived in the next two decades, being a frequent visitor to Western capitals. Queen Elizabeth II even made him knightly - true, it was annulled in 2008.

President Mugabe meets Queen Elizabeth II, 1991 year

In 1982, the conflict between the two leaders of the national liberation movement turned into open confrontation. Mugabe fired from the Nkomo government and members of his party. In response, armed ZAPU supporters from among former ZIPRA fighters in the west of the country began to attack government agencies and enterprises, kidnap and kill ZANU activists, white farmers, and foreign tourists. The authorities responded with the operation “Gukurahundi” - this word in Shona language means the first rains washing the garbage from the fields before the rainy season begins.

In January, the 1983 Brigade of the Zimbabwean Army, trained by North Korean instructors from among the activists of ZANU, headed for North Matabeleland 5. She took care of restoring order in the most cruel way. Her active work resulted in burned villages, murders suspected of having links with militants, mass torture and rape. State Security Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa - the very central figure in the modern conflict - cynically called the rebels "cockroaches" and the 5 Brigade - "dust".

Banner 5 Brigade, 1984 year

By the middle of 1984, Matabeleland was pacified. According to official data, 429 people died, human rights activists claim that the death toll could have reached 20 thousands. In 1987, Mugabe and Nkomo were able to reach an agreement. Its result was the unification of ZANU and ZAPU into a single ruling party ZANU-PF and the transition to a presidential republic. Mugabe became president, and Nkomo took over as vice president.

On the fronts of the African wars

The integration of the former Rhodesian forces, ZIPRA and ZANLA, into the new Zimbabwean national army was controlled by the British military mission and was completed by the end of 1980 of the year. The historic Rhodesian units were dissolved. Most of their soldiers and officers went to South Africa, although some remained to serve the new country. In the service of Zimbabwe passed and the CRO led by Ken Flowers.

Coat of Arms of the Zimbabwe Armed Forces

The number of new army was 35 thousand people. In the armed forces were formed four brigades. The 1 th Parachute Battalion commanded by Colonel Dudley Coventry, a veteran of the Rhodesian SED, became the strike force of the army
Soon the new army had to join the battle. In neighboring Mozambique, there was a civil war between the Marxist government of FRELIMO and the rebels of RENAMO, supported by South Africa. In this war, Mugabe took the side of his old ally, President of Mozambique, Zamora Machel. Beginning with the dispatch in 1982 of 500 troops to protect the vital for Zimbabwe highway from the Mozambique port of Beira, by the end of 1985, Zimbabweans had increased their contingent to 12 thousand people - with aviation, artillery and armored vehicles. They conducted full-scale military operations against the rebels. In 1985-1986, Zimbabwean paratroopers under the command of Lt. Col. Lionel Dyke conducted a series of raids on the RENAMO bases.

Zimbabwean paratroopers at joint exercises in Mozambique, our days

The rebels responded at the end of 1987 with the opening of the "Eastern Front." Their troops began to raid the territory of Zimbabwe, burning farms and villages, mining roads. To cover the eastern border, we had to urgently deploy a new, 6-th brigade of the national army. The war in Mozambique ended in 1992. The loss of the Zimbabwean army amounted to at least 1 thousands of people killed.

In 1990, the Zimbabwean contingent participated in separate operations in Angola on the side of the government forces against the UNITA rebels. In August, 1998, the intervention of Zimbabweans in the conflict in the Congo, saved the Kabila regime from collapse and turned the internal conflict in this country into what is often called the “African World War”. It lasted until 2003. Zimbabweans played a major role in the contingent of the South African community, who fought on the side of the Kabila government. The number of Zimbabwean soldiers in the Congo reached 12 thousands, their exact losses are unknown.

Zimbabweans are leaving Mozambique, 1992 year.

The Third Chimurenga and the economic collapse

By the end of the 1990s, the situation in Zimbabwe was steadily deteriorating. The reforms initiated by 1990 in the year of the prescription of the IMF destroyed the local industry. The standard of living of the population has fallen sharply. Due to the sharp demographic growth in the country, there was an agrarian famine. At the same time, the most fertile lands remained in the hands of white farmers. It was to their side that the Zimbabwean authorities directed the growing discontent of the country's inhabitants.

At the beginning of 2000, war veterans, led by Changjerai Hunzvi, nicknamed "Hitler", began to seize white-owned farms. Xnumx farmers were killed. The government supported their actions, called the “Third Chimurenga,” and passed through parliament a law on the confiscation of land without redemption. Of the 12 thousands of “commercial” farmers, less than 6 is left. Part of the captured farms was distributed among the officers of the Zimbabwean army. But the new black masters did not possess knowledge in the field of modern agricultural technologies. The country was on the verge of starvation, from which only international food aid saved it.

Presidential Guard on parade

All of this dramatically changed the attitude of the West towards Mugabe: in just a few months it turned from a wise statesman into a “tyrant”. The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe, the country's membership in the Commonwealth of Nations was suspended. The crisis was aggravated. The economy was falling apart. By July, 2008, inflation reached a fantastic figure - 231 000 000% per year. Up to a quarter of the population was forced to go to work in neighboring countries.

