Rhodesia's bumpy ride to Zimbabwe

Like a well-oiled machine with both fuel and water in its tank, Rhodesia alternately purrs and sputters down the road to becoming Zimbabwe. The journey from white-ruled British colony to majority-ruled African nation continues apace here, with occasional lurches and stalls but no major setbacks.

The first of an estimated 200,000 guerrilla- war refugees have begun returning. And the British-sponsored cease-fire in the seven-year bush war here appears to be holding up, despite sporadic breaches.

Rhodesian security forces, acting under the authority of the caretaker British Governor, Lord Soames, are rounding up defiant guerrillas who refuse to gather at monitored cease-fire assembly camps. Although there are periodic clashes, sometimes resulting in fatalities, no major confrontations have yet been reported.

Small bands of guerrillas continue to hand over their weapons, and some 21, 800 now are in the camps. The number is not expected to rise much higher, however.

Bishop Abel Muzorewa, the former prime minister who is running for re-election, charges that some guerrillas still roam the country intimidating his followers and making "free and fair" majority-rule elections in late February virtually impossible.

The bishop also has threatened to pull out of the London Lancaster House agreement that laid the groundwork for the cease-fire and elections -- unless the British government cracks down on cease-fire violators. Few officials take his threat seriously, however.

Meanwhile, Bishop Muzorewa's opponents charge that his own private army -- the security force "auxiliary" soldiers -- are intimidating and coercing the civilian populace.

The British administration here tends to discount such charges, leveling most of the blame for cease-fire violations on the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) party of guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe.

ZANU was directly blamed for 13 of the incidents, and suspected of an additional 13. In turn, ZANU campaign director Eddison Zvobgo suggests that the British are secretly siding with Bishop Muzorewa in an attempt to besmirch ZANU's image. Mr. Mugabe has even warned that he might order his men to leave the cease-fire monitoring camps, since they are being surrounded by "hostile forces."

ZANU officials continue to be supremely confident of an electoral victory next month -- some observers say too confident.By some accounts, the ZANU campaign is in disarray, plagued by weak organization and placing little stress on traditional electioneering. That could change, however, when Mr. Mugabe returns here from exile, which probably will be on Jan. 27.

Behind the scenes, however, the British government is prodding Mr. Mugabe to release more than 70 political detainees in Mozambique before he ends his exile in that country.The prisoners, who opposed Mr. Mugabe's leaderhip of ZANU, continue to be held in what one local informant calls "a flagrant breach" of the Lancaster House agreement.

Mr. Mugabe's erstwhile co-leader in a nationalist guerrilla alliance, Joshua Nkomo, is already back in Rhodesia and stomping about the country for votes. He was buoyed by a huge turnout -- by some estimates, 200,000 persons -- at a rally in Bulawayo, the country's second-largest city and a stronghold of Mr. Nkomo's Ndebele tribe.

In a continuing effort to broaden his appeal beyond the Ndebele minority, however, Mr. Nkomo has switched his party's name from Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) to the Patriotic Front, the name once shared by ZAPU and ZANU.

Mr. Nkomo concedes he would have preferred to run together with Mr. Mugabe, a member of the majority Shona tribe, rather than in opposition to him.

The portly Mr. Nkomo is noncommittal, however, about Mr. Mugabe's suggestion of a coalition government, should either party win next month's elections.

Nine parties have fielded 626 candidates for the 80 black parliamentary seats at stake. One minor party, the Zimbabwe United People's Organization, headed by Chief Jeremiah Chirau, now has dropped out of the race.

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