1980 elections

The elections of 1980 resulted in a victory for Robert Mugabe, who assumed the post of prime minister after ZANU received 63% of the vote. On 18 April Zimbabwe gained international recognition, and sanctions were over. Two years later the government renamed the capital Salisbury to Harare.

Smith had already secured the twenty white seats in the new Government, but was perceived to retain control of the military through Peter Walls. The RSF support also came the Mozambique Resistance Nationale at Odzi, and South African forces operating as independent units or integrated as ‘volunteers’ within Rhodesian units. 

As the election results were made known, Mugabe and the Minister of Defence called for reconciliation, while privately appealing to the British Government to allow Lord Soames to continue in his post for at least three months, "to dissuade military coup planners" - Soames did not stay on. Internally, ZANU(PF) further sought to integrate "the more acceptable elements of the RSF with ZANLA and ZIPRA cadres"; the Selous Scouts had been rapidly disbanded, without ceremony, and their members integrated into regular units, the intention being to disguise their pasts. Walls, appointed as Commander of the Joint High Command was instructed to integrate the three forces, creating a national army. Walls also saw one of his roles as supervising the return of South African materiel lent to Rhodesia in the last few months of the war; his retention was also intended to reassure whites who wished to remain in the country and the forces. Walls seems to have failed to develop a working relationship with the subordinate guerrilla commanders, and a white back-lash (toasts of ‘Balls to Walls’ being common) also made his position even more unstable. 

58 British Military Advisory and Training Team personnel - the BMATT contingent - soon to increase to 150 by September 1980 - were appointed to aid the merger - that the three armies’ Command Structures were to be treated as equal was intended to further facilitate integration. Nearly 10000 ZANLA and ZIPRA troops were expected to join the regular army, the remaining 23 000 to become ‘active reservists’ - who would serve to try and re-establish Zimbabwean infrastructure (Ministries, state departments, para-statal and local authorities were encouraged to draw manpower from this group). BMATT also caused three equal units to merge, and form form 21 Infantry Battalion which was scheduled to be ready before Independence Day on 18 April.

With the overwhelming ZANU victory, many white army personnel fled the country; initially, large numbers went to South Africa, often taking regimental Colours and other memorabilia with them;  although the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum currently in Bristol, but planning on moving to London, now houses much of the remnants. That so many members of the Rhodesian Forces - which had been based mainly on a conscription system - chose to return to civilian life, to their jobs in commerce and industry and on the farms, lessened any possible pressure on integration. Departing white commanders often tried to persuade black unit members that they accompany them; many were to be found in South Africa in 1980-2. 

The main purpose of the integration was both to establish a perception of individual security, and to enable the combatants to seek employment, whether continuing as soldiers or as civilians. Unfortunately, fighting between ZANU and ZAPU continued through the 1980s. In August 1980 banditry intensified, leading to the establishment of a People’s Militia, drawn from former guerrillas and aimed at protecting party officials. In 1981-82 the government formed the 5th Infantry Brigade "Gukurahundi" ("the rain that washes away the chaff"), composed solely of ZANLA troops, and used exclusively for internal control. This formation seems to have worked solely against the Ndebele, presumably with Mugabe attempting to prevent any possibility of retribution between the two main guerrilla formations. That the state of emergency, initially declared in 1965, was ended only in July 1990 (although the North Korean advisors had been dismissed in 1983 with the British assuming the training role) enabled Mugabe to suppress dissent under a legal framework. Further external assistance also achieved positive results - through support from the Commonwealth, help was obtained from Pakistan in the reshaping of the Air Force.

Difficulty with accounting and some of the business practices during the early stages of integration soon emerged. J.J.M. Holdings made a $7 million profit from March to July 1980 from rations supplied to the army at a cost of $11 million. The company had won a tender to supply more expensive rations than cheaper alternatives. Another contract was entered into with the same directors using a different company name, again ignoring cheaper and more efficient tenders. More problems were to be found in the APs, as non-combatants increased the numbers claiming support; a basic ‘weapons test, involving stripping and assembling’ was then used to determine genuine candidates. The vast majority failed the tests, with different excuses.


As soon as it became clear that more people had opted to remain under arms than required, and that there was no other available employment, a Demobilisation Directorate under the Ministry of Labour and Social Services was established. It had to assist in the placement of ex-combatants in the public and private sector, as well as offering skills training for those wishing to create their own employment opportunities. This also replaced Operation Seed.

