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Russia double-crossed ZIPRA with ZANLA?

by John Frame
28 April 2019 | 6346 Views
Regarding a joint Zimbabwe-Rhodesian and South African military strike in Mozambique against ZANLA / FRELIMO in September 1979 (Operation URIC - ZRSF / Operation Bootlace - SADF), queries have been asked about the 'Russian Front' - the south east border between Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and Mozambique.

The genesis and relationships that evolved between the Soviets and Zimbabwe Nationalists from the 1950's are complicated - set out in The Rhodesian Civil War history book.

To explain it in a post would take many pages so in summary:

As part of its 'Cold War' strategy, the USSR supported Nationalist groups in Africa to exert influence over those countries being granted or seeking independence from Colonial Powers.

In particular, Mozambique, Angola Rhodesia and South West Africa were important to create 'the Bridge' across Africa ahead of the final assault against the main prize, South Africa.

The USSR and it's satellite allies traditionally supported ZAPU / ZIPRA with logistic and munition supplies coordinated by the Soviet Ambassador to Zambia in Lusaka. The USSR did this because it perceived ZAPU and Nkomo having the legitimate claim to be the premier Zimbabwe Nationalist movement, as did the OAU Liberation Committee who directed funds to ZAPU and not to ZANU.

The Cubans were deployed by the USSR in Angola in a proxy role to fight the Soviet cause and at Boma they trained ZIPRA for its assault against the Rhodesian Government and SWAPO in their war against South Africa.

The USSR actively supported FRELIMO against Portugal supplying them with logistic support and military hardware. While Michel of FRELIMO preferred ZAPU, he finally allied with ZANU / ZANLA when it was recognised that ZIPRA and ZANLA were firmly divided along tribal lines and that the tribes along the north eastern, eastern and south eastern regions of Rhodesia were not supportive of the Matabele ZIPRA. ZIPRA elected to operate out of Zambia and Botswana which bordered its tribal heartland of Matabeleland.

ZANU / ZANLA was supported by Communist China and its allies, principally North Korea. But as a consequence ZANLA was not as well equipped as ZIPRA and in 1978 Mugabe made an effort to redress this by approaching Fidel Castro.

By 1978 the USSR decided to hedge its bets given the in-roads ZANLA was making against the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian Security Forces. Greater Soviet military equipment began to flow to ZANLA through FRELIMO - reported in RSA news articles when more Soviet Navel traffic was observed in Maputo, Mauritius and Dar es Salaam. In particular, more sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons were being delivered to counter the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian dominance in the air. Soviet Military instructors where deployed with FRELIMO and they aided ZANLA especially in the GAZA province of Mozambique which is located at the south eastern border of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia - hence it became known as the 'Russian Front' and the most contested border region of the war.

Concerned that the Western World Governments would recognise the black Zimbabwe - Rhodesian Government, the Soviet Bloc applied considerable pressure at the UN, OAU and elsewhere to stop that from occurring. Raul Valdez Vivo, a senior member of Castro's Cuban Communist Party, with Soviet support, together with President Machel of Mozambique, who was concerned at the ongoing disunity between ZAPU and ZANU and especially as the military union between ZIPRA and ZANLA that the frontline Presidents had forced, called ZIPA, had collapsed, formulated 'Dar es Salaam Agreement on the Unity of the Patriotic Front of Zimbabwe'. Vivo tabled a plan to send Nkomo and Mugabe into a 'controlled area' held by ZANLA, near Chiredzi before Muzorewa was proclaimed Prime Minister, to declare a government of Independent Zimbabwe with Nkomo as President and Mugabe as Vice-President and Minister of Defence. The Soviet Bloc would recognise the newly proclaimed State and FRELIMO / ZANLA would move then in force as would ZIPRA from Zambia actively supported by the Cubans. Mugabe had no intention for himself to be second staying 'Fortunately for us Joshua turned it down ....' (page 435 The Rhodesian Civil War History Book).

Flower who was head of CIO and who was asked to remain after Zimbabwe Independence in that role wrote that Mugabe chose to be non-aligned, like his mentor Tito of Yugoslavia, 'believing that adherence to communism did not mean subservience to Russia'.


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