Operation Glossary - a guide to Zimbabwe's internal campaigns

The Lancaster House Agreement in December 1979 paved the way for Zimbabwe's independence in April 1980. President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government has been at the helm since the former British colony gained independence, and has increasingly used military-style campaigns to impose measures ranging from acts of alleged genocide to attempts to rein in hyperinflation. IRIN has compiled a list of some of these operations.

Operation Mavhoterapapi (Who did you vote for)

Operation Mavhoterapapi was launched after the local government, parliamentary and presidential elections on 29 March 2008, in which the ruling ZANU-PF government lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1980. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have claimed that their leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the presidential ballot by the required 50 percent plus one vote, negating the need for a second round of voting. The results of the presidential ballot have not yet been released. ZANU-PF have maintained that no presidential candidate obtained the necessary majority, and that a second round of voting would be required. Since the poll, the MDC have alleged that at least 20 people have been killed in post-election violence, orchestrated by the police, soldiers and so-called war veterans, as part of Operation Mavhoterapapi. There have also been widespread reports of torture, the razing of houses and killing of livestock, perpetrated against people in rural areas suspected of voting for the opposition in the recent elections. The MDC have also claimed that Operation Mavhoterapapi was part of a strategy to intimidate people into voting for Mugabe in a possible second round of presidential voting.

Operation Reduce Prices


Photo: Antony Kaminju/IRIN
Empty shelves at a Harare supermarket after the government launched "Operation Reduce Prices"

In July 2007, in an attempt to control rocketing food and other commodity prices as a result of Zimbabwe's hyperinflation - then running at about 4,000 percent annually - the government compelled businesses and manufacturers to slash the prices of their goods by 50 percent. Teams of inspectors were sent to retail shops and other businesses, and owners and employees who did not comply were either imprisoned or given hefty fines. The price controls saw the shop shelves empty within days, but businesses could not afford to restock and widespread shortages followed. Goods were sold on the informal, or black market, at prices far exceeding what they had cost before Operation Reduce Prices. Shortages of food, fuel and other commodities are commonplace in Zimbabwe.

Operation Chikorokoza Chapera/Isitsheketsha Sesiphelile (No Illegal Panning)

More than 25,000 gold-panners were reportedly arrested in this operation in November 2006, in a bid to curtail artisanal mining. The economic meltdown, which brought an unemployment rate of 80 percent, encouraged informal mining as one of the few sources of income available to poverty-stricken Zimbabweans. After Operation Murambatsvina (see below) deprived small traders of their stalls and goods, and Operation Sunrise (see below) destroyed savings, many people were left with little option but to pan for gold in the mineral-rich country. Police also mounted roadblocks on the three main highways leading to neighbouring Zambia, South Africa and Botswana to recover any gold being transported. Human rights activists claimed people were made to "queue like goats and cows" as they awaited "inhuman searches".

Operation Sunrise

Operation Sunrise was launched in August 2006 in a bid to curb Zimbabwe's hyperinflation. The rationale behind the operation was to reduce inflation by lopping off three zeros from the currency, so one million Zimbabwe dollars became a thousand, and a thousand Zimbabwe dollars became one Zimbabwe dollar. The new currency was in the form of bearer bonds with expiry dates printed on them. The operation forced people to surrender their old notes to Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank within three weeks. Poor communication meant people in the rural areas were unaware of the plan, while urban dwellers battled long queues. It was illegal to carry more than Z$100 million in old dollars and roadblocks manned by ZANU-PF's youth militia, also known as "Green Bombers", searched "unpatriotic" Zimbabweans, many of whom were carrying their old dollars to exchange at the bank, and confiscated any excess money. As an attempt to curb inflation, Operation Sunrise was a failure: Zimbabwe's inflation rate has reached 165,000 percent annually and is still rising.

Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle (For a better life)

Five weeks after Operation Murambatsvina, the government launched Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle, said to be a programme to build houses for the victims of their "slum clearance" operation. Amnesty International, the global human rights advocacy organisation, said the operation was not a solution to the government-inspired destruction of houses, as it did not assist the victims of Operation Murambatsvina. The few houses that were built were reportedly given to civil servants, police and soldiers. Amnesty said Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle was a wholly inadequate response to the abuses committed against the victims of Operation Murambatsvina. There have been no other significant government programmes to assist the hundreds of thousands of victims of Murambatsvina.

