The Rebel in Me - A ZANLA Guerrilla Commander in the Rhodesian Bush War, 1975-1980, Agrippah Mutambara

The Rebel in Me - A ZANLA Guerrilla Commander in the Rhodesian Bush War, 1975-1980, Agrippah Mutambara

This memoir was written by one of the senior leaders of ZANU/ ZANLA, President Mugabe's party during the struggle for independence and majority rule in Zimbabwe.

The account of life in Rhodesia quickly makes you realise why the author chose to rebel. There is a similar feel to accounts of the Deep South in the segregation era, but with a bigger threat of violence.

His escape from Rhodesia is compelling, with more problems on the Mozambique side of the border than in Rhodesia itself (largely down to worries within FRELIMO about possible provocations by the Rhodesian regime in the build-up to independence in Mozambique.

The description of the political indoctrination of ZANLA rebels is of great interest. Here we see one of the great problems of liberation and revolutionary movements – the sort of discipline required to win the military struggle then tends to produce one party systems and suppress healthy political debate. This comes out in incidents such as the language used after Independence to convince a colleague not to form his own political party, or the use of the phrase 'our masses'. The ability of organisations in Western countries to provide aid for the liberation struggle despite the views of their governments is also seen as a weakness in the capitalist system, rather than as a sign of a free society.

I do find it interesting that books written from both sides of this conflict assume that the British government was on the other side. In this case I wonder how much that reflects the politics of the post-independence period, and the poor relationship between Mugabe's government and Britain.

The section of his operational experiences covers his first and last missions and the Rhodesian attack on the ZANLA HQ at Chimoio.

The account of the first raid is interesting, in that it shows a willingness to acknowledge the problems faced by inexperienced guerillas, including serious injures suffered in a fall into a ravine and a fatal encounter with a deer, both suffered at night, as well as covering the mission's successes. His final mission, an attempted attack on the town of Umtali, failed to achieve its main objective, but his unit did perform well in an unexpected battle with Rhodesian forces.

A larger section looks at one of the more controversial events of the war, the Rhodesian attack on the ZANLA HQ at Chimoio. I've only recently read an account of this attack written more from the Rhodesian point of view, in which it was seen as a military triumph, although details of the fighting were sparse. It was thus rather interesting to read an account of the same battle from the point of view of one of the senior defenders of the camp. We get a fascinating account of the defensive measures taken against the Rhodesian attack, the chaos and damaged caused by several days of air attack, and also some idea of the impressive scale of the ZANLA organisation. The subtitle of this second 'Rhodesia Genocide' is rather less justified – the author's own account makes it clear that this was a successful military attack on a legitimate military target, and perhaps reflects his own anger at the lack of preparation to deal with an attack on the base. The one major exception is the Rhodesian attack on the hospital camp, which appears to have been a full scale war crime (although good luck in finding any unbiased accounts of this incident online!). Given the silence on this issue in the Rhodesian sources, I'd tend to assume that the description here is probably basically accurate.

The last two chapters look at the failure to establish unity between the two main Zimbabwean independence movements, and the establishment of full independence. The agreement of the Lancaster House Accords clearly caught many in the Liberation movement by surprise, including the author, as did the successful implementation of the agreement.

This is a very valuable memoir, bringing us to the heart of the Zimbabwean independence struggle. Don't expect an unbiased history of the period – that really isn't the author's intention – but do expect a real insight into what it was like to take part in the fight for independence, and into the attitudes of the succesful party.

1 - The Rebel in Me
2 - Adios Rhodesia
3 - Refugees - Not by Choice
4 - Guerrilla Training
5 - The South of the Revolution
6 - States in the Frontline of Zimbabwe's Struggle
7 - Operational Deployments
8 - Chimoio Attack - Rhodesian Genocide
9 - Ethiopia
10 - The Elusive Unity
11 - Conception and Birth of Zimbabwe
12 - Eulogy to Revolutionary Heroes

Author: Agrippah Mutambara
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 256
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2014

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