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ZANU was formed on 8 August 1963 as a breakaway party from the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). Its first People’s Congress was held at Munhumutapa Hall in Gweru, Southern Rhodesia, from 21 to 23 May 1964. The Congress empowered the Central Committee to do all things necessary for the ‘successful liquidation of colonialism [in the] country through armed struggle’. Immediately after the Congress, ZANU President Ndabaningi Sithole issued ‘the clarion call to war’, a call detailing how ‘the masses’ should prepare for armed struggle. It was accompanied by what was supposed to be ZANU’s implementation strategy, a ‘5-point plan’ that remains a secret to this day.

ZANU was banned by the Southern Rhodesian government on 26 August 1964 and by the end of that year nearly all the ZANU leaders within the country had been detained. The Central Committee, now confined to Sikombela Detention centre near Que Que, issued the ‘Sikombela Declaration’ in 1965, thereby giving the exiled ZANU leadership in Zambia and elsewhere the power to organise and direct the armed struggle.

The first part of this article explores ZANLA’s formation and the evolution of its strategies. It emphasises that, although ZANU’s ideology from this point on was firmly rooted in the principle of ‘Democratic Centralism’ in which the military was subordinated to the political goals of the party, the structure of the relationship between ZANU’s Supreme Council, the Dare (an elected body of political functionaries), and the Military High Command (an appointed body that participated in the elections of the Dare) tipped the balance in the military’s favour.

The military gained influence through this electoral system, to the point of leading and determining the affairs of the party. As a result, the ZANLA High Command became an unaccountable and undisciplined unit. This led to the first internal rebellion in the army, led by Thomas Nhari. It was contained initially by demotions and then by military executions in which the politicians had little say. This section of the article explains the conduct of the rebels as driven by the rules of Democratic Centralism. It uses a rare account by one of the three members of ZANU’s first ‘Disciplinary Committee’, set up to deal with the rebellion.

This first phase of military supremacy was replaced by the ideologically inspired movement of ZIPA (Zimbabwe People’s Army) guerrillas. They took over after the arrest and detention in Lusaka of ZANU’s Dare and High Command following the assassination of ZANU Chairman Herbert Chitepo in March 1975. ZIPA’s quest for a ‘National Democratic Revolution’ opened up space for new disciplinary values that were nurtured through an ideological school, Wampoa College, and that incorporated political structures amongst the masses in the operational zones. ZIPA was able to stretch the operational fronts and had a good reputation for discipline.

The release of the members of the Dare and High Command from the Zambian prisons in late 1976 and their return to the ZANLA camps after the Geneva Conference signaled the tragic end of ZIPA, the reassertion of the old ZANLA High Command, and the elevation of Robert Mugabe to the party’s presidency.

This section of the article considers arguments that point to the political intelligence and magnanimity of Mugabe in maneuvering and managing ZANU in this fractured state, as well as those that point to his vulnerability and subordination to the military. It identifies a growing tendency within ZANU to celebrate the ‘gun’ under the guise of restoring order and ‘cleaning up the rot’. Another rebellion, led by Henry Hamadziripi broke out as a result, and threatened to cripple the war for most of 1978. The rebellion affected the war front where serious disciplinary challenges such as desertions and ‘anarchism’ amongst the ZANLA rank and file emerged.

The article concludes with a consideration of the debate on the disciplinary situation in ZANU’s enlarged Central Committee. The military measures that were taken to re-establish order were led by the Departments of Defence and of the Commissariat in the last phase of the war, and this shaped ZANU as a political party in the following years.
Source: Journal of Southern African Studies, Volume 37, Number 3, September 2011

Stay tuned next week for Week 2’s installment, Beyond Sikombela: The Evolution of ZANLA

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