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Revolution and the church (Chapter 6)

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

I was well aware that the Roman Catholic priests in the Makoni and Manyika tribal trust lands (TTLs) were actively supporting ZANLA insurgents. Significant intelligence had been gathered confirming their involvement and I had identified several insurgent's base camps in the vicinity of the missions. It was within the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act to arrest and charge them, but I chose against it. My decision was to use this knowledge to our advantage in order to locate and attack the ZANLA groups they were assisting. In any event, if the priests or staff were prosecuted and removed from the area, it was likely they would soon be replaced. To appease their consciences, these missionaries shifted blame to the Security Forces for atrocities I knew ZANLA were responsible for. There was one notable occasion when they refused to medically assist a Security Force member which I found astonishing.

Whilst on a patrol, I decided to visit the priests at their missions. When we arrived at St Triashill’s Mission, I noted the resident priest’s car parked in the shade of the Msasa trees. I asked one of the mission station’s novices where Father Ward was. He informed me that he was at St Barbara’s Mission. I pondered as to how he travelled there as his car was parked nearby. The novice informed me that he had walked and implied that he often did. I wondered why he had walked approximately 10km (one way) when he had a motor vehicle at his disposal. In addition, I had never known him to do so and concluded the novice would venture no further worthwhile information. Yet again, I was made aware that knowledge of local conditions, the people, their movements and their habits, were critical to survival, not only during a war, but including the everyday business of life. I radioed the Sub.JOC at Rusape and requested a Pookie (light-armoured landmine detection vehicle designed to clear mined roads), with an escort to be sent to clear the roads, as I suspected they had been mined. The lives of civilians, the Security Forces, my men and my own life were endangered. The story continues in Battle For Hurungwe.

Ian Smith, when declaring UDI, stated that "We have struck a blow for the preservation of justice, civilisation and Christianity, and in the spirit of this belief we have this day assumed our independence. God bless you all." Were all Rhodesians Christians? Was Christianity a requirement for being Rhodesian? Were we fighting for the preservation of Christianity - a Christian crusade?

Now here was the dilemma. Firstly, Donal Lamont (1911-2003), Bishop of the Diocese of Umtali (Mutare) which included Makoni, Manyika and Mutasa TTLs, and Rusape, told his priests and sisters that he himself would be entirely responsible for their actions, both in giving medicine to the insurgents and in not reporting their presence. He told his priests to support, as best they could, those who required their help.

Secondly, on 3 September 1978, ZIPRA insurgents shot down a civilian aircraft, Viscount Hunyani YP-WAS, Flight RH825, carrying 52 passengers and four aircrew. Thirty eight persons were killed on impact and 10 survivors were murdered by ZIPRA insurgents. Eight passengers survived. At a memorial service for the deceased on 8 September 1978, the Anglican Dean for the Salisbury Cathedral, The Very Reverend John da Costa slated the Viscount attack in an emotionally charged sermon entitled “The Silence is Deafening”. The emphasis of his sermon was on the failure of world governments and non-government organisations to condemn the deliberate shooting down of a civilian airliner and the subsequent slaughter of innocent survivors. However, da Costa added confusion to the Christian dilemma. He stated: “Who else (is to blame)? The churches? Oh yes, I fear so. For too long, too many people have been allowed to call themselves ‘believers’ when they have been nothing of the kind. Belief must bring about action. If you believe in God, you must do something about it....The especial danger of Marxism is its teaching that human life is cheap, expendable, of less importance than the well-being of the State... But there are men who call themselves Christians who have the same contempt for other human beings, and who treat them as being expendable." The World Council of Churches and the Pope also fell under the hammer.

The quandary was the extremes of advice by church leadership: Bishop Lamont’s call to support the insurgents and Dean da Costa’s call to condemn them (and some of his fellow "believers"). Then of course there was the government's political statement that they were fighting for the very preservation of justice, civilisation and Christianity in Africa. What were we fighting for?

Tragically, missionaries were caught up in the quandary. On 23 June 1978, at Elim Mission, some 15km south-east of Umtali and 8km from the Mozambique border, eight missionaries and four young children were bayoneted to death by insurgents. In Matabeleland, several German Roman Catholic priests and nuns were murdered by ZIPRA. There were other missionary massacres. During the battle for Hurungwe we had a very good apolitical relationship with the Roman Catholic priest, Fr Zinkann.

An understanding of the role of the church, the subsequent consequences and how we approached these matters in the Makoni and Manyika TTLs, is gained from reading Battle For Hurungwe, Chapter 6.

Map showing St Triashill's and St Barbara's missions. Note the dirt road linking the missions. Was this road mined? Were our lives endangered? Battle For Hurungwe. Second and third photos show damage done to a Security Force landrover and civilian bus after detonating landmines laid by ZANLA.

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Book Review Neil Petgrie

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

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