The Rhodesian government feared the Zipra forces led by former VP Joshua Nkomo during the liberation struggle because of their "greatness" and "legendary capacity" to wage war, Umkhonto We Sizwe Military Veterans Association has said.
MK veterans said this in a message presented during the Inaugural Memorial Lecture for the late Nkomo at Wits University in Johannesburg at the weekend. Nkomo, who would have been 100 this year, died in 1999 after a long illness.
The message from the veterans of the South African liberation struggle hailed the "close ties between Zipra and ANC and MK".
"Umkhonto we Sizwe fought together with Zipra against the Rhodesian Defence Force of Ian Smith, in as much as Zipra was supporting MK..," said the message.
It added, "MK and Zipra liberation fighters trained and fought together, and our MK soldiers learnt much from the great Zapu army with its legendary capacity to conduct both guerrilla and conventional warfare.
"We shared in the pride of Zipra having been built up as a modern military force with Kikoyan fighters, tanks and armoured personnel carriers, as well as trained artillery units.
"The racist forces of Ian Smith's government feared the military operations of Zipra which significantly weakened the Rhodesian government. Nkomo proved himself a great political and military tactician."
Presenting at the same event, veteran journalist and historian, Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu, said towards the end of the liberation war, Zipra had become the "best liberation army in Southern Africa".
In his address, Dabengwa, the current leader of revived Zapu, revealed how one day in 1979, Smith called Nkomo to his meeting with the Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and a Nigerian general in Lusaka and told him that he wanted to hand over power to him.
According to Dabengwa, Nkomo rejected Smith's proposal saying he had better consult the Zapu War Council and Robert Mugabe in Mozambique first. When Nkomo reported Smith's idea to his colleagues, Dabengwa said, the Zapu War Council told their boss point blank that he had blundered in a big way.
"We told him: Ayi, lapha mdala uyilahlile!" said Dabengwa. He added, "With us in power and already in the country, we would have spoken to our Zanla colleagues to join us in government but if they would have resisted sayibatshela ukuthi hlalani phansi lapha!"