Nkomo returns to Rhodesia, disavows split with Mugabe

Veteran black nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo has returned to Rhodesia -- calling for reconciliation and claiming the mantle of leadership of the Patriotic Front alliance.

"It is a tragedy that we had to fight," said the burly, grey-haired former labor-union leader shortly after his arrival here. "But, having fought, let us now say, 'It is all over.'"

Mr. Nkomo disembarked from a white- and-green Zambia Airways jet liner at 12: 45 p.m. on Jan. 13, ending four years of exile. His co-leader in the Patriotic Front, Robert Mugabe, remains in Mozambique and is scheduled to arrive here in a week's time.

In his remarks at an airport press conference and during an emotional speech before a huge crowd of supporters at anearby sports field, Mr. Nkomo played down any notion of a split between himself and Mr. Mugabe. He made constant reference to the Patriotic Front and only passing mention of its two component parties -- Mr. Mugabe's ZANU Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and his own Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU).

Only in response to a question did Mr. Nkomo concede the two parties would contest the forthcoming elections here separately.

Mr. Nkomo's admission tends to buttress claims that the black nationalist movement in this war-ravaged country now is clearly split along tribal lines.

Perhaps in recognition of the fact, Mr. Nkomo called on black people here to "crush, without reservation, tribalism and sectionalism." The hefty Mr. Nkomo has good reason to adopt such a posture: his own Ndebele tribe comprises only an estimated 20 percent of the polulation. Mr. Mugabe is a member of the majority Shona tribe.

Consequently, it appears that part of Mr. Nkomo's election strategy is to lay claim to the broader constituency of the Patriotic Front. His kickoff speech, his campaign posters, even the official name of his party -- PF- ZAPU -- all attempt to link Mr. Nkomo with the entire Patriotic Front rather than with the numerically smaller ZAPU wing of the front.

But this could ultimately be a futile effort.

As a young man watching Mr. Nkomo' helicopter land at Zimbabwe Grounds sports field observed, "The President of Zimbabwe arrives today. The Prime Minister comes next week."

By this, he meant that Mr. Mugabe undoubtedly will win the election and offer Mr. Nkomo the honorary presidential post while retaining, as he hopes, the powerful prime ministership for himself. Mr. Nkomo's supporters claim that his support transcends tribal loyalties. But it was apparent that most of the buses ferrying shouting supporters in and out of Zimbabwe sports grounds came from the southeastern part of the country, where the Ndebele tribes are centered.

The allegiance of the majority Shona peoples appears to be split between Mr. Mugabe and Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who heads the United African National Council and who was formerly prime minister. Bishop Muzorewa claims that should Mr. Mugabe take over the government here, his Marxist leanings would cause a massive white exodus, leaving the country in economic ruin.

Consequently, Mr. Nkomo appears to be offering himself as a sort of compromise candidate by stressing both his role in pressing the guerrilla war and his open-handedness towards whites.

He said that the war was "mapped out in . . . the unfortunate history of our country," and stressed, "It's no use apportioning blame as to the causes of the war."

"All the people that have chosen to make this country their home, it is their home," he continued. "I hope that [in] the new Zimbabwe to come, we will not be bothering to look at color."

Whether or not Nkomo the conciliator will have as much appeal as Nkomo the guerrilla leader remains to be seen, however. Some of the youthful supporters at his initial rally waved posters depicting what, to them, has become the symbol of black nationalism here: a Russian-made AK-47 machine gun.

Mr. Nkomo, wearing a conservative grey suit and a red-and-blue tie, also offered criticism of the caretaker British Governor, Lord Christopher soames. At his airport press conference, he called it "disturbing" that Lord Soames had dispatched Rhodesian security forces to round up Patriotic Front Guerrillas who have not yet turned up at cease-fire camps to await the elections.

"One would have expected that the Governor would not have allowed the government forces and the PF forces to confront each other," he said.

Terming the seven-day period allowed for the assembly of guerrillas inadequate, he also called for more troops from Commonwealth nations to monitor the 10-day-old cease-fire here. Currently, there are about 1,300 such troops, but Mr. Nkomo says, "at least 5,000" are needed.

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