Poison in Rhodesia

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Poison in Rhodesia

Type: Master thesis
Title: Poison in Rhodesia
Author: Wittenberg, Colm
Issue Date: 2019-01-31
Abstract: In the final stages of the Rhodesian Bush War (1975-1980), the white minority government and its Security Forces found themselves on the losing side. In an attempt to combat the flood of guerrillas entering the country, the Rhodesians turned to chemical and biological weapons (CBWs). From 1976 onwards a secret program within the Rhodesian army created, experimented with, and deployed poisons. Water sources were contaminated and doctored clothes and food were entered in the guerrillas’ supply lines. Expanding on existing knowledge about both the war and the CBW program, this thesis takes a closer look at the role poisons played in this conflict. The main purpose of these weapons was to kill guerrillas, for which they were very effective; sometimes even more effective than the standard anti-insurgency strategies the Rhodesians used. The use of poisons also changed the relationship between guerrillas and civilians. The Rhodesians often used civilians to provide the guerrillas with the poisoned goods. When these men or women were discovered, the guerrillas would retaliate. In the early stages of the program this drove a wedge between civilians and guerrillas. According to some scholars this was a serendipitous effect, according to others it was a calculated move in the battle for the hearts and minds of the rural African population. This thesis argues that the Rhodesian’s use of CBWs has helped the guerrillas in gaining legitimacy. Because of the strong connection between poison and witchcraft, the guerrillas were not merely targeted by chemical substances, they were targeted by witches. Because of that, the guerrillas could assume the role of witch-hunter in the eyes of the rural black population. Hunting witches was normally done by Mhondoro, ancestral spirits who control and watch over a piece of land. With the help of spirit mediums and by hunting witches, the guerrillas became living manifestations of Mhondoro spirits, gaining legitimacy over the land in the process. Conquering strangers became familiar liberators.
Supervisor: Gewald, J.B.
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities
Department: African Studies (Master)
Specialisation: Intelligence
ECTS Credits: 25
Handle: http://hdl.handle.net/1887/68698

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