WORLD

Ambitions occasion

Zimbabwe's Mugabe strengthens his hold

Robert Marshall April 20 1981
WORLD

Ambitions occasion

Zimbabwe's Mugabe strengthens his hold

Robert Marshall April 20 1981

Ambitions occasion

WORLD

Zimbabwe's Mugabe strengthens his hold

Robert Marshall

The radio sitting by itself in a Salisbury street was a temptation that Juliet Chivari could not resist. She went to pick it up. But, when she switched it on, it exploded with terrible force. Juliet was blown to pieces, her sister and two men standing nearby were seriously injured.

As much as any incident in recent months—white farmers murdered, exguerrilla forces in open warfare, armed gangs prowling the countryside—that booby-trap explosion last week showed that Zimbabwe will take some time yet to get over the divisive and brutalizing effects of its seven-year war of liberation. That the tragedy happened during the run-up to Easter weekend celebrations of Zimbabwe’s first anniversary of independence was particularly disappointing since the country, with its many signs of peace and stability, has much to celebrate.

Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, the left-leaning ex-guerrilla chief whose success at the polls a year ago unnerved many Western governments, has proved an effective pragmatic leader. Only last month a donors’ conference organized by his government in response to disappointing support from the international community drew delegations from more than 30 countries and two dozen international agencies to Salisbury. Like guilt-ridden sinners rediscovering their souls at a revival meeting they flocked forward with their pledges: Kuwait with $61 million, Britain with a new $60-million plan, the United States with an additional $265 million and Canada with $60 million. Only the SovietUnion and some Eastern Bloc countries were notable noncontributors as Zimbabwe met its aim of $2.5 billion in grants and soft loans.

It was a massive vote of confidence, just what Mugabe’s young government needed to get going on a 10-year $7-billion program of reconstruction. It was also, it seems, just what Mugabe needed to encourage his own political ambitions. In the days that followed, there were stray hints that opposition parties might be a luxury Zimbabwe could not afford. It would be a serious mistake to believe that democracy must necessarily be a form of a multiparty system, Health Minister Herbert Ushewokunze argued before a Commonwealth parliamentary seminar in Salisbury last week. A single party could represent the general will. Mugabe himself maintained that the politics of negativism, as encouraged in a multiparty democracy, “has no place in a young country such as ours.”

Were they preparing the nation for an announcement? They wouldn’t say, but while insisting that his government was committed to upholding the constitution, Mugabe also observed that its imperfections would be dealt with in time. The Salisbury Herald—the nation’s biggest daily, which was taken over by the government earlier this year—joined the chorus, waxing editorially about the ability of a one-party system to get things done. No longer would MPs stand up in the house to score debating points, quoting Shakespeare or Marx, it enthused.

Whatever Mugabe’s intent, the past month has seen a remarkable rise in the fortunes of his ZANU-PF party.* First his sometime political opponent, the former rival guerrilla leader Joshua Nkomo, gave an interview in which he foresaw a possible merger between his Patriotic Front and Mugabe’s. Then a stalwart from pre-independence days joined ZANU-PF. After 20 years in opposition, declared Dr. Masipula Sithole as he abandoned the party led by his brother Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole, he could not spend the rest of his political life “opposing what I agree with”: Mugabe’s determination to heal the wounds of war, keep the now-rallying economy growing, redress the imbalanees created under white rule and sever the close trading ties developed with South Africa during the 1970s. After a relatively good economic year, Zimbabwe has just recorded a remarkable eight-per-cent over-all growth rate in the face of global inflation, produced its best ever crop of its staple, corn, and made an encouraging start at redeveloping its vast tobacco industry.

With hundreds of thousands of people displaced during the war and half the arable land still in the hands of 5,300 white farmers (out of a population of 7.5 million), the country faces an overwhelming task in rehousing and land redistribution. Nevertheless, the government is optimistic that Zimbabwe’s excellent agricultural potential will soon make it the larder of Central Africa. Hopes are high, too, for the return of the tourists scared away by the years of war. ZIMBABWE: WAITING TO BE DISCOVERED, say the new ads in periodicals across Europe and North America, and hotel operators wish the government continued success in disarming the last of the 20,000 former guerrillas whose itchy trigger fingers have frequently disrupted the peace.

If it’s Salisbury the tourists want to discover, however, they had better come fast. At his inauguration as the city’s first black mayor last week, Dr. Tizirai Gwata recalled that it had been named for the British prime minister in office in the 1890s, Lord Salisbury, when the first settlers reached the site. Instead, he proposed, it should be renamed after the chief who ruled the area at the time. If the council approves, later this month therefore, Gwata will be mayor not of Salisbury but of Harare, Zimbabwe.

*The Patriotic Front wing of the Zimbabwe African National Union.