“Unrest” (ARM) 1994: “Chimurenga! The Lessons of the Zimbabwe Liberation War”

“Chimurenga! The Lessons of the Zimbabwe Liberation War”

From Unrest no. 1, Anarchist Revolutionary Movement, February 1994

THE VICTORY OF a seemingly militant ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) in Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence elections, following a long guerrilla war (the “Chimurenga“) against White colonialism, was greeted with jubilation. Today [i.e. 1994], the hopes raised have dissipated; modern Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) is marked by continuity with colonial social and economic structures. This article examines, from a radical perspective, why the national liberation struggle failed to achieve its basic goals, and the lessons this holds for struggle today.


Land, central to the war, remains in the hands of White commercial farmers and a Black elite, whilst most Zimbabweans are condemned to a life of poverty.

Independence has brought them few benefits; wage levels are in fact those of twenty years ago; unemployment is growing; and the living standards of the urban poor, 30% of the population, are declining. An International Monetary Fund /World Bank imposed Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) aggravates and intensifies these hardships, bringing rising prices, reduced buying power, and cuts in social services like education.

Meanwhile the politicians and State bosses award themselves pay hikes, encourage investment by the exploitative multi national corporations, and strengthen diplomatic ties with the imperialist West. The ruling class (White farmers and Black elite) sustains its power and privilege by repression. Only recently was the 25 year long State of Emergency lifted, whilst police permission is necessary for large political gatherings, strikes can be banned, the press is suppressed, and the Central Intelligence Organisation harasses dissidents.


The failure of the ZANU government to deliver is sometimes lamed on “external” factors. For example, the independence constitution, agreed upon by guerrilla leaders and the colonialists, placed strong restrictions on land reform [1].

But this explanation assumes the new regime really did want to change Zimbabwe in the interests of the masses. In fact, we will show below, nothing could be further from the truth. Others, mainly Marxists, say that the outcome results from he fact that the war was fought by peasants. Actually there is nothing inherently conservative about peasants, as peasants have played a leading role in fighting for radical aims e.g. Mexico 1911.


For a proper explanation let us look at what actually happened the Zimbabwe war.

Rhodesia was a White settler colony set up in 1896, which featured the rapid, State directed development of a racial capitalist system in which Whites had a monopoly of economic and political power [2] [3]. Just as all White classes were racially privileged, workers included, all Black classes ere discriminated against.

The 1950s saw struggles by Black trade unions, peasant communities, and nationalist groups for national liberation. A nationalist perspective (cross class alliance to achieve a “national” State and economy) predominated in this national liberation movement.

The response of the White State was mainly repression. ZANU, and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union), the two main nationalist parties, were banned, after which they turned to armed struggle, with incursions from 1966 on. Inflexible, conspicuous, and isolated from the peasants, these early campaigns were failures [2] [4].

Change came when, in 1972, operating from a FRELIMO (Front for Liberation of Mozambique) liberated zone, ZANU’s army, ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army) began to mobilise and politicise the Black peasantry in eastern

Zimbabwe as part of its war effort. This strategy of “peoples war” created what was effectively a peasant insurrection and turned the tide against the colonial regime [2][5]. War intensified through the 1970s. From 1976, ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army), the ZAPU army, also recommenced operations, mainly in the southwest. ZIPRA did not however try mobilising the peasants [2] [6].

Under pressure from the guerrilla war, and an international isolation campaign, the regime tried on a number of occasions to negotiate an end to the war. Finally, in the 1979 Lancaster House agreement, it made its terms with ZANU and ZAPU, and a new constitution was written, and date for independence elections set.


By this time, some very important developments had taken place in ZANLA zones.

Here the guerrillas had set up a sophisticated system of non State grassroots decision making bodies. These “people’s committees” (hurundwende), at village, ward, and district level, provided support for the guerrillas, political mobilisation of the peasants, and civil administration [2] [5] [6]. Health, education, and other self help schemes were also sometimes initiated by the hurundwende [5]. At a separate level of mobilisation, the guerrillas used young men (mujhibas) and women (chimbwidos) secure the area, collect peasant contributions, carry messages, and (in the case of the chimbwidos) cook and clean [5].

Mujhibas and chimbwidos also organised regular, nighttime village meetings (pungwes) at which the guerrillas explained why they were fighting, and taught nationalist slogans and songs [5], thus building a culture of resistance.


