12 White Teachers and Children Killed by Guerrillas in Rhodesia (June 7, 1978)

Wherever you fall on the terrorist/freedom fighter scale you have to admit that the brutal 1978 killing of UK missionaries in Rhodesia is terrorism.

Sometimes the ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ is a tough decision; at others it is quite straightforward.

BULAWAYO, RHODESIA – You have seen me talk on occasion about David Rapoport, the US academic best known for his truly groundbreaking ‘wave theory’ of terrorism. In a nutshell, after looking at terrorist movements across the decades he classified them into four broad categories associated with what he called ‘waves’: anarchist, anti-colonial, new left/socialist and religious (the current one).

While David’s work stands the test of time I think it should not be interpreted as suggesting that his waves are self-contained entities in the sense that groups which are defined by the general motivation of the wave cannot also appear in subsequent ones. There are even cases of organisations which started in one era but which bucked the trend and are still with us decades later. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) and its derivatives, which was formed in the second wave towards the end of WWI, is active even today.

Another anti-colonial group which appears to have outlived its assigned historical period is the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), active in, wait for it… Rhodesia. It was the armed wing of a Marxist party which sought to overthrow the government. Rhodesia was the successor to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia and was not recognised by anyone: it achieved independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.

Like many of the former European colonies in Africa, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was beset by militias, armies, ragtag extremists trying to oust the overlords. Here is where it gets murky in trying to decide if they were truly freedom fighters (seeking to resolve a grievance) or terrorists (through the eyes of the existing government). As with most things in life it got complicated.

But on this day in 1978, ZIPRA carried out what can only be labeled a terrorist attack. Two UK teachers associated with a Salvation Army Usher Institute mission near Bulawayo were gunned down and two others wounded. While Rhodesian police did not arrive until four hours later they concluded that ZIPRA was behind the attack. Twelve more people, including teachers at a mission school and their young children, were killed two and a half weeks later.

Zimbabwe got its independence… and Robert Mugabe. The autocrat ran the show for 37 years, until 2017. Many blame colonial powers for their rule in parts of Africa, but the locals have to shoulder their share of the blame for poor governance and atrocities.

Even if the second wave ZIPRA was active in the third wave David Rapoport’s wave theory still reigns.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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