The party was formed on 17 December 1961, 10 days after the Rhodesian government banned the National Democratic Party (NDP). Founded by Joshua Nkomo as president, Parirenyatwa as vice-president, Ndabaningi Sithole as chairman, Jason Moyo, Robert Mugabe as information and publicity secretary, Leopold Takawira as external secretary, at the request of Joseph Msika, ZAPU was banned in 1962 by the Rhodesian white minority government, and was later engaged in a guerrilla war against it. The armed wing of ZAPU, known as Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), was commanded by General Lookout Masuku.
ZAPU was aligned with the Soviet Union whose ideology was to mobilise the urban workers, whereas ZANU had a pro-People's Republic of China orientation which was to mobilise the rural peasantry.
The Unity Accord signed at that meeting stated:
Under the influence of Benny Ncube and Dumiso Dabengwa in mid-October 2008, in the midst of the ongoing negotiations with rival parties, a group of former PF ZAPU and Zipra members became outspoken in the desire to dissolve the alliance with ZANU - PF. According to the website, the members convened a meeting in on 8 November 2008 and it was decided:
- That the political structure of ZAPU cease to operate under the title ZANU - PF and to resume the title ZAPU.
- That all party structures operate under the authority of the Constitution of ZAPU.
- That the District Councils should meet to prepare for and convene a Consultative Conference consisting of the ten Provinces by December 2008, for the purpose of electing an Interim Executive charged with the responsibility to mobilise and restructure the party and convene the party Congress by March 2009, in terms of Article 6 of the constitution of ZAPU.
- That a campaign to mobilise resources in the country, from well-wishers everywhere, from fraternal political parties and International Organisations be undertaken forthwith.
- To engage as necessary in the negotiations and peace building initiatives to emeliorate the political and economic hardships presently being endured by the people of Zimbabwe.
- To convene a consultative Conference consisting of all the ten political Provinces by December 2008 for the purpose of electing an Interim Executive, charged to mobilise and restructure the party and convene the Party's Congress by March 2009, in terms of Article 6 of the Constitution of ZAPU.
- THIS IS DONE AND AGREED TO by us the delegates to the Consultative Meeting at Stanley Square, Bulawayo on 8 November 2008.
This resulted in a party-internal controversy which culminated in an official severing of ties with ZANU-PF in December 2008.
2016 WITHDRAWAL FROM ZNLWVA
Ex-ZIPRA cadres officially withdrew their membership from the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association which is under the administration of ZANU PF.They moved on to revive ZIPRA with the interim executive of the association being led by Benny Ncube as chairperson,Tapson Moyo as vice chairperson,Petros Sibanda as secretary, Job Ndlovu as deputy secretary,Belinda Ndebele as treasurer and committee members are Stanley Ncube and Clement Malaba Ncube.The committee's mandate is to set up the association's structures in provinces and districts in preparation for the inaugural congress where substantive executive will be elected.The association will function in close association with the mother party ZAPU.
At the party conference, the ZAPU National Consultative Convention, held from the 13th to the 14 December 2008, Dumiso Dabengwa, a former Home Affairs minister was elected interim chairperson with the mandate to convene a two-day congress starting the 11 April 2009. The congress would formally endorse the pullout from ZANU and elect an executive for the party. The convention took place at MacDonald's Hall in Mzilikazi suburb in Bulawayo.
The party congress of 2009 which was supposed to elect new leadership took place a month later that scheduled, on the 16 May 2009. The congress formally endorsed the party's withdrawal from ZANU PF. The party announced that it had officially cut ties with ZANU PF and had withdrawn support for its former members who had chosen to remain in ZANU. The congress was attended by delegates from the country's 10 provinces as well as representatives from Canada, South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland.
A full Congress was held at the Bulawayo Trade Fair in August 2010 at which a full policy was agreed and a substantive leadership elected with Dumiso Dabengwa as President and Emilia Mukaratirwa as Vice-President.