By September 1980, the Government had decided that the Army would consist of five brigades. These brigades were extended to absorb on average two thirds of the 65 000 armed people available. By March 1981, 19 500 ZANLA/ZIPRA members had been absorbed into fifteen new battalions that were being formed at the rate of three per month. By this time, all the original APs were closed.41

Conditions for demobilisation included candidates’ willingness to undergo skills training during which they would be entitled to $185,00 per month over two years. Moreover, candidates were encouraged to form co-operatives and pool resources for projects, for which they could receive advances of aggregated pay as venture capital.

By the end of 1982, more than 25 000 soldiers had taken advantage of the demobilisation incentives. Many pitfalls remained that resulted in some persons remaining a burden on the state to this day. The initial phase of demobilisation was completed in June 1983, and the Directorate moved into ‘the second phase’, of providing further technical assistance, contracts and further training to established co-operatives. Documentation reflected that a total of 35 763 personnel had passed through the Department. Of these, 4 700 had taken up various scholarships and were in educational institutions; 2 900 were engaged in commercial programmes; 4 333 in self-reliance projects; 1 579 were self-employed; with 3 041 in formal employment and 19 160 still unemployed.42


Because candidates who have not been successfully demobilised are always a potential danger to the fabric of society, it is pertinent to identify those problems influencing the successful outcome of the demobilisation programme.

Former combatants who ventured on their own often lost thousands of dollars to unscrupulous dealers, as was revealed by cases brought to the attention of the Zimbabwe Industrial Advisory Service and the Institute of Business Development. In one case, demobilised soldiers paid $33 000 for a business that was valued at $15 000. In another, $77 000 was paid in cash for a business worth $12 000 with the seller leaving the country immediately after receiving payment. Soldiers bought businesses in locations that were so poor, that they were forced to abandon them thereafter. Buying insolvent businesses led to legal battles over inherited bad credit. Some contracts had stipulations that were so unreasonable that groups ended up losing everything they had invested. And in some cases members of co-operatives left to pursue other interests with those staying behind unable to meet their commitments.43

A variety of reasons can be cited for the failure of business ventures undertaken by demobilised soldiers. After the initial deposit, little capital remained as cash flow, resulting in serious viability problems. Accounting procedures were deficient or absent, illiteracy rates were high and there was a marked lack of business acumen and expertise. The Government was forced to intervene and to revise the initial programme through its Department of Co-operatives. The department started to implement probationary periods and undertook viability surveys of projects, before any payment in respect of such projects was made. Courses were offered on management and consultancy, with an extra $4 million set aside as an emergency fund to rescue ailing projects. Projects were further co-ordinated by two private consulting companies.44

There were, however, numerous cases of successful co-operative ventures, each characterised by the fact that members already had the necessary expertise. These included the Ujamaa Co-operative in the rural bus sector, formed by former ZANLA transport department members with experience in the industry. Another successful venture was the Mtoko-Makaha mining co-operative, established on the recommendation of the Mining Commission, who had approached ZANU(PF) to identify a deserving group for which they would provide a guaranteed market.


The first serious problem with the integration process occurred towards the end of 1980. It had its origins in the 1963 division of nationalists along ethnic lines, and had already led to intermittent clashes between ZAPU and ZANU(PF) cadres in camps both outside and inside the country, especially in the period preceding the cease-fire of late 1979. These clashes were rooted in tribal party political differences, a division that was mirrored in Zimbabwean society and confirmed by the election results of March 1980.

Internal difficulties were exacerbated by external pressures. As Moorcraft asserted, "from July 1980, Pretoria served up its spiciest and most varied destabilising menu: economic pressures, building up in 1981 and 1982; support for dissidents; selective assassinations; sabotage and propaganda - but generally stopped short of direct military intervention. The position was worsened by fifth column white agents and sympathetic businessmen in Zimbabwe."45

The first faction fight started with an altercation between ZANLA and ZIPRA elements while drinking outside a camp on 30 October 1980. It was followed by another major confrontation at Entumbane between 9 and 11 November 1980. These were diffused by the respective senior commanders who rushed in and separated the perpetrators. However, a more serious development threatened the integration process when ‘Entumbane II’ erupted on 7 February 1981. For one week, three of the nine integrated battalions disintegrated in faction fighting.46 At Ntabayezinduna, Glenville and Conemara, infantry battalions were apparently bent on self-destruction. In a supreme irony, elements of the former army and air force were called in to subdue these elements. On 11 February 1981, another contingent was surrounded by ZIPRA elements, resulting in mortar fire, and fighting for sixteen hours until relief came in the form of an armoured column. The Ministry of Defence closed the city of Bulawayo on 14 February, resulting in economic losses of over a million dollars. The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries supported the move, however, as it ensured the safety of the city’s inhabitants. The Prime Minister and Minister of Defence lamented in Parliament that "developments were a setback to the integration of forces." However, they remained resolute and refused to consider suggestions to establish tribal battalions as a solution.47

