Zimbabwe People’s Republic Army

Zimbabwe People’s Republic Army


Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZPRA/ZIPRA) was the armed wing of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union, a Marxist–Leninist political party in Rhodesia. It participated in the Rhodesian Bush War against the Rhodesian government. ZIPRA was formed during the 1960’s by the nationalist leader Jason Moyo, the deputy of Joshua Nkomo.

Because ZAPU’s political strategy relied more heavily on negotiations than armed force, ZIPRA developed as elaborately training both regular soldiers and guerrilla fighters, although by 1979 it had an estimated 20,000 combatants, based in camps around Lusaka, Zambia and at the front.

ZIPRA’s crossing points into Zimbabwe were at Feira in Zambia opposite Mashonaland East and west. For example, the operational boundary was Sipolilo where ZIPRA, Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and Rhodesian forces clashed. ZIPRA operated alone in Mashonaland west. There was no ZANLA combatants in that area until the later stages of the war.

Beside the overall political ideologies, the main differences between ZIPRA and ZANLA were that:

  • ZIPRA did not follow ZANLA’s ideology (inspired by Maoism) but followed Soviet Marxist Leninist principles.
  • ZIPRA controlled zones from Sipolilo to Plumtree.

ZIPRA was in formal alliance with Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) the ANC’s militant wing. ZIPRA and MK mounted a celebrated, if strategically unsuccessful, raid into Rhodesia in the mid-1960s. The incursion was stopped by Rhodesian Security Forces, working in concert with the South African Police.

In 1978 and 1979 ZIPRA downed two civilian passenger planes of Air Rhodesia, killing a total of 102 passengers and crew. Air Rhodesia Flight 825 was a scheduled flight from Kariba to Salisbury that was shot down on 3rd September, 1978 by ZIPRA guerrillas using an SA-7 surface-to-air missile. ZIPRA leader Joshua Nkomo publicly claimed responsibility for shooting down the Hunyani on BBC television the same evening, saying the aircraft had been used for military purposes, but denied that his men had killed survivors on the ground.

Eighteen of the fifty-six passengers in the Air Rhodesia plane survived the crash, with most of these having been seated in the rear. Three crash survivors who remained at the aircraft managed to avoid being killed by running away and hiding in the bush. Five months later a second plane, Air Rhodesia Flight 827, was shot down by ZIPRA.

Assembly Points

  • James Gavin