The war therefore involved the creation of grassroots structures and beliefs independent of, and in opposition to, the White State. These events could have laid the basis of a new, revolutionary society of direct democracy, production for use, and distribution for need.

Why did this not occur?

The activity and further development of the hurundwende was limited by the fact that Black peasant lands were scattered amongst White areas, and thus not only quite vulnerable to attack, but unable to generate and maintain a fully operating alternative infrastructure. Furthermore, hurundwende were absent from many areas, and had no city counterparts [5][2].

Even where they did exist, no attempt was made to restructure production in a non-capitalist direction [5]. And hurundwende were also usually dominated by “respectable” local community members: rich peasants, Black businessmen, professionals [5][6]. The middle class also dominated leadership positions in ZANU, ZAPU, ZANLA and ZIPRA. Its class power was reinforced by the authoritarian structures of the guerrilla armies, which were directed by central councils situated outside Zimbabwe.

As for the ideology propagated by the guerrillas and the parties, it fell far short of a radical social critique. The nationalists aimed not to overthrow, but to establish capitalism with a Black face, an ambition reflecting the frustrations of the Black middle class leadership [1] [7].

Armed struggle was adopted as a last resort to achieve this.

Even ZANU, which in the latter stages of the war claimed to be socialist, believed that a “national democratic” stage had to take place first [1].


By 1976, a substantial opposition to this programme emerged in a number of cases amongst guerrillas, women of all ages, landless young men, and poor peasants [2] [6].

They seized empty farms, rustled White owned cattle, and vigorously participated in the hurundwende. Women challenged lobola (bride wealth), polygamy, demanded male involvement in child rearing and State provided nurseries, leadership training, better education, and guerrilla training. Guerrillas and poor peasants evicted 100s of rich peasants, occasionally attacked wealthy homesteads, and expressed increasing hostility to Black businessmen.

However, these class conscious, anti-patriarchal [i.e. anti the domination older men, over women and youth] tendencies never came to predominate in the national liberation struggle. For one thing, no alternative political programme to that of the nationalists emerged. Secondly, the Black middle class was able to contain these contradictions: they used their influence in the hurundwende to bolster patriarchy, and businessmen also set up working arrangements with the guerrillas.[6]


The settlement reached at Lancaster House was not the betrayal but the climax of the nationalist programme, as it gave the Black middle class opportunities in the State, State corporations, and private sector.

Subsequently, this group moved rapidly to consolidate its position. First it incorporated the hurundwende, guerrilla forces, trade unions and women’s groups into the State and ZANU. Second repression was freely used against dissent.

Thirdly, the Black bourgeoisie “reconciled” itself with its White counterparts, buying commercial farms, assuming senior positions in private corporations, and giving the White upper class prominent positions and a large say in the running of the State.


At present urban workers and students, spurred by disillusionment, hardship, and SAP[neo-liberal Structural Adjustment], are at the forefront of struggle with the regime. At the same time the growing frustration of the land-hungry peasantry alarms the boss class.

The regime has sought to deal with the unrest by repression, for example, closure of the University [of Zimbabwe], and breaking up protest meetings. It has also promised to speed up the pace of land reform, a small victory, although major change is unlikely given the crisis in the ruling class this could cause.

Unfortunately, the ongoing struggle is presently tending to reformism, and many believe the solution is to simply vote ZANU out of office. This strategy is flawed. The lessons of the Zimbabwe war, for South Africa as much as for Zimbabwe, are that: struggle must aim to overthrow of capitalism and State; that national liberation needs a class perspective; that struggle needs revolutionary ideology and independent nonheirachical grassroot bodies.


[1] A. Astrow, 1983, Zimbabwe: a revolution that lost its way? Chapter 6

[2] L. Cliffe, 1981, “Zimbabwe’s Political Inheritance” in C. Stoneman (ed.), Zimbabwe’s Inheritance

[3] M. Loney, Rhodesia, Chapter 3

[4] J. Saul, 1979, “Transforming the Struggle in Zimbabwe” in his State and Revolution in Eastern Africa.

