Reverberations of Rhodesian propaganda in narratives of Zimbabwe's Liberation War.

Author:Dzimbanhete, Jephias Andrew


The documentation and study of the Zimbabwean war of independence have been enormously extensive. (1) This has included doctoral studies, general texts and autobiographies of members of the Rhodesian army units. In spite of all this documentation and study, many issues concerning the war have remained contentious. The majority of this war literature has drawn from the massive and pervasive propaganda that was deployed by the Rhodesian government during the war. The result has been distortions and misrepresentations of happenings that took place then. This article argues that the distortions and misrepresentations have found their way into narratives of the Zimbabwean war of liberation.

The massive propaganda system marshalled by the Rhodesian government became very insidious. (2) In an attempt to alienate the freedom fighters the colonial government painted a very black picture of the liberation fighters. The Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) constituted the liberation forces. This paper focuses on the ZANLA forces. The liberation fighters were, through the print media and radio, blamed by the Rhodesian authorities for killing innocent people when they murdered those civilians they adjudged to be traitors or sellouts and were referred to as vatengesi in Shona parlance. The majority of peasants who reported guerrilla activities to the Rhodesian security forces and were viewed as traitors faced the wrath of the liberation fighters. Rhodesian propaganda asserted that the villagers who were murdered by ZANLA forces for being sellouts (one who betrays a cause for personal advancement) were innocent.

Rhodesian propaganda also peddled that the ZANLA forces were spineless and avoided direct confrontation with the Rhodesian security forces. It was intimated that the nationalist guerrilla fighters were bent on terrorising civilians rather than face the colonial forces in battle. Following from this, it has been asserted that the liberation forces never won a single battle against the Rhodesian security forces. (3)

There were many atrocities committed during Zimbabwe's war of independence for which the liberation fighters were fingered and it was the work of Rhodesian propaganda that apportioned the guilty tag on the ZANLA forces. These atrocities included the murder of white missionaries, rural businessmen and the cutting off of limps of civilians in the rural areas. These atrocities were reported in the government newspapers like The Rhodesian Herald, the Bulawayo Chronicle, the Sunday Mail and the African Times as well as in war communiques and news on the radio. Narratives of Zimbabwe's liberation war which have drawn from these sources are now awash with this information which is perhaps a misrepresentation of what really took place. This paper challenges these insinuations and demonstrates that their currency resulted from Rhodesian wartime propaganda.

Liberation Fighters Killed Innocent Civilians

During the war Rhodesian propaganda was spread through newspapers, pamphlets, flyers, posters, booklets and the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation (RBC). Drawing from this Rhodesian propaganda, literature of the war written by especially ex-Rhodesian operatives emphasises that the ZANLA guerrilla fighters murdered innocent villagers who were reported out of jealous by their neighbors to be vatengesi. It should be noted that the guerrilla fighters warned members of the rural population against thwarting their efforts of fighting for independence by exposing them to the Rhodesian security forces. The guerrilla fighters felt justified to warn the rural populace against informing the Rhodesian security forces about their activities. They required the co-operation of the rural people because they were fighting to free themselves and the rural populace from colonial injustices. It should be noted that contrary to intimations of colonial propaganda the guerrilla fighters verified the allegations levelled against the so-called sell outs because they feared to needlessly kill when there was no wrong doing. The rural population provided them not only with food but with information that guaranteed them survival in the war. It was necessary to avoid alienating their benefactors. Reports that appeared in newspapers and on the radio that the peasants who were accused by the ZANLA fighters of being sell outs (vatengesi) were innocent were not backed by evidence and seemed to be baseless. These were the rumblings of Rhodesian propaganda. Rhodesian propaganda offers no evidence to show that these people were innocent. Sell outs would not come out in the open and obviously carried out their traitorous activities overtly. It is important to point out that the ZANLA forces where obliged to engage in a process of verifying whether one had given out information to the Rhodesian soldiers Members of the rural population were not simply labelled traitors and then the ZANLA forces went on to execute them. Due process of authentication had to take place. This process involved some semblance of 'court sessions' where it had to be proved beyond doubt that someone had sold out information to the Rhodesian authorities or security forces. These were what were referred to as wartime kangaroo courts in publications by ex-Rhodesian soldiers. The liberation fighters were awake to the fact that the villagers might use them to settle their own scores. (4) This might not have totally ruled out the possibility that some innocent persons were killed when they were not sell outs but such occurrences were minimized.

The Rhodesian Ministry of Information, Immigration and Tourism disseminated propaganda in a booklet Anatomy of Terror which catalogued the several incidents that African peasants in the rural areas were allegedly murdered by the ZANLA fighters. The documentation was titled 'A chronological sequence of terror' which listed alleged terrorist atrocities on a day to day basis. In this same booklet grisly pictures of...

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