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Downing of Rhodesian Viscount plane revisited

04 Sep 2019 at 08:18hrs | Views
September 3, 1978 is a date that should be permanently etched in the minds of Zimbabweans as it is an important reminder of the story of ZAPU's role in the liberation struggle. On this day, Zipra forces shot down a Rhodesian Viscount airliner, the "Hunyani", using a Soviet-made Sam-7 missile in final years of the protracted 16-year armed struggle for Independence.

The airliner, carrying 52 passengers and four crew members vanished from radar screens five minutes after its 5.05 pm take-off from Kariba Airport. About 48 people were killed. Archival material shows that almost immediately, a distress signal was received to the effect that the engines had failed.

The aircraft crashed near the northern border with Zambia in the Urungwe Tribal Trust Land (now Hurungwe District), 40km south-east of Kariba Dam. The aircraft involved, a Vickers Viscount's regular scheduled service from Victoria Falls, via the resort town of Kariba.

A group of ZIPRA guerrillas fired a Soviet-made Strela-2 surface-to-air infrared homing missile which downed the aircraft. This victory is an important landmark in the history of Zimbabwe. It captures the story of ZAPU's role in the liberation struggle which cannot be eclipsed, underestimated or easily erased from our memory.

According to media reports, veteran nationalist and leader of Zapu, Joshua Nkomo publicly claimed responsibility for shooting down the Hunyani in an interview with the BBC programme the next day, saying the aircraft had been used for military purposes, but denied that his men had killed survivors on the ground.

After the shooting of this aircraft, the Rhodesian army launched several retaliatory strikes into Zambia and Mozambique over the following months, attacking both ZIPRA and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA).

The attacks killed thousands of people in refugee camping in and around guerrilla positions — in Zambia and Mozambique In February 1979, ZIPRA guerillas shot down Air Rhodesia Flight 827, another civilian flight, in an almost identical incident, killing 59 people. The guerillas, using the SAM-7 missile, send the aircraft crashing in the rough terrain in the Vuti African Purchase Area east of Lake Kariba.

Angered by the downing of the aircraft, on 25 February 1979, the Rhodesian Air Force, with covert assistance from the South African Air Force, launched Operation Vanity, a retaliatory bombing raid against a ZIPRA camp near Livingstone, Zambia which led to the death of hundreds of civilian refugees.

All this demonstrates the price that Zimbabwe's freedom fighters had to pay to liberate the country. Zipra's September 3, 1978 victory over the Rhodesian apartheid regime should act as a beacon that stands high up, reminding us of the history of the our liberation movements that led the armed struggle for Zimbabwe's Independence.

Its part of the historical process which saw the evolvement of African politics from trade union and nationalist organisations in the 1950s protest movement which in turn developed into a mass armed guerrilla movement from the 1960s to the late 1970s.

The downing of the Rhodesian plane demonstrates how the people's movement both in the ZANU and ZAPU liberation movements had grown stronger, pushing the Rhodesian regime to the negotiating table that paved way for a negotiated road to majority rule and then Independence in 1980.

The record of this victory has been captured in archival records which still need to be unpacked and widely shared through news reports, books, photographs and modern social media technologies. This history must be kept alive and enduring through various strategies that aim to promote the history of the country's liberation struggle. Europeans still commemorate various battles that their own fought to protect their interests. All this behoves on us as a black race to remember our own and celebrate our own.

We have to tell our stories and celebrate our heroes and heroines of the 16-year protracted armed struggle that led to the Independence of Zimbabwe. Of course, critics have charged that since 1980, the country's liberation struggle story has been dominated by ZANU-PF, which was also a key player in the Independence struggle.

Zimbabweans from all walks of life should come out and share the story of ZAPU's role in the liberation struggle.

It is only through such documentation and writing as well as sharing of the country's liberation struggle story that we are able to see how far we have come, what binds us and what should keep us united as a country. Tribalism should not have a place. It should not divide us as a nation. Zipra's victory on September 3, 1978 should act as a rallying point of our collective and shared history against colonialism. It should be part of our collective memory.

Zipra and Zanla combatants made a supreme sacrifice to the liberation process which paved the way for Independence in 1980. A book capturing the life and works of Zenzo Nkobi, an unofficial ZAPU photographer from the mid-1970s until well after Independence in 1980 details some interesting insights into the struggle waged by ZAPU's armed wing — Zipra in fighting the white Rhodesian settler regime.

"The successor to the NDP was the Zimbabwean African People's Union (ZAPU), formed at a time when peaceful paths to Independence under a black government were closing, and nationalist supporters, especially in the Youth Wing, were becoming increasingly militant, demanding they be provided with weapons to seize power themselves," reads part of the introduction.

"By the time ZAPU was banned in September 1962, plans were already being made for the acquisition of those weapons, and the first cadres were undertaking sabotage.

"Soon after the banning, the party leadership took two important decisions: they would not form another legal party and they would begin to prepare for a war of liberation.

"In 1962, ZAPU established its offices in Lusaka, Zambia, a country already moving towards independence with majority rule. The party began to build an army to conduct guerrilla war. It recruited and trained many thousands of young people to fight for liberation.

"It also received tens of thousands of refugees towards the end of the war in the late 1970s, and was responsible for accommodating them and educating those who were too young to fight. The first military training took place in 1963, and it continued thereafter until 1979. Guerrillas were trained initially in other countries — Tanzania, Ghana, China, Algeria, the Soviet Union — but ZAPU eventually established its own training camps in Zambia where the bulk of the later training took place — as well as in Angola."

Source - the herald
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