Worried Rhodesian whites brace for black leadership

On the eve of the Feb. 14 election for white members of Parliament, Rhodesia's white minority is more concerned about the elections for blacks, scheduled for the end of the month.

The white mood, according to analysts here, is one of apprehension and pessimism. The growing fear is that Marxist guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe will come out on top in the black balloting, with or without his erstwhile partner, Joshua Nkomo.

Some even are concerned that the black election might have to be postponed or called off, due to clashes and assassination attempts between the competing black factions. In some areas of the country intimidation is rife, and the British Governor, Lord Soames, has promulgated a new law enabling him to exclude troubled regions from the voting.

At the root of white concern is a belief that all this could give rise to an intolerable situation, with hard-line Marxist policies being adopted (though Mr. Mugabe has strongly denied this). Or that it could lead to a civil war, which could develop if the black parties that lose and the white security forces refuse to accept the result.

Although white emigration slowed dramatically in the second half of 1979 (from 6,500 in the first half of the year to 3,200 in the last half), many whites are in a "wait and see" frame of mind and plan to "take the gap" (Rhodesian slang for emigrate), should the election bring a militant black-nationalist government to office.

For his part, Mr. Mugabe reportedly is anxious to keep the bulk of the whites in the country, having seen first hand how disastrous was the impact of the Portuguese white exodus from neighboring Mozambique.

But the Mugabe political platform -- the eradication of elitism -- carries with it much that many whites are likely to find unpalatable.

Many Rhodesian white men in the 18-to-50 age group will be a general mobilization for the black election from Feb. 15 until early March.

Thus, the white balloting, which will involve a maximum of 25,000 voters, is not likely to solve anything. Former Prime Minister Ian Smith will still be able to lay claim to the leadership of at least 75 percent of the white community. But what matters now is how he uses his political bargaining power, assuming that a coalition government is necessary after the black voters have gone to the polls.

The under the Constitution, the whites are not allowed to form a coalition with a minority black party to keep out the majority black party. But they apparently can use their votes to sustain a coalition of smaller black parties against a black majority. This, however, clearly would be very unpopular at the Organization of African Unity and in the United Nations and could result in a resumption of the guerrilla war.

Rhodesia's 230,000 whites are entitled to 20 parliamentary seats out of a total of 100. There are six white constituencies.

Two main themes have dominated what little political campaigning there has been so far by the whites. First, Mr. Smith and his Rhodesian Front colleagues have stressed the need for white unity against the threat of Marxism -- meaning the possibility that the whites might need to bolster a black coalition against Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

The second theme has been appeals by white politicians to their followers to "influence" black voters into casting their ballots against the ZANU-PF.

The significance of all this is that Mr. Smith wants a solid bloc of 20 white seats with which to bargain once the coalition talks start next month.

Yet the Rhodesian Front is more deeply split than it ever, and Mr. Smith seems less in control. Insiders say that even if the front wins all 20 seats, as seems virtually centain, there will still be a 50-50 split, with 10 members of Parliament supporting Ian Smith and 10 supporting the former finance minister and deputy-party leader, David Smith.

The split is partly about personalities -- the "moderate wing" believes it is time Mr. Smith retired from active politics. And it is partly about policies -- with hard liners, led by Ian Smith, favoring a coalition with Joshua Nkomo, and the more moderate group, led by David Smith, committed to Bishop Abel Muzorewa's United African National Council.

The Rhodesian Front already has been returned unopposed in 14 of the 20 white constituencies. In the other six seats, the front is opposed by an uncoordinated assortment of independent candidates, most of whom hold views to the left of Mr. Smith's party.

The sole moderate white political party in Rhodesia -- the so-called National Unifying Force -- has declined to contest the election this year, just as it did in April of last year.

Mr. Smith has told meeting after meeting that Zimbabwe (as Rhodesia will be known after the black election) cannot and will not have a Marxist government. But when asked how he can prevent this, Mr. Smith merely replies that he is confident it won't happen.

Among the whites, there is deep mistrust of the British. They believe the British are weak -- reluctant to take firm action against escalating intimidation in the country.

They also believe that the vote is over, Lord Soames will fly back to London, leaving behind him a dangerously volatile situation.

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