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Book review by Gerry van Tonder, military historian, published author.

“The masses are the key to survival and victory in a people’s revolution and there is a need for their unequivocal support”.


In a few words, author John Padbury unequivocally defines the very nature of Rhodesia in the 1970s. Two ethnically divergent insurgency groups were fighting a parallel war of the much-coined hearts and minds; their objective the removal of the minority white Rhodesian government to ostensibly make way for a universally elected independent Zimbabwe. This aspect of the conflict was naïvely either ignored or, out of ignorance, grossly misinterpreted by those in power. This proved to be a costly mistake.


Few understood the fundamental importance of meeting and challenging the insurgent enemy by fighting them at their own game and on their own turf. For Padbury, then a detective inspector in Special Branch of the national Rhodesian police force, BSAP, the success of such a strategy hinged entirely on what he terms “the mobilisation of the masses.” However, Padbury found that such a strategy was both overlooked and resisted by the Rhodesian government and the security forces command.


In the first part of his book, Padbury describes the events in Rhodesia’s history that culminated in the irreconcilable polarisation between African nationalism and the right-wing white administration of the Rhodesian Front party.


In 1969, four years after Rhodesian Prime Minister declared the country independent of Britain, the 18-year-old Padbury attested into the BSAP at a time when the nationalists had started to resort to the use of arms to overthrow the Rhodesian government. Three years later he was transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the BSAP, his first tentative steps that would see him grow to fully understand the psyche and modus operandi of the insurgents in the context of rural tribespeople.


Increasingly, Padbury discovered the imperative was to know the indigenous customs and language, which would equip him with the means to counter the rapidly escalating guerrilla war in his own capacity. The insurgents’ alien Maoist political doctrine, subversion, intimidation and horrific brutality resulted in what Padbury refers to as “the decay of the traditional African culture.”


Padbury saw how the insurgents, themselves Rhodesian citizens, exploited grievances to turn the tribesman against the white government’s administration of the so-called Tribal Trust Lands (TTLs) in which he was legally required to live. In many cases, people had been moved against their will away from their traditional and spiritual homes. Eventually, the insurgents’ strategies resulted in the administrative authorities withdrawing from large tracts of rural countryside, becoming what the insurgents referred to as liberated areas.


Whilst operating in the northeast areas infiltrated by ZANLA guerrillas, Padbury discovered what he refers to as “the ultimate political and military intelligence network [which] superseded traditional authority.” Mujibas, “young unarmed African males”, were the eyes and ears of the insurgents. Harbingers of barbarous beatings, mutilations and murders; tactics deemed necessary by the insurgents to achieve their ultimate objective, the mujibas were much-feared.


Padbury goes into considerable detail relating his experiences during his counter-insurgency activities in the northeast tribal areas targeted by ZANLA, while maintaining an essential commentary of central government’s misguided efforts to stem the war by various means, including an internal settlement with ‘friendly’ parties within the country. All this achieved was increased pressure on the Rhodesian government from the West and a hitherto sympathetic South African ally.


The British and Americans feared an internationalisation of the Rhodesian conflict that would draw Cuban and Russian forces onto Rhodesian soil. Padbury transcribes the full response he had received from Lord David Owen (British Foreign Secretary 1977–79) in 2019 upon being asked by the author about Britain paying Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda a large sum of money to prevent Cuban troops from using his country to launch attacks into Rhodesia. Owen’s lengthy reply is both revealing and shocking.


Against this background, their backs to the wall, Padbury reveals how the Rhodesian government did a complete turnaround in its fervent opposition (“only over our dead bodies”) to mobilising and arming the rural ‘masses’. He quotes colleague Dennis Anderson:


The potential to recruit and train locals “en masse” for deployment into the operational areas in order to gain political support for internal Political parties was suddenly required and envisaged, and the idea of the SFAs [Security Force Auxiliaries] was conceived.


