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Mugabe and South Africa

The achievement of majority rule in Rhodesia leaves neighboring South Africa an isolated bastion of white supremacy. It heightens the pressure for change in South Africa, too. Must this be accompanied by violence like Rhodesia's seven years of war? The answer depends both on the kind of example provided by Rhodesia after the British leave and it becomes independent Zimbabwe -- and on the reaction of South Africa to this example.

Already the electoral success of black nationalist Robert Mugabe has roused brave hopes among blacks in South Africa. Indefinite governmental frustration of those hopes would not foster peaceful change. Yet the South African government will not be encouraged to recognize the rights of blacks if it sees blacks in Zimbabwe using their rights to plunge the country into a Marxist state , destroy its economy, make it an impossible place for whites. Pretoria's temptation then might be to turn further inward, feel confirmed in its racial policies, and resist change by any means necessary.

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On the other hand, Pretoria might be nudged toward progress by seeing positive results in Zimbabwe. These could renew impetus toward negotiated independence for Namibia, which South Africa rules in defiance of the United Nations. And a viable Zimbabwe ought to enhance the efforts of those working to lift the racial discrimination system of apartheid in South Africa itself

So far, Prime Minister-designate Mugabe has given every evidence of seeking a Zimbabwe worthy of all its people, subordinating his own Marxism in an effort to draw on whatever political and economic resources are best for his country. He does not rule out the future possibility of a one-party state, but he insists it is the people who should decide. And, in his first major post-election interview televised to the United States, he stated views on relations with South Africa that seemed eminently reasonable.

Zimbabwe was prepared to coexist with South Africa, to continue trade and transport built up through the years, said Mr. Mugabe on the MacNeil-Lehrer Report. It would not interfere in South Africa's internal affairs if South Africa did not interfere in Zimbabwe's internal affairs. Any requests for aid by South Africa's blacks should be considered by the Organization of African Unity, not by a Zimbabwe alone. The military struggle for freedom need not be repeated as in Rhodesia, he said in effect, if South Africa moves sufficiently toward honoring the rights of the people.

In the coming months, Mr. Mugabe will be scrutinized by the world to see how well he meets the conciliatory challenge he has set himself. And South Africa will be scrutinized to see if it draws the proper lessons from Zimbabwe.


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