During the 1970s, there were outbreaks of fierce fighting between ZIPRA and ZANLA, both in training camps in Tanzania, and within Zimbabwean borders. These incidents were frequent, resulted in many casualties and left a legacy of distrust between the two guerrilla armies.

The training and mobilisation of ZIPRA and ZANLA also differed in some respects. While the two were united in wanting an independent Zimbabwe, ZIPRA was Russian-trained, and ZANLA was Chinese-trained. ZANLA had a policy of politically mobilising the masses by the use of the "pungwe", or night-time meetings, involving a combination of song, dance and politics. ZIPRA did not use pungwes. ZIPRA prided itself on superior military training, and by the end of the war, ZIPRA had operational tank and air units, in addition to ground forces, which ZANLA did not. ZIPRA also had a very well established intelligence network, unlike ZANLA. ZIPRA and ZANLA also traditionally recruited from different parts of the country, with ZANLA relying on the eastern half, and ZIPRA on the western parts, and also on black Rhodesians working in South Africa.

ZAPU and ZANU, and their military wings ZIPRA and ZANLA were not tribalist by policy, and both Shona-speakers and Ndebele-speakers could be found in both groups, but increasingly regional recruitment, together with mutual antagonism, led to a growing association between ZAPU and Ndebele-speakers.

The partial failure of this integration process is one important factor in the outbreak of disturbances in the 1980s. There were major outbreaks of violence between ZIPRA and ZANLA guerrillas awaiting integration into the National Army near Bulawayo. The first of these was in November 1980, followed by a more serious uprising in early 1981. This violence led to the defection of many hundreds of ex-ZIPRA members back to the bush, and the general atmosphere of instability and suspicion led to the concealing of arms on both sides. (Arms had also been concealed by both ZANLA and ZIPRA forces before they entered Assembly Points (APs) prior to Independence. They had done this as a safe-guard in case Independence failed, or one of the main external parties did not win the 1980 election.)

The antagonisms between the two guerrilla armies hardened into hostilities between their political parties, as ZANU-PF became convinced that ZAPU was supporting a new dissident war in order to improve its standing in the country. Before the operation commenced Mugabe said that "we have been treating them (ZAPU) with Kid gloves and now we are moving out to crush them and we will crush them

ZAPU, expressed its belief that ZANU-PF used the pretext of the disturbances as a long-awaited opportunity to crush ZAPU once and for all.