Rhodesia: The Coming Chaos

Joshua Nkomo
Joshua Nkomo; drawing by David Levine

Here is a guess at the denouement of the Rhodesian saga. Sometime next year, after a scrappy general election with a 10 percent turnout, formal power will fall officially into the hands of Bishop Abel Muzorewa. He will “inherit” what was once Ian Smith’s army, replete with the Selous Scouts, the mixed-race tracker elite upon whom the bishop was once happy to lay automatic blame for any atrocity perpetrated, in battle. But the bishop will fall to control the war. Young white servicemen will begin to leave en bloc. It will be politically impossible for the bishop to rely on whites serving in the armed forces or the new black government while plans to conscripts blacks will be met with widespread resistance.

More damaging for Muzorewa: senior white officers will begin to leave: a weakening command structure will compound the problem of the white manpower shortage. The single black regiment, the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR), will be unable to remain a coherent force in the absence of the old white command. The guerrillas, whose success has hitherto been strictly limited to the domination of the black civilian population but whose attempts to confront the Rhodesian army militarily have been remarkably ineffective, will begin at last to fill the power vaccum.

The next stage of the hypothesis is perhaps more alarming. There is no certainty that the two guerrilla armies that make up the Patriotic Front will agree to share power or to carve up territory. The two forces—ZANLA, the armed wing of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU, which has it’s haven in Mozambique, to the east; and Joshua Nkomo’s ZIPRA, the military branch of ZAPU, which infiltrates from camps in Zambia in the north and sometimes cuts down through Botswana in the west—are totally separate. The guerrilla armies may well fight each other, Muzoreqa and his RAR can try to hold the ring around the, two main towns but will probably find it more sensible to arrange an accommodation—because ethnic considerations outweigh ideology—with Mugabe. Some of the RAR will go to Nkomo, but most will join Mugabe.

The nature of the war could the alter sharply and Nkomo prove far better equipped to prosecute a conventional campaign. While Mugabe’s estimated 6,000 troops inside Rhodesia—the number could be as high as 9,000—were exhausted. Nkomo, who committed a mere 1,000 to the guerrilla war against fresh fighters into the battle—following the mass departure of whites. It is true that Nkomo represents a distinct minority so far as his ethnic ties, the territory he controls, and his personal popularity are concerned—although his national executive and central committee have a broad multiregional base. But, more to the point, the training of his forces has differed sharply from that or Mugabe’s. The Nkomo men are less committed ideologically than Mugabe’s, but more skillful and aggressive millitarily. Above all, they are far better equipped for a conventional, more mobile…

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