Zimbabwean Fifth Brigade
|Active||August 1981 – 1988
2006 – present
|Branch||Zimbabwe National Army|
The Fifth Brigade was an elite unit of specially trained Zimbabwean soldiers. The Fifth Brigade was formed in 1981 and disbanded in 1988 after allegations of brutality and murder during the Brigade's occupation of Matabeleland. It was reformed later and was active in 2006 at least.
In October 1980, President Robert Mugabe signed an agreement with the North Korean President, Kim Il Sung, that they would train and equip a brigade for the Zimbabwe National Army (ZANLA). In August 1981, 106 North Koreans arrived to train the new brigade.
The members of the Fifth Brigade were drawn from 3500 ex-ZANLA troops, including two unintegrated ZANLA battalions, at Tongogara Assembly Point. There were a few Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) troops in the unit initially, but they were withdrawn before the end of the training. It has been reported that there were also some foreigners in the unit, possibly Tanzanians. The training of Fifth Brigade lasted until September 1982, when Minister Sekeramayi announced training was complete.
The first Commander of the Fifth Brigade was Colonel Perence Shiri. The Fifth Brigade was different from all other army units in that it was not integrated into the army. It was answerable only to the Prime Minister, and not to the normal army command structures. Their codes, uniforms, radios and equipment were not compatible with other army units. Their most distinguishing feature in the field was their red berets, although many reports note that on occasions Fifth Brigade soldiers would operate in civilian clothes. Mugabe was also responsible and ordered Sekeramayi to announce that the training was over.
In the elections of February 1980, Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) won a landslide victory and Mugabe became Zimbabwe's second black prime minister (after Abel Muzorewa). Mugabe, whose political support came from his Shona-speaking tribal homeland in the north, attempted to build Zimbabwe on a basis of an uneasy coalition with his Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) rivals, whose support came mostly from the Ndebele-speaking south, Matabeleland, and with whites. Mugabe sought to incorporate ZAPU into his ZANU–led government and ZAPU's military wing into the army; and ZAPU's leader, Joshua Nkomo, was given a series of cabinet positions in Mugabe's government. However, the new prime minister was torn between this objective and pressures to meet the expectations of his own ZANU followers for a faster pace of social change.
Around this time, ex-ZANLA and ZIPRA troops awaiting demobilization or integration into the new national army also clashed in Bulawayo and other areas. Sometimes these clashes had civilian casualties as some of the ex-guerilla units were stationed in cantonments adjacent to residential areas. An abortive ZAPU rebellion and discontent in Matabeleland spelled the end for this uneasy coalition. In 1982 Mugabe dismissed Nkomo from his cabinet, which triggered bitter fighting between ZAPU supporters in the Ndebele-speaking region of the country and the ruling ZANU.
Civil war in the mid-1980s
Between 1982 and 1985 the Fifth Brigade brutally crushed any resistance in Matabeleland. Over 20,000 civilians died and were buried in mass graves, during which many atrocities were committed. The intensity of their actions during the mid-1980s is associated with a specific Zimbabwean word: Gukurahundi. This is most simply translated as "the rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains."
- http://www.zimbabwedefence.com/News_51_Gets_Comm.html, accessed March 2009
- Dugger, Celia W. (23 January 2011). "Art Exhibit Stirs Up the Ghosts of Zimbabwe’s Past". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
- History of Matabeleland including the actions of the Fifth Brigade there
- Some of the material here is drawn from a report compiled by the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJP) entitled "Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace. A report on the disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands 1980 – 1989".
- For a copy of "Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace. A report on the disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands 1980 – 1989" visit http://www.hrforumzim.com/members_reports/matrep/matrepsumm.htm
- Institute for Security Studies, Demobilisation and Reintegration