Mugabe has influence in Africa but is he in charge in Zimbabwe?
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In terms of intelligence and political acumen, Mugabe is seen as standing head and shoulders above his nearest political rivals. An American professor who knows him well says Mugabe is a highly principled leader, consistent in his political philosophy, and a man ''who doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, and doesn't womanize.'' An American businessman familiar with the rest of Africa agrees. ''Compared to other Zimbabweans, Mugabe is a saint.''Skip to next paragraph
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But to what extent Mugabe dominates the scene as a result of his leadership qualities is still a matter of speculation.
Uppermost in the minds of everyone is whether Mugabe can control a Cabinet in which the voices of more radical members have become conspicuously louder in recent months.
''You have to realize this government is not a government. It is a coalition, a collection of revolutionary leaders,'' says a Western diplomat recently returned from Zimbabwe.
Some Africa-watchers suspect that in their capacities as Cabinet ministers some of these revolutionary leaders may be jumping the gun and taking it upon themselves to move forcefully against political dissidents or critics at home.
The recent actions these observers question include: (1)the detaining of the former prime minister, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, without evidence but on suspicion of being a threat to the state, (2)the immediate redetaining of white Air Force officers after they had been acquitted on procedural grounds of sabotage, and (3 )the overruling of a court decision to release Dumiso Dabengwa, a top military aide of Joshua Nkomo.
The Mugabe government was vindicated on the Dabengwa case, however, when Zimbabwe's Supreme Court upheld the government's right to keep him in detention. And in the case of the Air Force officers, the government recently released four of the seven who were detained without further trial under emergency powers.
Nevertheless, the continuing duel between the government and the courts raises fears among international legal experts concerned about the due process of law in Zimbabwe.
The informed speculation among experts familiar with Zimbabwe was that Prime Minister Mugabe may not have had prior warning of some of these actions. But once aware of them he may have chosen not to intervene, either through reluctance to show up one of his ministers or because of the political clout of the minister involved.
This latter scenario is thought to apply to Dr. Ushewokunze, who is generally regarded as ''the heavy radical'' in the Cabinet. An inflammatory politician, Ushewokunze is the Cabinet minister most feared by the white community. But he also has a strong populist base, and it is thought that Mugabe may not find it politically possible to rein him in.
It is Dr. Ushewokunze who ordered the redetaining of the Air Force officers after they had been acquitted. Significantly, the responsibility of the Home Affairs Ministry includes actions taken against political opponents.