[5] Cliffe, L., Mpofu, J. and B. Munslow, 1980, “Nationalist Politics in Zimbabwe” in Review of African Political Economy, no. 18

[6] D. Phimister, 1988, “The Combined and Contradictory Inheritance of the Struggle in Zimbabwe,” in C. Stoneman (ed.) Zimbabwe’s Prospects

For current developments, see Virginia Knight, May 1992, “Zimbabwe: the politics of economic reform” in Current History; as well as magazines like Southern African Political and Economic Monthly, Africa Today, and Africa Confidential.

“Unrest” (ARM) 1994: “Anarchism in Nigeria”

Anarchism in Nigeria

From Unrest no. 1, Anarchist Revolutionary Movement, February 1994

Partial Victory for Nigerian Anarchists, by Bob McGlynn in Love and Rage April/ May 1993.

Although a bit dated this article is worth reprinting. The current situation of the Awareness League is unknown to us but given the current wave of repression before and after the aborted June and August [?coup  – SAASHA.net] [1993], we are less than optimistic. More info: WSA, 339 Lafayette St., Rm 202, NY, NY 10012, U.S.

ANARCHIST/REVOLUTIONARY SYNDICALIST prisoners from Nigeria’s Awareness League (AL)- Udemba Chuks, Garba Adu, Kingsley Etioni, and James Ndubuisi- won some reprieve January 29th when they were unconditionally released on bail (they must report to the State Security Service each week). Arrested seven months ago during a wave of student/worker unrest protesting IMF/World Bank imposed austerity plans , they were detained under the notorious “Decree no.2”- a catch-all “preventative detention”law.

At a Calabar court hearing on Jan. 25th their lawyer, Ifeanyi Nnajiofor, demanded a grant of bail. On hand were a 100 AL members plus (according to a Feb.1 AL communique) “scores of journalists, activists, members of the Nigerian Bar Association, and interested members of the public.” Then on Jan. 29th “we won our greatest legal battle yet … (when for) the first time we set our eyes on them in seven months. They looked badly emaciated, weak and sick.” Setting a legal precedent poking a whole in Decree #2, the judge granted bail, and set the next court appearance for February 18th. Then as the four left court “there was an attempt to have our colleagues rearrested outside the premises, but this was stoutly resisted by the crowd.” They were then promptly hospitalized and advised to have a two week stay.

AL has info that the military may try to have the men re-arrested once again.This would not be uncommon in Nigeria where the judiciary and the military are constantly at odds.

At press time in our letter from the AL Feb. 28 the 4 have had their bail extended but must report to the State Security Service daily.One of them still remains hospitalised. The AL says “Judgement in the main suit is not expected before the end of April 1993.” The central suit maintains that the State action in dealing with the 4 without charge was illegal and that Decree #2 against them should be dropped.

“We thank you immensley for your solidarity so far in our struggle to free our four colleagues. We can only ask you not to relent in your efforts.”- from AL letter Feb. 28.

The U.S. Workers Solidarity Alliance(WSA) and Neither East Nor West- NYC (NENW-NYC) have successfully spearheaded a worldwide campaign for the AL. A week of protests at Nigerian embassies was calld for Feb. 22-26 with confirmations of actions by Anarchists in Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Dublin, New York, London, Berlin and Hamburg. (Anarchists were ready to demonstrate in countries like Bulgaria and Norway but lacked Nigerian targets). Petitions and protest letters have been recieved from Argentina, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, Russia, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, India, Norway, Ireland, Holland, Spain, Poland, U.S., South Africa, Bulgaria (almost 700 names on petitions!), Germany, and the U.K. Anarchist publications worldwide have covered the story. Special thanks to Love and Rage newspaper who mailed an international appeal for AL, and the International Workers Association and Spain’s National Confederation of Labour for sending $500 each to AL for legal fees.

The question of money is of special priority. Ifeanyi Nnajiofor, the AL’s lawyer, must travel 1000 kilometers from Lagos to Calabar, Nigeria. As of last Dec., the AL had a $12,000 debt for legal and other fees. Ifeanyi is being extremely helpful and generous acxording to the AL, but his expenses are obvious and he must be paid. WSA and NENW-NYC know that over $1000 has been recieved by AL from Anarchists abroad, and since that has helped keep Ifeanyi afloat, it’s no exaggeration to claim that the international campaign has played a part in AL’s bail victory, possibly saving the lives of these men (you don’t get fed in Nigerian jails).

