Following majority rule in early 1980, British Army trainers oversaw the integration of guerrilla fighters into a battalion structure overlaid on the existing Rhodesian armed forces. For the first year a system was followed where the top-performing candidate became battalion commander. If he or she was from ZANLA, then his or her second-in-command was the top-performing ZIPRA candidate, and vice versa. This ensured a balance between the two movements in the command structure. From early 1981 this system was abandoned in favour of political appointments, and ZANLA/ZANU fighters consequently quickly formed the majority of battalion commanders in the ZNA.
The ZNA was originally formed into four brigades, composed of a total of 29 battalions. The brigade support units were composed almost entirely of specialists of the former Rhodesian Army, while unintegrated battalions of the Rhodesian African Rifles were assigned to the 1st, 3rd and 4th Brigades. The notorious Fifth Brigade was formed in 1981 and went for retraining in 1984 after allegations of brutality and murder during the Brigade's occupation of Matabeleland. Contrary to popular belief, the Zimbabwe National Army still has a 5th Brigade.
The ZNA is under the command of Lieutenant General Philip Velario Sibanda, who took over from General Constantine Chiwenga following his elevation to the post of Commander Zimbabwe Defence Forces in December 2003.
The ZNA currently has an active duty strength of 30,000.
2 Brigade - Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba
3 Brigade - Brigadier General Davidson Manyika
4 Brigade - Brigadier General Francis Mutisi 5 Brigade - Brigadier General Charles Maredza
Mechanized Brigade - Brigadier General Daniel Sigauke
Artillery Brigade - Brigadier General Etherton Shungu
Parachute Regiment - Lieutenant Colonel Chosen Mpatiwa
Commando Regiment - Lieutenant Colonel Tamuka Shoko
Special Air Service - Lieutenant Colonel Panga Kufa
Presidential Guards - Brigadier Armstrong Gunda(passed away)
Mounted Infantry Regiment - Lieutenant Colonel Bothwell Brian Chigaba Corps of Engineers - Colonel Jardinious Garira
Corps of Intelligence - Colonel M. Mzilikazi
There is also an independent Armored Reconnaissance Squadron
Air Defense Artillery
Light Infantry Weapons
Raids On Gorongosa
Some Renamo elements had crossed from Mozambique into Zimbabwe several times, had robbed some shops along the border and had burned down a timber factory. After several meetings with Mozambican officials it was agreed that the ZDF could pursue into Mozambique any Renamo elements that might have committed atrocities in Zimbabwe. This was the basis on which the ZDF started planning follow up operations which took them deep into Mozambique and all the way to Gorongossa.
Operation Lemon. The first of these Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) follow up operations was launched from Katiyo and Aberdeen and it was code named Operation Lemon. The operation lasted from the 5-9 December 1984. It comprised elements of 3 Brigade, the Parachute Group, Special Air Service (SAS), and was supported by the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ). Bad weather conditions and the difficult mountainous terrain reduced the use of aircraft, and all the trooping had to be done by helicopters. The movement of troops on the ground was also difficult. Four contacts were made and two Renamo bases were destroyed. However, most Renamo elements in the bases managed to escape and only eight were captured.
The ZDF considered this operation as a major failure and the code word Lemon was corrupted to mean any failure in all subsequent operations. It was further established that there were no other permanent bases in the area, only some advance posts and temporary bases used by Renamo as launching pads for food raids into Zimbabwe. It was also revealed for the first time that the main Renamo bases were at Messinse, Chito, Nyazonia, Buetoni, Gorongossa, Central Base and Cassa Banana.
Operation Grape Fruit. The report for Operation Lemon was taken seriously by the commanders of the ZDF, and in July 1985 preparations for major offensive operations were started. Rehearsals for a FireForce operation were carried out at Inkomo Barracks near Harare. Three infantry brigades were mobilised together with the Parachute Group, One Commando Battalion and the AFZ. Men and equipment were moved to Chimoio in Mozambique, with a Forward Replenishment Point (FRP) being established at Grand Reef near Mutare.
Intelligence sources had indicated that Renamo's main regional base in Manica province was at Muxamba and that Cassa Banana was the national stronghold of Renamo. Both bases had to be attacked and Muxamba was targeted first, being only 70 kilometres south of Chimoio. The most important consideration however, was the hope that activities around Muxamba might divert Renamo's attention from monitoring too closely the movement of the heavily armed three Zimbabwean infantry battalions marching from Chimoio towards the Gorongosa Mountains.
