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Tekere murder case tests Zimbabwe regime's stability

The much-publicized trial of Zimbabwe's manpower planning minister, Edgar Tekere, is likely to be less important to Robert Mugabe's fledging government than some previos assessments have suggested.

The signs are that the manpower minister -- accused with seven of his bodyguards of murdering Gerald Adams, a white farmer, near Salisbury on Aug. 4 -- has little sympathy and support within the Mugabe Cabinet.

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The trial, scheduled to open in Salisbury Nov. 3, has been widely seen as a "test case" of the stability of the Mugabe government. It has been argued by some that the government would intervene rather than allow Mr. Tekere, who ranks No. 3 in the ruling ZANUPF party hierarchy, to face the death penalty for murder.

Others have argued that if Mr. Tekere were to be convicted, there could be a violent reaction from the radical wing of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party, especially among the young guerrillas in the assembly camps, with whom the minister is very popular.

But as the trial day approaches, the signs are that both these earlier assessments reflect an unduly dramatized view of the situation. Inn preliminary , legal proceedings this week, Mr. Tekere's defense lawyers defused the issue to some extent by admitting that there is no major dispute between defense and prosecution over the facts of the case.

The defense argues that one of Mr. Tekere's bodyguards shot Mr. Adams at Stamford Farm on Aug. 4 -- but that this was done in self-defense. Mr. Adams, it is argued, was carrying a pistol, which, he raised as if to fire at the bodyguard.

So part of the defense case is self-defense. but more important by far is the defense argument that Mr. Tekere and his bodyguards acted on good faith to "suppress" terrorism and are entitled to be discharged by the court under pre-independence legislation passed by the white government of former Prime Minister Ian Smith in 1975.

The defense case is that Mr. Tekere was fired upon at a party next door to Stamford Farm on the previous day, Aug. 3, by elements of the Zimbabwer security forces. The next day, believing his life to be in danger, he organized the "military operation" at the farm during which which Mr. Adams was shot dead.

The defense ays that the 1975 Rhodesian legislation -- still on the Zimbabwe statute books -- indemnifies Mr. Tekere and other political leaders from prosecution in instances where they act in "good faith" to suppress terrorism. This case will be argued in court next week.

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In the meantime, the application to change the white judge for the case was turned down in the high court here Oct. 29. Mr. Justice John Pitman, appointed to the bench by the Smith government during the period of whiteminority rule, was nominated to hear the case, but defense counsel argued that he should withdraw since he was an appointee of the previous government, and thereby liable to be biased against Mr. Tekere.

The application was dismissed by Judge Pitman, who said that in his view there was "a total absence of any grounds for the fears of bias on the part of the accused."

This judgement is politically important in itself because it could fuel criticism from militant blacks saying that there has been insufficient change in Zimbabwe in the six months since Mr. Mugabe took office.

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