They go by such names as "Comrade Max," "Mick Jagger," and Dagger Viva" and lead irregular forces officially known as army "auxiliaries" but more commonly referred to by black and white Rhodesians alike as "private armies."
They wear a motley array of clothes-blue denims, army or guerrilla uniforms, bush hats, sneakers or safari boots-and carry Soviet and Chinese-made automatic rifles.
Their supporters regard them as one of the most positive achievements of the year-old multiracial transitional government, while their detractors say they are sowing death and destruction, corrupting the morals of the youth and imposing a reign of terror in the countryside.
These are Rhodesia's "turn-terrs" - or "terrorists," who are supposed to have come over to the side of the provisional government since March 1978. That was when the "internal" settlement agreement was reached between Prime Minister Ian Smith and three black moderate leaders, who joined his government.
No subject outside the war itself is more hotly discussed among black Africans here than the role and behavior of these ill-trained and poorly paid youth who owe their primary allegiance to either Bishop Abel Muzorewa or the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole, black members of the government's Executive Council.
At first they numbered only a handful and then a few hundred as the government worked hard to coax and persuade guerrillas of the Patriotic Front opposed to the internal settlement to come over to its side.
Today, they number between 7,500 and 9,000 and are increasing, according to unofficial estimates.
The number of real "turn-terrs" is actually only a small proportion of this total. The government keeps the figure a secret but they probably number far less than a thousand.
Such a one is Comrade Max, whom the government prefers to call now by the less communist title of "commander." Max, 26, who received some training in Cuba, was a local leader in Robert Mugabe's wing of the Patriotic Front before he came over a few months after the internal settlement was signed.
He operated for a time as commander of 400 auxiliaries in Msana tribal trust land, a black reserve just northwest of the Capital and became known abroad after he met with Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), who visited Rhodesia last December.
Several hundreds others among the auxiliaries were guerrillas being trained either in Libya or Uganda who returned to serve the Rhodesian transitional government without ever having fought for the Patriotic Front.
The vast majority have been recruited by Muzorewa's United African National Union since the March 1978 agreement and are unemployed youth from the cities and rural trust lands. They are given three weeks of training and about $38 a month to live on.
The two parties have both used the auxilliaries as their "private armies" to press black Africans, often by force, into their ranks or to attend their rallies. At the same time the government has tried to use them in its uphill battle against Patriotic Front guerrillas.
The parties now call them "spear of the nation." Sithole and Muzorewa both complained recently that they are being used by the other for political purposes in the election campaign.
Last week, Sithole's faction warned it would take action against Muzorewahs auxiliaries if Muzorewa continued to use them to campaign for votes. Sithole's faction claimed that 200 of Muzorewahs auxiliaries arrived in army trucks in the eastern towns of Rusape and Umtali April 4 and immediately went to work campaigning for Muzorewa.
"If armed soldiers are deployed to campaign for a particular party and against all other parties in the general election, that in itself is intimidation of voters and contravention of the electoral law of the land," said a Sithole spokesman. "No one in the whole wide world could pretend that such an election was free and fair."
Muzorewa dismissed the charge, saying Sitholehs faction was only describing how it was using its own forces against his party. But he also defended the auxiliaries, saying the results of their counterinsurgency had been "tremendous" and that they had done many "positive things."
Just how successful they have been as a military force is much disputed.
In an effort to combat their reputation for thuggery and banditry, the government recently took foreign correspondents to several areas where the auxiliaries were credited with having cleared out guerrillas, allowing schools and clinics to reopen.
One of the areas was in Urungwe tribal trust land, where guerrillas brought down an Air Rhodesia Viscount last September. Forty-eighty persons were killed. 10 of them survivors of the crash later shot on the ground.
But government efforts to deploy the auxiliaries along the eastern and western borders to stop guerrilla infiltration from Mozambique and Zambia and also around the capital to protect it have not been notably successful. Nor have they had much impact in southwestern Rhodesia among the Ndebele people.
Meanwhile, there are many tales about their misdeeds and many auxiliaries have come before courts for prosecution.
"The behavior of these groups is often without discipline, brutal and inhuman," says the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. "Many hundreds of young girls are forced to live with them, and local people are forced to supply food in many cases even though the government should supply rations."
The government has recently been trying to crack down on the auxiliaries and impose more control and discipline, reportedly with some success. It has been moving auxiliaries where they are among their own people and therefore less likely to mistreat them.
There is mounting concern among black and white Rhodesians about the auxiliaries' intimidating votoers during the April 17-21 elections and special concern about the reaction of those belonging to the losing party. CAPTION: Map, no caption, By Dave Cook - The Washington Post