In such a situation, the diverse opposition united in the “Movement for Democratic Change” (MDC), which was led by the popular trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The IBC won the 2008 election year, but Tsvangirai refused to participate in the second round of elections due to the wave of violence against the opposition. In the end, with the mediation of South Africa, an agreement was reached on the division of power. Mugabe remained president, but a government of national unity was formed, headed by Tsvangirai.

Gradually, the situation in the country returned to normal. Inflation was defeated by the rejection of the national currency and the introduction of the US dollar. Restored agriculture. Economic cooperation with China has expanded. There has been a slight economic growth in the country, although 80% of the population still lives below the poverty line.

Foggy future

ZANU-PF regained full power in the country after winning the election in 2013. By this time, the struggle within the ruling party on the issue of who will be the successor to Mugabe, who has already turned 93, has escalated. Opponents were the veteran faction of the national liberation struggle led by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagva nicknamed Crocodile and the faction of “young” (forty-year-old) ministers grouped around the president’s scandalous and power-loving wife 51-year-old Grace Mugabe.

General Chivengi with President Mugabe at the parade, 2015 year

6 November 2017 of the year Mugabe fired Vice President Mnangagwu. He fled to South Africa, and Grace launched the pursuit of his supporters. She intended to deploy her people in key posts in the army, which forced General Konstantin Chivengi, commander of the armed forces of Zimbabwe, to act.

14 November, 2017, the commander demanded an end to political purges. In response, the Grace Mugabe-controlled media blamed the general for the rebellion. At nightfall, army units with armored vehicles entered the capital Harare and took control of television and government buildings. Mugabe was placed under house arrest; many members of the Grace faction were detained.

Not all armored vehicles of the Zimbabwean army reached the coup

On the morning of November 15, the army declared the incident "a correctional movement" against "the criminals who surrounded the president, who with their crimes caused so much suffering to our country." Backstage negotiations are continuing on the future configuration of power in Zimbabwe. Since Wednesday, Robert Mugabe was under house arrest, but yesterday afternoon he appeared at a graduation ceremony at the Open University of Zimbabwe.
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  1. parusnik
    parusnik 26 November 2017 07: 36
    Thank you, an interesting review ....
    1. xetai9977
      xetai9977 26 November 2017 15: 49
      I thank the author for the good work.
  2. seti
    seti 26 November 2017 09: 44
    One thing can be said - peace and contentment will not be there for a long time.
  3. cobalt
    cobalt 26 November 2017 13: 18
    In the army itself: the total number is 29, of which 000 are in St. Petersburg and 25 in the Air Force. At the core of the dry troops are a special forces brigade, a mechanized brigade, 000 infantry brigades, a parachute battalion, 4000 engineer regiments, an air defense regiment, an artillery regiment, have 5 tanks (Chinese type 2), 40 brm (mostly Brazilian-59,69 with 115 mm cannon), 9 armored personnel carriers, 90 of our self-propelled guns, 85 cannons, 12 mortars, 20 RSZOs mainly Czech, 150 weapons, mainly our ZU-70 and ZPU 120 mm, there are MANPADS Arrow-23, in the Air Force there are 14,5 Chinese fighters j-2 (the Chinese analogue of Mig-9), 7 reconnaissance aircraft, 21 transport aircraft, 2 of them training 26 modern Chinese K-34s (can be used as light attack aircraft) and Italian sf-11s (part also a thief conjugated), helicopters, 8 Mi-260 transport and 6 in the main bell - 35 plaque in pilots is quite decent for Africa by 12 hours per year. The police are about 412 people.
    1. Monarchist
      Monarchist 26 November 2017 16: 59
      Cobalt, thanks for the help on the Zimbabwean sun. In essence, the army is more “imprisoned” for partisans. Quite successfully can drive various: RNEM FRELIM.
  4. polpot
    polpot 26 November 2017 13: 23
    Thank you for the article, I look at the African paratroopers the same berets as Ukrainian all in the Anglic fashion, it remains Ukraine to master the yellow berets and there will be full Africa
  5. Monarchist
    Monarchist 26 November 2017 17: 10
    Author, thanks for the detailed review on Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, such reviews are rare on the site, and for the most part Ukraine.
    Now I heard in the news: Mugabe is selling his job for a tidy sum. Let's see how the new authorities are managed. Mushaba was cunning and had authority, but new?
    White is not honey there
    1. domnich
      domnich 26 November 2017 19: 22
      Quote: Monarchist
      Mugabe sells his post for a tidy sum.

      Former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe will receive a total of about $ 10 million under a resignation agreement, while the president’s salary will remain for him at the end of his life - about $ 150 thousand, sources told The Guardian. His wife will receive half this amount.

      Given that the vast majority of the population of Zimbabwe are unemployed, such “nishtyaks” look not just huge, but not otherwise than space ones.
  6. Mikhail Matyugin
    Mikhail Matyugin 26 July 2018 00: 21
    I will be brief to the limit: the army of Rhodesia was one of the best on the entire African continent, if not the best in terms of strength and quantity. The army of Zimbabwe, and the country as a whole, I don’t even know what to say ... In general, a complete Zimbabwean kwacha ... (this is not a curse if anyone does not know)