The Toronto Globe & Mail, Jan. 4, 1980
DENDERA MISSION, Rhodesia – They stare through suspicion-filled eyes, clinging to their weapons.
A week ago, these men and women would have killed any white man they encountered. Today, they walk among white men in military uniforms who, their commanders assure them, are foreigners and neutral.
They are beginning to get used to the 18-man Australian Commonwealth contingent deployed here; of newcomers they are not certain.
Comrade Takawira, the Patriotic Front liaison officer, refuses to bring visitors into the heart of the semi-permanent camp being established by the 1,000 guerrillas who have reported so far.
We are afraid some of our comrades still coming in might not understand who you are and attack you, he explains in a soft voice. Your life would be in danger.
Just 24, Comrade Takawira is already a sector commander in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army. He was in charge of an area of several thousand square miles before being recalled to Mozambique and dispatched to Salisbury to serve as a guerrilla liaison officer.
Now, instead of leading his forces into battle, Comrade Takawira’s job is to convince them that the need to fight is over.
The reason I joined the army was to liberate my country and to free my people, he says. That has now been accomplished.
Word has spread quickly among the cadres through the bush telegraph. This remote northeastern region of Rhodesia, adjacent to Mozambique, has long been a liberated area. The army pulled out more than a year ago, leaving the guerrillas in effective control. One of the byproducts is an efficient system of runners, known as mujibhas, who keep widely scattered guerrilla units in almost constant contact.
Now those runners are spreading word of the ceasefire. Moving in and out of this assembly point throughout the day, they carry written messages from Comrade Takawira to the detachment, section and platoon commanders in the area, telling them that the ceasefire is genuine and that the high command has ordered them to report it.
The message is the same across the country. In many areas, a liaison officer of the Patriotic Front guerrilla alliance is trekking through the bush trying to convince his comrades that the struggle is over.
Praise for the guerrilla commanders from the Commonwealth units to which they are assigned is almost unanimous.
It was about tea time on Saturday when they first came, says Capt. Greg Pike, the Australian officer in charge of the Muchintiki school rendezvous point, a collection area which feeds the Dendera assembly point.
One of the lads suddenly noticed a large amount of guerrillas moving over the hill; they came over in battle formation in several waves and surrounded the camp in a pincher movement to have a look around, to make sure it wasn’t a trap.
Comrade Chris, the team’s liaison officer, found the section leader and within minutes the first suspicions began to fade. Two nights later, the Australians celebrated new year’s eve with the guerrillas in a nearby village.
The weapons of the guerrillas vary. They have RPD machine guns, RPG-7 rocket launchers, rifle grenades, bolt-action rifles, and the guerrilla standard, the AK-47 assault rifle, wooden stocks worn and scarred from years of action. Many wear bandoliers of bullets slung Mexican-bandit fashion across their chests.
The guerrillas who have reported to date have submitted themselves completely to the discipline of their superiors.
At this assembly area, one of 16 in the country where guerrillas will spend the next two months waiting for completion of the February election, they are putting up tents, digging latrines and continuing drilling daily to remain in condition should it become necessary to return to the bush.
News earlier this week that the Rhodesian military is being allowed to continue patrolling border regions has increased suspicion.
Once they begin patrolling the border, once their planes start flying over our bases, then we will start patrolling, warns Comrade Takawira, who wears the green, yellow, red and black flag of Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union on his shoulder. If they start going amongst the masses, then we shall start going amongst the masses.
With tonight’s deadline for guerrillas to report into the assembly points fast approaching, only 4,500 of an estimated 20,000 guerrillas inside the country have so far reported.
The rate is said to be too slow for the comfort of the Governor, Lord Soames, and Patriotic Front co-leader Joshua Nkomo has appealed for an extension of the deadline, arguing that one week is not long enough to spread word to the diverse units.
The British insist they will not extend the deadline, but it appears now that unless they do, they will find themselves in the embarrassing position of being forced to declare unlawful large numbers of guerrillas who may actually be attempting to comply with the ceasefire, and that would mean once more unleashing the Rhodesian security forces to punish them.
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