Zimbabwe Cabinet shuffle seems meant to mollify West

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Western hopes for Zimbabwe were revived this week following a dramatic Cabinet shuffle. Prominent figures in the ruling party's moderate wing were elevated; an outspoken figure on the left was demoted. And the hand of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe was strengthened.

These changes seem to emphasize Mugabe's determination to cease alarming his Western supporters at a time when South Africa continues to menace Zimbabwe and the country's economy still is perilous, Africa analysts say.

The key signal to the West, and to Mr. Mugabe's critics at home, was the prime minister's shift of Dr. Herbert Ushe-wokunze from home affairs to transport. Simbi Mubako, former minister of justice, was given the home affairs post.

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Dr. Ushewokunze has been embroiled in controversy since he refused to accept judicially ordered acquittals for whites and blacks tried for treason and other criminal offenses. When the high court released six white airmen accused of collaborating with South Africa, he slapped them into preventive detention.

Ushewokunze has often criticized the law inherited from British colonial rulers and antagonized the nation's white minority. He is widely viewed as having done more than any other Zimbabwean to sully the country's image and hamper Mr. Mugabe's attempts to attract foreign investment and aid.

For a long time Western statesman failed to understand why Mugabe, whom they regarded as well-balanced and sensitive to the needs of his people, tolerated so bold and disruptive a dissenter. Some said Mugabe was too weak, and Ushewo-kunze was too strong for Mugabe to act decisively. This week's Cabinet shuffle may have demonstrated otherwise.

Mugabe's assertiveness can also be seen in his retention of four ministers and one deputy minister who are members of the Zimbabwe African People's Union, which is led by Mugabe's chief opponent, Joshua Nkomo. Mugabe also kept three white ministers in their present positions.

He assumed the ministerial portfolio for industry and technology himself. He therefore will deal directly with investors inside and outside the country and with state-owned corporations.

Mugabe increased the scope of work within his own office, creating a department of political and provincial development, to be headed by Maurice Nyagumbo, a party stalwart. Eight junior ministers were dismissed and the Cabinet reduced in size by combining ministries.

Mugabe's strength was demonstrated by his retention of a central place in the Cabinet for Bernard Chidzero, an economist and former official in the United Nations Commission for Trade and Development. Chidzero retained control of the crucial Economics and Finance Ministry.

In his own office, Mugabe installed Ernest Sadungure, a physician trained in the Soviet Union, to take charge of defense matters. Internal security and intelligence apparently remain under Emerson Munangagwa.

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