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Early Factionalism in Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle  

Brooks Marmon

The course of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle was fundamentally shaped by tensions among competing nationalist factions. The impact of this dynamic is typically observed from 1963, when Zimbabwe’s long-serving ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)-Patriotic Front, was founded following a fissure in the liberation movement. Earlier instances of intranationalist competition in Southern Rhodesia (colonial Zimbabwe) have generally escaped scholarly attention despite their pioneering contributions to the dynamics of political pluralism in Zimbabwe and the presence of noted political figures amidst their leadership. In 1961, the Zimbabwean nationalist movement experienced its first significant split with the formation of the Zimbabwe National Party (ZNP) which broke away from the National Democratic Party. The ZNP, in turn, experienced its own rupture a year later when the Pan-African Socialist Union (PASU) was formed. Although these were the two only two nationalist challengers of note in the early 1960s prior to ZANU, several other short-lived Black-led political parties emerged at this time in settler-dominated Southern Rhodesia. The ZNP and PASU appealed to rising grievances with the prosecution of the anticolonial liberation struggle. They were also a consequence of the changing geopolitics wrought by Africa’s decolonization. The two parties sought to consolidate their position by appealing to the emerging cohort of African anticolonial leaders across the continent. These efforts induced extensive backlash from the main wing of the nationalist movement, then led by Joshua Nkomo. Both the ZNP and PASU were short-lived, effectively collapsing by 1963. While neither party was able to effectively overcome these intense assaults, their comparatively fleeting existence shaped the political environment by influencing tactics and providing a template for subsequent nationalist contenders seeking greater longevity.