In 1978, with clear thoughts on countering guerrilla activities by emulating the mujiba system, Padbury was given the opportunity to command SFA operations in the Urungwe District, north of the capital, Salisbury (now Harare). He now enters the second part of his book, the eponymous Battle for Hurungwe.


Notwithstanding experiences gained in the guerrilla mujiba system to the east, Padbury recognised the fresh challenges, which operating in ZIPRA insurgent-controlled areas were going to present. It was common knowledge that this group was considerably more aggressive and active than ZANLA, with whom there was in fact no love lost. But more importantly, Padbury knew he had to abandon his “allegiances to the ruling white minority and military/intelligence forces, which [as he saw it] were opposed to much-needed progressive change in strategies and tactics required for victory in the war.” The war could not be won without the support of the local population.


Crucially, Padbury correctly identifies African Socialism as being at the very core of indigenous African life. This was not some acquired dogma, but a centuries-old, fully ingrained philosophy very dissimilar to the communist doctrines the guerrillas were imposing by force.


To facilitate an all-encompassing strategy to reclaim land lost to insurgents, Padbury established a ‘Ground Coverage’ intelligence gathering network across the district. His next step was to develop a “political landscape to reconnect with the people,” offering, with military back-up, a more attractive platform for the airing of grievances. Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Council (UANC) political party and the raising and deployment of armed and trained SFAs inside ZIPRA-controlled territory provided Padbury with the means to achieve his objective. The SFAs would have a strong former-insurgent element throughout the command structure and ranks.


By late 1978, Rhodesian special forces reacted to the fresh flow of intelligence in Urungwe, kickstarting Padbury’s twin-pronged counter-revolutionary introduction among the population of a people’s army and a trusted political infrastructure. SFAs were deployed alongside Rhodesian rapid-reaction security forces to take the war to the insurgents, and by early 1979, government civil administration started to return to certain areas of the district where Padbury’s strategies were gradually paying dividends.


Padbury’s counter-revolution was an unmitigated success. However, the central seat of power in Salisbury failed to exploit this success to comprehensively defeat the insurgency. The tragic outcome of ignoring the Urungwe victory resulted in the erstwhile enemy assuming power in the form of a one-party state and a communist doctrine that alienated African society in Zimbabwe.

Padbury’s meticulously planned and executed strategy of how to win a people’s war is well-documented in his book. This extremely well-written and illustrated book, to me, is a must-read for academics, historians and military strategists alike."


Gerry van Tonder was a member of the Rhodesian Ministry of Internal Affairs (Intaff), and is now a Military Historian and Published Author. He joined Intaff in 1975 and was stationed at Karoi, Hurungwe. In 1976, as a member of Intaff, he underwent military training and was then posted to Sipolilo in the Zambezi Valley. He then transferred to Mt Darwin's intelligence section. In 1977 he undertook the Intaff sponsored university degree programme, graduating from the University of Rhodesia at the end of 1979 with a Bachelor of Administration (Honours) Degree. During his university vacations he was posted to Sipolilo and Gwelo. He has authored a number of military historical books including Operation Lighthouse: Intaff in the Rhodesian Bush War 1972-1980 which he co-authored with Dudley Wall - in my opinion a "must read". This is his website: http://www.rhodesiansoldier.com.



Photos: (L to R) James Chikerema in discussions with a chief and elders in the Omay TTL listened to by the author (squatting); Tony Coom and the author with some men in the field; James Chikerema addresses the masses; Gerry van Tonder; Overnight accommodation for Intaff in the Hurungwe TTL - photo Gerry van Tonder; Dudley Wall (intaff) at his first landmine incident - photgo Dudley Wall.



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Book Review Neil Petrie

Battle for Hurungwe, by John Padbury is essential reading for those interested in the Rhodesian conflict, irregular warfare and national strategy. It is a personal but professionally produced work cov

1 Comment


Unknown member
Feb 01, 2023

An excellent review and endorsement for John Padbury and his Book "BATTLE FOR HURUNGWE" ~ the living blue-print in a stepped-success-process to a blue-ribbon freedom state and it's African people.

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