Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Can Mugabe implement changes outlined for Zimbabwe?

Robert Mugabe, elected Zimbabwe's prime minister for another five years, has emerged from the country's recent elections with what appears a harder and less compromising attitude. In the wake of the election victory for his ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front), Mr. Mugabe has threatened to abolish or reduce entrenched white representation in Parliament. He has strongly hinted that he will move more rapidly towards turning the country into a one-party state. And there is growing concern that Mr. Mugabe will transform the economy along Marxist-Leninist lines.

Statements by Mugabe after ZANU-PF won 63 out of 80 seats in the 100-seat House of Assembly have seriously upset the country's business community. They rekindled deep anxieties among the 90,000 whites living in Zimbabwe and have also upset black opposition parties. Twenty seats in Parliament are reserved for whites by the Constitution, which was drafted by the British to guide Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) when it bacame independent in 1980.

About these ads

Most analysts agree that, despite Mugabe's apparent determination to effect these radical changes, the job will be difficult.

Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People's Union Front) party, the main opposition to Mugabe, performed impressively in elections in Matabeleland province. Because longstanding tribal and political enmity between Mr. Nkomo and Mugabe does not appear to have softened, the introduction of a one-party state looks as difficult as ever. And if Mugabe does not want to damage Zimbabwe's economy, he will be have to be careful in his treatment of the white community, which remains economically crucial.

Mugabe's reaction to the election results appears to run counter to recent trends.

Before the elections, the issue of the one-party state had faded. Mugabe announced last April that his party would not be seeking a mandate for a more socialistic economy. The subject was not mentioned in the party's election manifesto.

Mugabe's only moves toward nationalization came when the government purchased 50 percent equity shares in some firms. But such companies have been left almost totally on their own, with the government's role restricted to the receipt of dividends.

Prior to the election, Mugabe's relations with whites were quite warm. But on June 27, just over 30,000 whites went to the polls to elect 20 representatives. The result was a complete surprise when Ian Smith's Conservative Alliance won 15 of the seats.

Enraged by those results, Mugabe's first reaction was to accuse the white community of spurning the hand of reconciliaton by extending the political career of Mr. Smith. As prime minister of Rhodesia before independence, Smith resisted black majority rule. Mugabe promised that he would immediately abolish, or at least reduce, white representation in Parliament.

About these ads

To do so, though, will be difficult for Mugabe. The constitutional clause guaranteeing the 20 white seats in Parliament is protected by a provision requiring a unanimous vote to amend it. Votes required to amend that clause drop to 70 in 1987. Mugabe now has 63 seats in Parliament and it is not certain he would, in 1987, get the needed votes from opposition whites or blacks.

At his victory press conference Mugabe left little doubt of his intentions to act -- legally or illegally -- against the heavily disproportional white representation. (Whites constitue less than 3 percent of Zimbabwe's population but have 20 percent of the seats in Parliament.)

Yet at the same press conference Mugabe announced that while whites who had not accepted the new order would have to leave the country, those who were prepared to work with the government would be accepted as partners.

Mugabe is expected to announce his new Cabinet soon. A key signal of his intentions will be whether he holds on to the two white members in his previous Cabinet. They are the Minister of Agriculture Denis Norman and Chris Andersen, the former minister of state for the public service, who has emerged as one of Smith's sternest white critics.

Should they be made part of Mugabe's new Cabinet, Zimbabwe's white community will breathe a deep sigh of relief. If not, Mugabe will be seen by many to have totally rejected the whites for their endorsement of Smith.

Mugabe's wrath was also directed at the constituents in Matabeleland who decisively voted in favor of ZAPU.

In 1983 and 1984, Mugabe deployed government troops to the western provinces of Matabeleland where anti-government guerrillas had created serious unrest. The reported excesses of the troops strongly reinforced support for Nkomo's ZAPU party, and seem to have ruined any possibility of political rapprochement.

Mugabe has begun to speak with greater urgency about the necessity of a society united under a single ZANU-PF party umbrella . A precondition of this society, he told his press conference, would be the removal of all undesirable elements inimical to the attainment of such a society.

Western diplomats and opposition parties see such a move as a step toward totalitarianism.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.