Wary Guerrillas Meet Peacekeepers (The Toronto Globe & Mail)

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.

All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

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