Vol. 55 No. 4 (2007)
Research Article

Ethnic Slurs as War Names in the Zimbabwean Liberation War

Published 2007-12-01



The Zimbabwean war of liberation raged from 1966 until 1979. During that time many combatants assumed (or were given) noms de guerre. From a collection of more than 4800 of these war names we found that ethnic slurs comprised 9% of the total. One name in particular, Mabhunu, an adaptation of Boer, was especially common among ethnic slurs. The war names were seen to be important by the participants; they created images to be projected to the world at large or reflections constructed by outsiders.


  1. Allen, I. L. 1983. The Language of Ethnic Conflict. New York. Columbia Univ. P.
  2. Allen, I. L. 1990. Unkind Words: Ethnic labeling from Redskin to WASP. New York: Bergin and Garvey.
  3. Bhebe, N. 1999. The Zapu and Zanu Guerrilla Warfare and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Gweru: Mambo P.
  4. Branford, J., and W. Branford. 1991. A Dictionary Of South African English. Cape Town: Oxford Univ. P.
  5. Bright, W. 2000. “The Sociolinguistics of the ‘S-Word:’ Squaw in American Place Names.” Names 48: 207–16.
  6. Carter, P. 1987. The Road to Botany Bay. London: Faber and Faber.
  7. Chinodya, S. 1989. Harvest of Thorns. Harare: Baobab.
  8. Danner, H. G., and R. Noël. 1992. A Thesarus of Word Roots of the English Language. London: Univ. P. of America.
  9. de Klerk, V. 1998. “Nicknaming Across Cultures: Borrowing and Other Linguistic Tricks.” Nomina Africana 12: 1–18.
  10. de Klerk, V. 2002. “Xhosa Nicknames for Whites: A Double-Edged Sword.” Nomina Africana 16: 146–63.
  11. de Klerk, V., and B. Bosch. 1995. “Naming in Two Cultures: English and Xhosa Practices.” Nomina Africana 9: 68–87.
  12. Diament, H. 1986. “Dangerous Christenings: The Case of Code Names of French Secret Agents in the Second World War.” Names 34:34–47.
  13. Dundes, A. 1983. “Defining Identity through Folklore.” In A. Jacobson-Widding, ed., Identity: Personal and Socio-Cultural. Uppsala: Almquist and Wissel.
  14. Edwards, J. 1985. Language and Identity. London: Basil Blackwell.
  15. Ellert, H. 1989. The Rhodesian Front War, Counter-Insurgency Guerrilla War: 1962–1980. Gweru: Mambo P.
  16. Godwin, P., and I. Hancock. 1995. Rhodesians Nevèr Die. Harare: Baobab.
  17. Gilmore, D. H. 1982. “Some Notes on Community Nicknaming.” Man 17: 686–700.
  18. Gumbo, M. 1996. Guerrilla Snuff. Harare: Baobab.
  19. Haron, M. 1999. “Naming Peoples: The formation of the South African Muslim Identity Nomina Africana 13: 19–31.
  20. Herbert, R. K. 1999. “Personal Names as Social Protest: The Status of African Political Names.” Names 41: 109–24.
  21. Holland. T. J., Jr. 1990. “The Many Faces of Nicknames.” Names 38: 255–73.
  22. Joseph, J. 2004. Language and Identity. London: Macmillan.
  23. Kimenyi, A. 1989. Kinyarwanda and Kirundi Names. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen P.
  24. Koopman, A. 2002. Zulu Names. Scottsville: Univ. of Natal P.
  25. Lan, D. 1985. Guns and Rain. London: James Currey.
  26. Mawadza, A. 2000. “Harare Shona Slang: a Linguistic Study.” Zambezia XXVII: 93–101.
  27. Moorcraft, P. L., and P. McLaughlin. 1982. Chimuremga—The war in Rhodesia 1965–1980. Marshaltown: Sigma/Collins.
  28. Nhongo-Simbanengavi, J. 2000. For Better or for Worse: Women and ZANLA in Zimbabwe ‘s Liberation Struggle. Harare: Weaver.
  29. Pfukwa, C. 2003. “Onomastic Innovation in Zimbabwean noms de guerreLanguage Matters 34: 13–25.
  30. Pongweni, A. J. C. 1983. What’s in a Namel A Study of Shona Nomenclature. Gweru: Mambo P.
  31. Prabhakaran, V. 1998a. “Exploring Hindu Telegu Surnames.” Nomina Africana 12: 49–68.
  32. Prabhakaran, V. 1998b. “An Introduction to Indian Hindu Surnames.” Nomina Africana 12: 33–49.
  33. Samupindi, C. 1989. Pawns. Harare: Baobab.
  34. Squire, C. J. 1996. “Returning to Paradise through Naming: The Incantation of Names in B. Breyten Breytenbach’s Return to Paradise.” Nomina Africana 10: 79–97.
  35. Tungamirai, J. 1995. “Recruitment to ZANLA: Building up a War Machine.” In Bhebhe, N., and T. Ranger, eds, Soldiers in Zimbabwe’s Liberation War. Harare: UZ Publications.
  36. Turner, N. S. 1997. “Onomastic Caricatures: Names Given to Employers and Co-workers by Black Employees.” Nomina Africana 11: 50–66.