The history of Zimbabwe's liberation war has been documented from several perspectives and this has resulted in various versions. This has also made it susceptible to misrepresentations and distortions. Currently the scenario is worsened when members of the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union/Patriotic Front (ZANU/PF) are jostling for power and have acquired a penchant to undermine each other's liberation credentials. (1)
The unfortunate victim in this case has been liberation war history. Partisan journalists, who are taking sides in the political schisms, perhaps out of ignorance, are also busy at work being accomplices in disfiguring the history of the liberation war. What comes to mind are articles that appear in the Zimbabwean newspapers, where liberation war narratives have become a common feature. (2) These newspaper narratives are in the majority of cases coated with embellishments which 'kill' historical accuracy. ZANLA war documents can come in very handy in addressing this conundrum where liberation war history is being subjected to mutilation. These ZANLA war documents were a product of ZANLA field report system. It is important to note that the report system was part of the internal communication nexus within the liberation movement (ZANU) in general and within the liberation army (ZANLA) in particular. Intimations that these wartime documents were propaganda or biased material are clearly based on ignorance as to their purpose and the context in which they were compiled. The Zimbabwe African National Union, the liberation movement and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), the liberation army used the Voice of Zimbabwe, a radio broadcast from Radio Maputo (after Mozambique had attained independence) and the Zimbabwe News as instruments of propaganda. The liberation army's field reports were not part of the propaganda machinery because they were not meant for public domain. (3)
The liberation fighters, before being deployed into Rhodesia to wage the liberation war, underwent training which was both military and political. (4) The politico-military training included what was referred to as the reporting system which prepared the nationalist guerrilla fighters for the task of compiling reports of their activities in the battle field. During the reporting system lessons accuracy and honest were emphasised. (5) The ZANLA trainees were made aware during training of the importance of reports which included showing failure or success of tasks, challenges and requirements. These could be daily, monthly, quarterly or annual reports. Guerrillas also compiled reports of specific incidents that took place during the course of their fighting. It was a requirement that these reports should be free of fabrication and lies and were compiled timeously. The reports were meant to keep the military leadership at Chimoio, the ZANLA's military headquarters, informed of developments at the front. The military commanders used these front-generated documents to study and analyse the war situation and institute improvements. The maxim to ZANLA guerrilla commanders was:
We should study and observe the reporting system. We should report what is really taking place and not what we wish to take place. (6) The military supremoes sometimes made visits to the battle field in response to these reports. (7) They undertook these visits to resolve such challenges as the poisoning of relations between the rural African population and the guerrilla fighters. The relations could be strained by guerrilla indiscipline that included unnecessary harassment of the rural populace, engaging in activities that were deemed unbecoming such as improper relations with women. These activities were brought to the attention of the military leaders through the field reports which then prompted them to take corrective action. It was therefore necessary to compile accurate and honest records of activities at the battlefront. Operational reports, which were part of the field reports, recorded the military operations that the ZANLA freedom fighters mounted or found themselves forced to engage in. It is important to note that accounts of the liberation war which have not benefited from ZANLA war documents are deficient in one way or another. This is largely because such narratives are not privy to regulations and rules that were instituted to guide the conduct of the liberation fighters in the war zones. It is the ZANLA war documents that reveal these rules and regulations. (8)
Sources (other than ZANLA war documents) of Guerrilla Activities
In order to appreciate the value of ZANLA's operational reports one has to make a survey of the other sources of frontline activities of the guerrilla armies. Various publications which included newspapers and magazines largely controlled by the Rhodesian government also carried stories of purported battlefield activities of the freedom fighters. These included The Rhodesia Herald, The Chronicle, The African Times, The Sunday Mail, Parrot and Outpost and Ministry of Information and Immigration publications. All these publications carried stories about the activities of the liberation fighters in the operational areas. The slant in the accounts was that the ZANLA fighters were terrorists who murdered members of the rural African population for no reason. Reports from these sources gave an exaggerated depiction of the alleged terrorist activities of the liberation fighters. It was purported that they murdered civilians in cold blood and wantonly maimed them. Grisly pictures of injured African villagers were shown in some of these publications. People had their eyes removed, had ears cut off and parts of their noses cut off. Daily reports of ZANLA's brutal attacks on the civilian population appeared in The Rhodesia Herald and The Chronicle. The Rhodesian Ministry of Information, Immigration and Tourism published the following booklets: Anatomy of Terror (May 1974), The Massacre of Innocents' (January 1978) and The Murder of Missionaries in Rhodesia (July 1978). These booklets described the alleged atrocities committed by the ZANLA forces on the African civilian population and missionaries. The so-called atrocities perpetrated by the freedom fighters were said to include murder, rape, abduction, torture, beatings and robberies.
What should be noted is that these booklets and newspapers and magazines which were controlled and produced by the Rhodesian government became instruments of propaganda. The following piece from the booklet, The Murder of Missionaries in Rhodesia testifies to the propaganda crusade:
By 1976, numbers (sic) of missionaries, often acting against official advice, had become dangerously vulnerable. Although it had taken time for the undisciplined terrorist bands to appreciate this exposure of soft targets, it was inevitable that mission establishments and their members would prove irresistible prey for well-armed cowards. (9) The Rhodesian authorities stressed that the ZANLA fighters lacked discipline and were cowards who rather than fight against the Rhodesian security forces turned on soft targets like missionaries. Such publications were meant for the consumption of the international community and the local missionaries who...