ANLA and ZIPRA elements were disentangled and relocated outside Bulawayo, each group having only "12, painted red rifles" for camp duties.48 The Dumbuchena Commission of Inquiry into Disturbances at Armed Encampments was appointed on 29 April 1981, only managing to produce an inconclusive report "which fell short of government expectations" in its attempts to remain neutral and not to apportion blame.49

Factional problems soon developed into political differences between ZAPU and ZANU(PF) that were exacerbated by the discovery and seizure of a series of arms caches on properties and farms acquired by ZAPU. This led to the arrest of ZIPRA JHC commanders. Nkomo, the leader of the Party, was later expelled from Government and at the height of these acrimonious relations in March 1983, he fled to London for a few months. This resulted in a tangibly tense situation in the integrated force. Matebeleland was subject to total curfews on travel and activity, with house to house searches in rural areas and urban zones. A considerable number of ex-ZIPRA cadres deserted with their weapons, and banditry increased. The Government attempted to neutralise the volatile emotions among ZIPRA members by promoting some of their officers but, because the problem was essentially political, these interim measures failed to solve differences, until the Unity Agreement was reached on 22 December 1987.


Disarmament applied to both external and internal sources of arms. The continued problems with dissidents and actions of white fifth columnists culminated in a national call for arms to be surrendered to Government armouries from the beginning of 1981. At this point in time, the majority of people felt safer and had developed confidence in the new Government with its observance of the rule of law. After the Bulawayo disruptions, however, the feeling gradually emerged country-wide that citizens’ safety was threatened by the plethora of weapons in the hands of civilians and soldiers who were not under Government control.

On 26 February 1981 amnesty was granted to civilians and soldiers handing in their weapons to national armouries. Externally, Prime Minister Mugabe succeeded in signing a defence protocol with Zambia on 20 January 1981 according to which all ZAPU war material still in Zambia would be delivered directly to the Zimbabwean Government. With regard to Botswana, an understanding was reached whereby dissidents from Dukwe refugee camp, their arms and weaponry, and the mines that they had cached, were handed to the Zimbabwean Government on 3 February 1981.

As a result of problems with dissidents, a new uniform was introduced early in 1981 to distinguish deserters in the old uniforms from the integrated forces. This meant that huge quantities of cloth acquired from the old Rhodesian Army were wasted.50

The first 27 lieutenant colonels and officers of higher rank in the integrated National Army to be given command of military units, passed out from the Staff College on 11 April 1981. In his address, the Minister of Defence cautioned them on their deployment, expressing the hope that it would not lead to a divided army or command.51 However, this event ultimately represented the first steps in consolidating integration with a professionally and conventionally trained command.


aced with external and internal pressures, the Government became concerned about its survival and took the decision to establish the Presidential Guards, the Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and the People’s Militia.

The People’s Militia consisting of 20 000 members was to be established over four years, beginning in late 1982 under the Deputy Minister of Defence (Para-Military). It was tasked to co-operate with the ZNA, Police and the Central Intelligence Organisation. This body, appearing to be highly politicised in favour of the ruling party, initially had 750 members trained by the North Koreans, a number expected to double to 1 500 and to include 150 women. Candidates were to be drawn nationally, aged between 16 - 65 years, could include some soldiers who had been demobilised and were eventually to be deployed throughout the country.52

The Fifth Brigade had its origins in a North Korean donation of over $12 million worth of arms and equipment to Zimbabwe. These were accompanied by 106 North Korean instructors who were to train locals in their use and maintenance for between four and eight months, the Minister of State Security announced on 21 August 1981.53 The agreement also stipulated that North Korean instructors would receive pay equal to those of their counterparts in the ZNA. It was therefore, not surprising in the light of local rates, that the whole Korean contingent claimed to be colonels and brigadiers for remuneration purposes.

