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Zimbabwe: justice without color

Prime Minister Robert Mugabe faces perhaps the most difficult challenge so far to his young government. The arraignment of a black Cabinet minister and others on charges of murdering a white farmer brings to the fore the fundamental question of how law and order will be administered in the majority- ruled nation of Zimbabwe. The Prime Minister will have to move calmly and forcefully to demonstrate that his government intends to abide by the rule of equity and justice for all citizens, however much these were denied to blacks in the past.

It will be a delicate task. If whites see the judicial process being skewed in any way in favor of the black defendants, including Manpower Minister Edgar Tekere, this will feed fears of black favoritism and confirm an underlying feeling that blacks are incapable of competent government. It would certainly spur the continuing exodus of white, something which Zimbabwe can ill afford. Many blacks, on the other hand, remain suspicious of a law-enforcement and judicial system will largely in the hands of whites. They will need to be persuaded that justice is being done, nd even if this ultimates in punishment of blacks, that this serves the best interests of Zimbabwe's democratic development.

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The killing incident in effect brings to a head the whole issue of Mr. Mugabe's pragmatic orientation and style of leadership. While the prime minister may not be keen on retaining so many whites in positions of authority, he nonetheless has learned from his experience in Mozambique that he needs the whites to keep the country running and to move it forward economically. Tekere, however, who has a strong following in Mr. Mugabe's party as well as among the guerrilla forces, wants socialist reforms now and a greater role for blacks. He and others have been publicly attacking the "moderates" in the Cabinet and causing political problems for the prime minister.

However, Mr. Mugabe is no novice at performing a skillful balancing act and keeping the troublesome elements of his party in line. It could even turn out that the present incident will remove Tekere as a political thorn and strengthen the prime minister's position. In any case, the image which Mr. Mugabe has so far conveyed is that of a statesman. The world now watches to see if that image is reinforced as he confronts the first test of Zimbabwe's system of justice.

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