New Zealand troops arrived in Salisbury, Rhodesia – now Harare, Zimbabwe in 1979. All members of the New Zealand Contingent deployed to the African nation as part of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force.
Its mission was to monitor the ceasefire agreement between the Rhodesian Security Forces, and the Patriotic Front. The latter had two factions: ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army) and ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army).
The Patriotic Front wasn’t keen at first on New Zealand’s participation in the CMF. It believed the New Zealand Government, because of its acceptance of sporting contacts with South Africa, was unsympathetic to the indigenous struggle.
There was a change of heart however when the contingent’s large number of Maori (about 25 percent) was pointed out.
No one deployed below the rank of corporal, and the team members were selected against a wide range of trade and skill sets which allowed them to be prepared for what might eventuate. Prior to their departure they had very little idea of what they might be required to do and how they might be received.
The Rhodesian War had been crippling the country for 14 years, with atrocities on all sides, but by 1979 the Rhodesian Security Forces had reached a stage where they were losing ground and a ceasefire was warranted. The Patriotic Front had a strong hold, particularly in rural areas.
The various factions in the conflict had waged guerrilla warfare, with a wide variety of small arms, heavy machine guns and some surface to air missiles.
After many months of discussion the United Kingdom-brokered Lancaster House Agreement was finalised in late December 1979 and the Commonwealth troops were rapidly deployed from home locations to monitor the fledgling peace.
The Commonwealth Monitoring Force had about 1400 members – most of them British personnel, with detachments from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Fiji and Kenya. The New Zealand contingent comprised about 76 Army personnel and was commanded by Colonel David Moloney.
Within two weeks of the New Zealanders arriving more than 20,000 guerrillas from the Patriotic Front’s two factions had emerged from the bush to gather and then be moved to designated Assembly Places. The Kiwis had processed between 4,000 to 5,000 Patriotic Front personnel by the end of their deployment.
The intent was to create collection points, known as RVs, for the Patriotic Front, and move them to Assembly Places where they could be disarmed and reintegrated into their tribal homelands prior to the elections.
The reality was that there were insufficient collection points so more were created shortly after the New Zealanders arrived.
“It soon became apparent that the Patriotic Front had no intention of being disarmed, which made our white arm bands more important than our rifles. We felt quite safe; the Patriotic Front was a well trained, well informed, organisation. I don’t think the Commonwealth, at the time, gave due credit to just how well informed they were.”
“They knew more about the ceasefire than we did, and they were very balanced as they had the upper hand. They wanted peace, and their fair share of what is now Zimbabwe.” ‒ Colonel Brendon Fraher, then a Captain in the NZ Army
The New Zealanders returned from the mission in April 1980.
This page was last amended on 03 September 2018