Members of the Fifth Brigade were to be drawn from already integrated battalions with the focus on the politically acceptable ZANLA and ZIPRA cadres. However, as this exercise occurred during a period of heightened tension between the two, reports abound of ZIPRA cadres simply abandoning their army careers and absconding from the designated training area in the Eastern Highlands. As a result, the Fifth Brigade eventually comprised only members of ZANLA. When it was ready for operations, this development was confirmed by ZANU(PF) politicians who threatened alleged ZAPU dissidents in the Western region with the "deployment of the 5th Brigade."54 Moreover, it was a threat that was carried out in late 1982 and early 1983 with controversial results. In September 1983, a Commission of Inquiry was appointed to investigate the events involving the Fifth Brigade, but to date the conclusions have not yet been made public.

To increase the efficiency of established battalions, 32 Infantry Battalion became the first unit to pass out at the Nyanga Battalion Battle Training School in late 1983. The school "was erected specifically to train Battalions together with sub-units and Armoured Cars and Artillery to improve their experience and combat as well as firing efficiency."55 In the following year, BMATT contingents at Staff College and the Zimbabwe Military Academy called for increased facilities as "the emphasis was for future indigenous ZNA Instructors to be further consolidated before taking over."


Developing Zimbabwe’s Air Force was difficult to effect as it demanded particular skills and technical expertise. When South African pilots and technicians pulled out, some of the local top pilots, instructors and technicians also left with few choosing to remain. As the Minister of State, S. Sekeramayi was to assert in Parliament in 1983, "no meaningful integration was taking place in the Air Force".56

Personnel shortages and lack of equipment forced certain squadrons to amalgamate, but the basic organisational structure remained unchanged. In the budget of 1981, the Government allocated $42 million to the Air Force, part of which was for the procurement of new "Hawks for the intermediate role, replacing the Vampire trainer".57 The Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) was only renamed in May 1981, the delay reflecting the deliberate hands-off policy adhered to since Independence.58

However, the South African sponsored sabotage of 25 July 1982, damaging ten planes, among them those newly acquired, with five completely written off and a Cessna 337 destroyed, galvanised the Government into action.59 The incarceration of Air Force Officers on the Board of Inquiry, as Senator Partridge claimed, "drove all the remaining whites from the force in sympathy".60 This confirmed the irrefutable theory that this was exactly what the saboteurs hoped for, effectively leaving Zimbabwe with no credible air capabilities. Government moved swiftly by seeking assistance from Pakistan. A Pakistani officer was put in charge of the reconstituted Air Force and was accompanied by a contingent of pilots and technicians who could transfer skills to the local Zimbabweans. The Koreans also aided in strengthening the base and air defences. Zimbabwean cadres were led by the Deputy Commander of the ZNA who was transferred to the Air Force on 21 December 1982, while young pilots from Romania and Russia underwent conversion training and were posted to vacancies.61


By 1984 Zimbabwe had largely overcome its internal and external political upheavals. Threats that could lead to the disintegration of the ZNA disappeared and units were now in operation against RENAMO along the border from Dande in the north-east to Mtetengwe and Beit Bridge. Early in 1983, the Manning and Records Directorate was established to counter the remaining endemic accounting weaknesses, provide for orderly promotions and postings, and to address soldiers’ career planning needs. Because the initial phase of integration had absorbed all those wishing to take up a military career and as a result of the absence of job opportunities in Zimbabwe’s limited formal economy, an inordinate number of soldiers remained in the army and led to over-strength brigades. The time had come to reform this amorphous organisation into conventional shape. Commanders at all levels had been appraised and began to appreciate the finer characteristics of a conventional army, staff activities and logistics.

During the next year, careful documentation and records were kept by accounting teams in all units and sub-units to ascertain the army’s strengths. The exercise showed that some units had too many members, while others were understaffed. Attempts were made to rectify the position by providing established units with the necessary qualified manpower. These included training establishments, brigade sub-units such as medical transport and education divisions. Parallel to this, was the allocation of funds to establish permanent new battalion locations.

At the same time, opportunities were provided for members to attend various educational and vocational courses in the country’s polytechnic and university on full pay. On average, the army annually has over fifty students enrolled for different degrees at the local university and abroad. This policy became especially beneficial when promotion prospects at the top became minimal and qualified senior officers could leave with generous packages, to begin their own professional practices or were snapped up by the private sector.

22 December 1987, The Herald headlined "Unity at last!", announcing the joint accord signed between the warring elements of the Patriotic Front who had been increasingly divided since the 1980 elections. The Agreement, signed between the political leaders of ZANU(PF) and ZAPU, to establish a united ZANU(PF) stressed the need for "immediate steps to eliminate and end the insecurity and violence prevalent in Matebeleland." 

For an excellent review of "Operation Merger", summarizing the integration of the warring factions, click here (opens in new window, and is, as you would expect, a long document)