African Soldiers in the USSR: Oral Histories of ZAPU Intelligence Cadres' Soviet Training, 1964-1979
A growing literature has shed new light on interactions between the Soviet Union and Africa, notably through studies of the large numbers of African students who arrived in Moscow from 1960. Scholars have, however, largely ignored the many thousands of African military trainees who arrived in the same period. Here we begin to explore soldiers' experiences through a focus on intelligence cadres of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU). We ask how their Soviet sojourns shaped their lives and ZAPU's struggle, and consider the strengths and limits of oral histories in going beyond questions of strategy and Cold War binaries. ZAPU trainees depicted themselves as men of education and political sophistication, who were able to shape the content of their training and make efficacious use of it. Their most abiding political lessons came from the understanding they gained of Soviet history - particularly the sacrifices of the 'Great Patriotic War' - and their experiences of 'living socialism'. What these cadres depicted as Soviet egalitarianism, anti-racism, and state provision for basic needs held a powerful appeal due to the dramatic contrast to settler-ruled Rhodesia. Soviet support certainly influenced ZAPU, but these accounts indicate that it did so in negotiated, pragmatic and, at times, surprising ways, which were shaped by interactions with many other foreign hosts, the influence of a specifically Rhodesian history of discrimination and oppression, and ZAPU's own assessment of its military needs.