Operation Murambatsvina (Drive out the Filth)


Photo: UNICEF/Zimbabwe/2005
Sirinko, one of more than 150,000 children made homeless by Operation Murambatsvina

In the winter of 2005, the ZANU-PF government launched Operation Murambatsvina, also known as Operation Restore Order. It was officially described as a slum clearance programme that was also intended to flush out criminals. More than 700,000 people were left homeless after houses and shacks were bulldozed, while informal traders' stalls were demolished and their goods confiscated, leaving them without a livelihood. United Nations Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka visited Zimbabwe in the wake of Murambatsvina said the operation had breached both national and international human rights law. General Constantine Chiwenga, chief of Zimbabwe's defence forces, and Augustine Chihuri, chief of police, were directly involved in the planning and execution of the operation. Chihuri reportedly said the operation was to "clean the country of the crawling mass of maggots bent on destroying the economy". International legal experts view Operation Murambatsvina as a gross violation of human rights and, should Zimbabwe become a signatory to the Rome Treaty, suggest the perpetrators could be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Operation Maguta/Inala (People have had their fill)

In an attempt to increase food production, the government deployed soldiers to farms in 2005 to oversee the production of maize, in an exercise called Operation Maguta. Food production was severely reduced after the government's fast-track land reform programme began in 2000. Defence force members were deployed to former commercial farms identified as under-utilising agricultural land to oversee maize production. New farmers were instructed to plant maize and wheat at the expense of other crops. The government has declared the operation a success every year since it was launched, but production figures have never been published. In 2007 the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said Zimbabwe had a grain deficit of about 891,000 tonnes - production being almost 50 percent below the 2006 harvest - on account of adverse weather, severe economic constraints that led to shortages of key inputs, deteriorating infrastructure, especially irrigation and, most importantly, financially unviable government-controlled prices. In the past year one-third of the population, or about four million people, have received food aid.

Third Chimurenga (Struggle)


Photo: IRIN
White-owned commercial farms were redistributed to landless blacks

The Third Chimurenga, otherwise known as the Fast Track Land Reform Programme, was launched in 2000 and resulted in most of Zimbabwe's 4,500 white-owned commercial farms being redistributed to landless blacks. Led by veterans of Zimbabwe's Independence War - the Second Chimurenga (1966-1980) - the chaotic land redistribution exercise has been cited as the beginning of Zimbabwe's eight-year recession. New farmers were handicapped in their endeavours by the inability of the government to supply agricultural inputs, such as seed and fertilisers, while there have been reports that many farms were handed out to a politically well-connected elite. Zimbabwe's armed forces chief, General Constantine Chiwenga, is alleged to have received 17 farms since 2000. Chimurenga, the Shona word for "struggle", was the name given to the indigenous resistance mounted against British settlers between 1896-1897 after their land was seized by colonists.

Operation Gukurahundi (The rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rain)

In 1983, the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade, under the command of Lt Col Perence Shire, once known as the "Black Jesus", but currently the commander of Zimbabwe's air force, was the vanguard unit in a campaign against alleged dissidents that has also become known as the Matabeleland Massacres. At least 20,000 people were killed in the operation. The target of Gukurahundi was members of the rival liberation movement, ZAPU, led by Joshua Nkomo and drawn mainly from Zimbabwe's Ndebele people in the southwest of the country. There were numerous accounts of children murdered, women raped and killed, and homesteads razed. Regarding the deaths of civilians, Mugabe reportedly said in April 1983: "We eradicate them. We don't differentiate when we fight because we can't tell who is a dissident and who is not." Unlike other army units, the 5th Brigade, comprised of Shona-speaking people, reported directly to Mugabe.

On 22 December 1987 Nkomo signed a Unity Accord, merging ZAPU with ZANU-PF. Mugabe signed a host of amnesty bills pardoning all dissidents and army units, including the 5th Brigade, in 1988. During Gukurahundi, two security ministers presided over operations: Emerson Mnangagwa, known by his supporters as Ngwena (The Crocodile), is currently the rural housing minister; he was succeeded by Sydney Sekeremayi, who currently holds the minister of defence portfolio. Retired Lt Col Lionel Dyke, commander of the parachute battalion during Gukurahundi and formerly commander of the Rhodesian African Rifles, which fought against Zimbabwe's liberation movements, is alleged to have participated in several acts of torture. He now is reportedly involved in demining and security operations in such places as Lebanon and Iraq. A human rights pressure group based in The Hague, Crimes Against Humanity Zimbabwe, is campaigning for Gukurahundi to be recognised as genocide. 

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