Rhodesians vote peaceably in rain for rival candidates
Zwirungurira, Rhodesia — The two strapping young men trade suspicious glares as they size each other up in the African rain. They outspokenly favor rival candidates in Rhodesia's first full-fledged majority-rule elections, and they have inadvertently arrived at the polling place simultaneously.
After an uneasy moment, they move off in different directions to await their turn to vote. But, out of earshot of each another, they give surprisingly similar reasons for coming to the polls.
"We want peace. Everybody. We are tired of war," says Enoch Gatsi, a supporter of candidate Robert Mugabe, former guerrilla leader.
"We must have peace after the elections. All the people want it," echoes Daniel Shayi, who favors Bishop Abel Muzorewa, a black leader who remained in Rhodesia.
If there is one near-unanimous sentiment among the 2 million blacks who have so far gone to the polls here, it is that every vote -- no matter for which party it is cast -- is a vote for peace. The sentiment seems to cut across virtually all political and ideological lines.
"We are crying for peace," says Caiphas Chataika, a farmer. With such sentiments being voiced repeatedly during the elections here, it will be difficult for any disgruntled loser to claim he has popular support for renewing the fighting after the elections.
Indeed, as three days of polling draw to a close here (Feb. 29 is the final day), there are hopeful signs that post-election conflict might be avoided.
Chief among them is the first step toward integration of black nationalist guerrillas and the white-led Rhodesian security forces into a national army.
This week, units of the two opposing forces began training alongside one another, under supervision of soldiers from various Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth soldiers had been dispatched here late last year to monitor the cease-fire that paved the way for this week's election. The duties of some of the troops have been expanded to include acting as neutral overseers of the joint training exercise.
The first guerrillas to undergo training alongside their former enemies were some 600 cadres of the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army, which is loyal to veteran nationalist Joshua Nkomo. Another 600 guerrillas of Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe African NAtional Liberation Army are expected to begin training soon.
The aim is to prevent the two guerrilla factions and the Rhodesian Army from squaring off with one another should any side be unhappy with the election results.
Other hopeful signs: Both Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe have instructed their guerrillas to remain in cease-fire assembly camps after the elections, and high-ranking Rhodesian military sources have reportedly given assurances they will not attempt a coup should a leftist government win this week's balloting.
Meanwhile, the British and Rhodesian governments continue a massive effort to allow people in even the most remote streches of the country to vote.
Officials have even set up one floating polling station aboard a boat, to visit settlements along the wild stretches of Lake Kariba, where elephants almost outnumber people.
Six mine-proofed military vehicles were used to transport ballot boxes into this"protected village" of Zwirungurira, deep in the Bushu tribal reserve, so that 800 villagers could use their new-found franchise. The convoy moved over rutted dirt roads, past villages abandoned during the war, and over rain-swollen streams spilling across the road. Working in a steady rain, officials set up a polling place in the middle of the village, inside a redoubt surrounded by high earthen walls and gun emplacements. In this setting -- a grim reminder of the guerrilla war -- hundreds of people filed in to vote.