Muxamba was believed to hold at least 400 Renamo elements commanded by Major General Mabachi. The attack on Muxamba was launched on the 20th of August 1985 by elements of 3 Brigade, supported by the Parachute Group and the AFZ. The operation went on for four days with minor problems for the ZDF. One helicopter was riddled with small arms fire but managed to get back to Chimoio.
Raid on Cassa Banana. Intelligence sources had indicated that Cassa Banana, Renamo's national headquarters had a strength of 400 elements. However, the organisation maintained a string of other smaller bases along the Gorongossa Mountains, which were considered as part of the main base. This raised the total estimated strength in the area to 1 000 elements. During the night of the 27th of August 1985, three Zimbabwe infantry battalions were established in their Form Up Points (FUP) with the help of the SAS and Commando elements. At Chimoio a FireForce was being given final briefing, and five AFZ planes were given orders for a first light take off for Gorongossa on the morning of the 28th of August.
Although the Renamo elements captured at Katiyo had given a grid reference for Cassa Banana, further intelligence had cast some doubt as to which of the several Renamo bases scattered on all sides of the Gorongossa Mountains was the actual headquarters of Renamo. It was because of this uncertainty that the FireForce was divided into three sections each with one helicopter gunship, two transport helicopters and two transport aircraft with paratroopers.
Each FireForce section was detailed to attack specific suspected Renamo positions around the Gorongossa Mountains. It was during this three pronged attack that one helicopter flew overhead Cassa Banana airstrip and the pilot noticed a green pickup truck disappearing into some bushes. It was then that the pilot recognised the place as that given at the briefing as Cassa Banana. The jets from Thornhill, which were already orbiting overhead a predetermined Initial Point (IP), were then talked on to the target, and the raid on Cassa Banana began.
The aircraft attacked the target, knocking out several Anti - Aircraft gun positions. Two helicopter gunships continued to hit suspected strategic positions and managed to flash out several pockets of resistance. A third helicopter was directing the dropping of the first wave of paratroopers. When the paratroopers had entered the base, the infantry battalions, which were close by, were ordered to move in and occupy strategic positions. The FireForce then moved on to deal with the several pockets of resistance from the smaller Renamo bases all along the Gorongosa Mountains. It took the whole day to silence all of these pockets of resistance. Operation Lifeline-Tete Corridor
This corridor is a tarred 263-kilometre road running from Nyamapanda on the Zimbabwean border through the Mozambican city of Tete to Zobue on the Malawi border. After UDI in 1965, this route carried Rhodesian goods to and from Malawi, which had not applied United Nations sanctions against the Smith regime. After the independence of Mozambique in 1974, the bulk of Malawi's trade with South Africa went through Rhodesia by road via Tete. It was only in 1984 that trade via this route declined because of Renamo attacks.
It was in the wake of these developments that in June 1984 the governments of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe formed a joint security committee 13 . The aim of the committee was to monitor operations on a day - to - day basis and to attempt to remove all security threats along the Tete Corridor. Zimbabwe's First Mechanised Battalion was ordered to move into Mozambique and they established their headquarters in Tete thereby securing the strategic bridge crossing the Zambezi River. In 1985, President Samora Machel of Mozambique formally requested the governments of Tanzania and Zimbabwe to contribute troops for "the restoration of law and order" in Mozambique. Following this request, Tanzanian troops were deployed into Mozambique in the provinces north of the Zambezi River while Zimbabwe undertook to help restore law and order in the provinces south of the Zambezi River.
The decision to send Zimbabwean troops to help restore law and order in Mozambique was partly influenced by Zimbabwe's close relationship with the Mozambican government which dates back to Frelimo's assistance during Zimbabwe's war of liberation. There was also the underlying fact that Frelimo and ZANU shared a common Marxist ideology of scientific socialism. The South Africa-backed Renamo professed to be an anti - communist movement, just like Jonas Savimbi's Unita movement, which was fighting against the Marxist MPLA government of Angola. There was thus an ideological alliance of the Maputo - Harare - Luanda axis, with support for these governments from the Soviet Union. The fact that the United States of America was providing covert and overt support to opposition movements such as Unita in Angola and Renamo in Mozambique reflected the extension of the Cold War to Southern Africa. It was Zimbabwe's involvement in this complicated situation that deteriorated into what some critics have called "Zimbabwe's Vietnam"
There is no official Zimbabwean record of the number of casualties on the first raid on Cassa Banana. However, considering the amount of effort, the numbers of troops involved on both sides, and the time it took to capture the base, there must have been a lot of deaths and injuries on both sides.