But then, for a long time, we've been hearing about heroes whose main qualification was a position in the ruling party. Do we need to keep asking who liberated Zimbabwe? Was it one party, or was it all of us?
We who lived through it thought it was the people's struggle, not one party's. Yes, ZANU's part was important, but they'd not have got very far without the support of the people. They themselves used the Maoist image of fighters moving among the people “like fish in water”. If the water hadn't been there, they'd have looked pretty silly.
The people were the water in which they hid, and the people all suffered when the enemy started shooting and bombing at random, trying to flush them out. We all know the mujibhas and chimbwidos probably ran bigger risks than the fighters because they were not armed and they were more visible.
The Rhodies didn't believe that the parents of those young people didn't know what their sons and daughters were up to. Why should they? We all knew more or less, and knew there were things it was wiser that we didn't know.
That's how it was in the early years of the war, and not only in areas where ZANU operated. Things changed a bit as the war went on. It became clear that the settler regime could not defeat the united people with much of Africa, the socialist bloc and progressive people in the West behind them.
Their own supporters fled. Look at the figures for white school enrolments, which halved during the 1970s. Emigration figures are less reliable, because anyone who said they were leaving the country for good was allowed to take less money than they would have been allowed for an overseas holiday.
Clearly, parents sent their children out to school then “went on holiday” and joined them. Some disagreed with the racist regime. More probably just saw that Smith was a loser. By 1980, a reasonable guess is that there were only 100,000 whites left in the country. Smith recruited mercenaries to strengthen his army. They came, talking big about this being the frontline in a worldwide crusade against communism and were generously paid for their support.
But when the going got really tough, they remembered the mercenaries' motto: “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.” That left the poor old (or young) Rhodie troopers out on their own under fire. It couldn't go on like this. You didn't need to believe in any marxist historical inevitability; you didn't even need your own set of hakata to see the end.
ZANU were not slow to see the inevitable outcome. The settler regime was doomed. The only question was: which party would take over from them.
During the last year of the war, ZANU no longer tried to be fish in water. They aimed to capture as much territory as possible, by any means available to them, because they believed that the party that controlled the most territory would control the most votes. They weren't aiming to destroy the settler regime any more; it was already falling apart.
Their enemy was no longer Ian Smith. It wasn't Abel Muzorewa and his “Zimbabwe-Rhodesia” friends. It was Joshua Nkomo and ZAPU, the only credible rival for the hearts and minds of the people. The two parties did clash in some areas, like Hurungwe, but there was still plenty of territory where neither PF partner had a strong presence, so the race was on to be the first there and capture those votes.
The rest, as they say, is history. It may not be what you youngsters read in your schoolbooks, but try asking your grandparents what they remember.Post published in: Opinions & Analysis