International Monetary Orders can be mailed directly to: [The following is outdated] Awareness League, c/o Samuel Mbah,POB 28, Agbani,Enugu State, Nigeria. Foreign currency goes a long way now in Nigeria, $1 equaling a third of a month’s wage. As a fundraising effort for AL,their communiques are available for a contribution sent to: NENW-NYC, 528 5th St., Brooklyn, NY 11215, U.S ( The A.L.’s letters are available for $1 worth of postage and a xeroxing fee,but please try to send more).

“Unrest” (ARM) 1994: Editorial from “Unrest” no. 1

Editorial from Unrest no. 1

Editorial from Unrest no. 1, Anarchist Revolutionary Movement, February 1994.


Welcome to the first issue of Unrest. Unrest is a new and South African Anarchist magazine, which we hope to bring out quarterly.

A central aim of this magazine is to spread the ideas of revolutionary Anarchism, injecting a highly needed revolutionary perspective into the current period in South Africa.

We reject the vote and other ruses of the bosses. Grassroots action, not negotiating and electioneering, is the way forward for the oppressed. Total revolution, not a new set of bosses, is what is needed if the masses are to win real control over their lives and end poverty.

We welcome any and all comments. Articles also welcome. Please be legible and to the point.


WSF 1995: “Nigerian Anarchists Resist The Dictatorship”

WSF 1995: “Nigerian Anarchists Resist The Dictatorship”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 1, number 1, May-June 1995. Complete PDF is here

In the Last Issue of UNREST [once-off magazine of the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement, which was incorporated into Workers Solidarity in 1995, with the article in question being here] which we reported on the situation in Nigeria shortly after the termination of the results of the first civilian election since 1985 by the military dictatorship of General Babangida.

Much of this update comes directly from our comrades in Nigeria, the Anarcho Syndicalist Awareness League (AL).

After the annulment of the June 12 Presidential election, waves of strikes and violence erupted in Nigeria’s principal cities. The military stepped up the repression, with mass arrests and the banning of publications.

Babangida promised to hand over power to a civilian government on August 27th and then appointed a wealthy businessman and friend, Ernest Shonekan.

Babangida also arrested the winner of the June elections, Social Democratic Party leader Chief Abiola. This was because Abiola had dared to declare himself President.

After the price of petrol was raised by 700%, the central labour union, the Nigerian Labour Congress, called out its members on indefinite strike to protest . The country literally ground to a halt.

In response the military, led by General Sani Abacha,Babangiada’s long standing associate, sacked Shonekan’s team and re-seized power on November 17th, 1993. A virtual State of Emergency has followed.

The Awareness League has stated its opposition to the new military dictatorship. While recognising all the inherent problems associated with elections, the AL has joined with others to call for the return of Abiola to the presidency ” … despite our own reservations … we are convinced that the worst civilian government is infinitely better than the best military regime. And for us a civilian government offers a minimum condition for the struggle to establish arevolutionary society”

In conclusion, “the Awareness League rejects the return to the military, in all its ramifications and shall do all it can in collaboration with other activists and labour to resist General Abacha’s regime and force it to abdicate like Babangida and Shonekan’s government before it… We can only ask for continued support and solidarity of all comrades and revolutionaries around the world for the struggle promises to be difficult and long drawn.”


The AL is a membership organisation of about 1000, spread across different parts of Nigeria. The AL was organised on July 6th, 1989. The charter of the Awareness League states that the organisation is inspired by and committed to the ideals, principles, objectives, goals, ends and purposes of … anarcho-syndicalism .”

At its fifth national conference, celebrated on July 6th, 1993, the AL committed itself- to a national membership drive, the creation of a, well-organised and functioning secretariat and office, as well as a national education campaign. The delegated to the conference “agreed … that, unlike in the countries of Europe, America, and Latin America, Africa does not possess an anarchist tradition or experience to point at in concrete terms … The League therefore shoulders a historical responsibility in the international anarchist movement.”

(Annual Report 1993)

In an effort to help educate Nigerians, and others, about African anarchism, the AL is in the process of writing a book on the subject, Africa and the Anarchist struggle

The Awareness League asks comrades the world over for financial help in their publishing efforts. Please send Intentional Money orders or UK Bank cheques directly to: AL, PO Box 1920,- Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria. Take care to seal your envelope to beat mail thieves.

[ The following note was added when this article was first posted online: “I belive the AL has been banned so although this address is still functioning you should not mention the AL on the envelope”]