Robert Mugabe is sending his guerrillas back to Rhodesia as "proud, victorious and distinquished forces" ready to continue their African revolution through political means rather than through armed struggle.

Mugabe delivered that message to troops of his Zimbabwe African National Union at a secret guerrilla camp half an hour's drive from the Mozambican capital of Maputo on the eve of the cease-fire in Rhodesia last Friday.

As part of the transition, Mugabe's guerrillas have begun lifting the secrecy that has surrounded their operations. For the first time, they allowed outsiders to visit the camp this week.

I accompanied Mugabe to the camp, near the industrial town of Machava.

Soldiers who refer to themselves as members of the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army, not yet used to visitors to this previously top-secret facility, were a bit ill at ease. "It has a name, but we can't tell you what it is," said a guerrilla officer. "Call it Guerrilla Camp."

The camp is located in a semipopulated area and situated in such a way that one could easily walk by without noticing it. Even Mugabe's car missed the final turn down a narrow dirt road and had to turn back to find the entrance.

From the road, the camp looks like any of the dozens of nondescript single-story cement houses that sit at the edge of fields in the area.

Mugabe came here to meet with a group of 40 militants -- mostly young men and women in their early 20s to explain the Rhodesian agreement he had just signed in London.

Speaking in his Shona tribal language he took an hour to explain the current phase of "the struggle." His message was that the London agreement is far from perfect but gives an opportunity for "the revolution" to continue. He told the guerrillas that his organization will remain as revolutionary in electorial politics as it was in guerrilla warfare.

Throughout the speech, Mugabe referred frequently to "the struggle" and "the revolution," but not once did he mention Marxism or even socialism.

This camp is one of scores of similar facilities scattered throughout Mozambique. The Mozambicans refuse to term the guerrilla camps "bases," calling them instead "transit facilities."

There are only a handful of guerrillas permanently stationed at this camp. Their task is to maintain it and act as innkeepers for transient groups of guerrillas moving toward and across the Rhodesian border.

To protect against major losses during Rhodesian attacks in Mozambique, the guerrilla bonds reportedly never numbered more than about 40.

This camp, like the others, could be dismantled and moved in less than an hour.

There are, of course large facilities run by Mugabe's supporters in Mozambique but these are for refugees, noncombatant party cadres or children and families of guerrillas. The organization's military headquarters is near the Rhodesian border outside the town of Chimoio in Manica Province. In addition, there are six refugee camps housing over 100,000 people and rub by the Mozambican government with the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

It is in these camps that the organization has suffered heavy loses during Rhodesian raids over the past four years.

Basic training for guerrilla recruits was done in Nachingwea, in southern Tanzania, and Mozambique was used only as a funnel for personnel, supplies and orders.

Guerrillas interviewed all said that they were safer inside Rhodesia than they were on the Mozambique side of the border.No casualty figures have yet been released but they probably would show that during the war, Mugabe's organization lost more people in Mozambique than on Rhodesian soil.

Mugabe's guerrilla commanders say that engaging Rhodesian forces was only one aspect of their operations in Rhodesia. More important was the task of organizing and politicizing the rural population. Because of this aspect of their work inside Rhodesia, Mugabe's supporters say they now have no manpower problems as they prepare for the March elections.

Throughout the ranks, not the slightest flicker of doubt shows that Mugabe and his men can sweep the March elections if they are, indeed, "free and fair."

There are, of course, assessments of the situation inside Rhodesia that are contrary to the view held by guerrilla officials and cadres. But the guerrillas have lived and struggled in the Rhodesian countryside for the past half decade, using the rural population for sustance and cover, and therefore have their finger on the pulse of the Rhodesian countryside.