Unity, conciliation, respect for the rule of law. This was the admirable tone set by Robert Mugabe as the landslide winner in the Rhodesian elections. He will need all his skills and strengths of leadership to maintain such an approach in the face of fears that the former guerrilla chief could bring chaos, authoritarianism, continuing racial strife to Africa's newest free country, Zimbabwe. It is an occasion to remember that such fears need not be realized, as has been proved by the example of another former British colony in Africa -- Kenya. Mr. Mugabe will have to do his part to ensure that his fine first words do not remain just words, but so will all the others concerned, white and black, in emerging Zimbabwe.
When Kenya became independent, it will be recalled, there were predictions of white flight, anti-Western postures, dubious rule by independence leader Jomo Kenyatta. Many problems occurred and remain. But Kenyatta's "let's all pull together" turned out to be not merely a slogan. By the time of his passing in 1978 there were said to be twice as many whites in Kenya as when it became free. Full-fledged democracy had not arrived. But there was orderly transition to new leadership. The lesson has been that majority rule in a mainly black African nation does not have to lapse into tyranny or become so uncomfortable for whites that they have to leave.
Now Mr. Mugabe has specifically ruled out "victimization" of the minority: "That will not happen." Full sovereignty and full democratic rights for all, black and white -- these are among his goals to be followed through on.
Of particular political concern are Mr. Mugabe's Marxian sympathies. But here, too, he seems to be proceeding in restrained manner. Even South Africa is said to be not quite as apprehensive of a Marxist thrust as it used to be -- having found good relations with Marxist Mozambique. But Mr. Mugabe ought to note what economic benefits the enterprise system has brought to his country and realize how little Marxist economics has done elsewhere. And he ought to resist any manipulation by the communist Chinese who supported his guerrilla efforts or the Soviets who supported his Patriotic Front partner and main election rival, Joshua Nkomo.
As for forming a government, Mr. Mugabe's hand should be strengthened by his party's winning of 57 seats, a clear majority in a parliament of 100 including 20 white seats. He was said to be reaching out not only to Mr. Nkomo, whose party came in second in the polls, but to unspecified others. Certainly Mr. Mugabe's pleas for unity would be underscored if he were to establish a reasonably broad governing coalition.
One thorn in the process may be a challenge to the election results by Bishop Muzorewa, prime minister under the so-called "internal settlement," who got only a handful of seats. Official observers of the elections did not some advance intimidation of voters but concluded that, on balance, the vote represented the wishes of the electorate.
Consider how far the Rhodesians have come. How soon they have reached this point after Britain's recent initiatives to get all parties together for peaceful settlement following the years of warfare. Credit is due all around.