What Mugabe win may mean

"Now we are free Africans," said the tall black man. With that, he hustled down the Salisbury street to join in the clamorous celebrations over the election of Robert Gabriel Mugabe as the first prime ministry of a majority-ruled Zimbabwe.

The elevation of leftist Mr. Mugabe -- once a pupil of Roman Catholic mssionaries and eventual leader of a guerrilla army -- is another benchmark in the black African struggle for self-determination.

The intense, bespectacled former schoolteacher takes over the government of this mineral-rich nation after a resounding victory in the first one-person, one-vote elections held here. His Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party drew nearly 64 percent of some 2.7 million votes cast, capturing 57 of the 80 parliamentary seats up for grabs. (White voters filled 20 other seats in an earlier election).

Mr. Mugabe undoubtedly will send Rhodesia, as this British colony now is called, marching to the beat of a decidedly different drummer. While his election may not be "of the geopolitical significance of the fall of the Portuguese empire in southern Africa," says a well-placed analyst here, it markedly changes the political equation in southern Africa. Some indictions:

South Africa -- the last spot on earth where a white minority holds sway over black people -- now finds itself further isolated.

The South African government, it is widely suspected, funneled millions of dollars into the losing campaign of Bishop Abel Muzorewa, whose party won only three seats in Parliament. Bishop Muzorewa had soft-pedaled criticism of South Africa during his six-month term as prime minister of an interim Zimbabwe Rhodesia.

South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha had also hoped to lure Zibabwe into an envisaged "constellation of southern African states" linked in opposition to Marxism and dependent on South Africa. The election of Mr. Mugabe, who has definite socialist economic views, now dashes that hope.

Mr. Botha said the election outcome was a decision of the Rhodesian people and that they will have to live with it. Although pledging not to interfere in a neighbor's affairs, he warned that any neighbor "which allows its territory to be used for attacks on, or the undermining of, South Africa and its security will have to face the full force of the Republic's strength."

Mr. Mugabe admits that his attitude toward his southern neighbor is shaped by the "georgraphical reality and historical reality" of economic dependence. Consequently, he rules out the use of this landlocked nation as a base for South African guerrilla movements. But he also warns South Africa against trying to de-stabilize his government.

"It is not for South Africa to determine the government here," he says, "and it is not for us to take up arms and wage a liberation struggle in South Africa."

In foreign affairs, Zimbabwe probably will become a member of the nonaligned movement. Mr. Mugabe, while somewhat indebted to the Eastern-bloc nations that armed his Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) during the seven-year-long guerrilla war here, owes no direct allegiance to any of the "superpower" countries.

The United States offered no official support for the guerrilla war. China, and early arms supplier, lost interest in African adventurism during the past two years. And the Soviet Union backed a losing opponent -- veteran nationalist Joshua Nkomo. (Mr. Nkomo's Patriotic Front party won 20 seats, however, and will likely play a major role in the government.)

The United States will court an independent Zimbabwe, however. One reason: the country's abundant supplies of strategically important chromium ore. "We are anxious to establish a good working relationship with the government," says Jeffrey Davidow, head of the US liaison office here.

Mr. Mugabe could emerge as a leading political figure in Africa. An articulate holder of three university degrees, Mr. Mugabe's credentials as an African nationalist and his close ties with other governmental leaders mean he is well placed to assume a leadership role on the continent.

That assumes, of course, that Mr. Mugabe governs his own country effectively. But the challenges he faces are formidable.

The country is deeply divided along racial and tribal lines. Whites, who control key sectros of the economy, are jittery about his leftist leanings. And the black electorate, currently caught up in a wave of euphoria, may have unrealistically high expectations.

The dilemma facing Mr. Mugabe and, ultimately, the country, was summed up in this brief exchange on Salisbury's Stanley Avenue shortly after the victory was announced.

"Everything is going to be all right now," said Morris Korowedzai, a security guard at a downtown store.

"It's going to be bad," said a white Army man who overheard him. Turning to a fellow soldier, he said, "Shake my hand, brother. I'm going AWOL [absent without leave] tomorrow."

But Mr. Mugabe is already working to reassure whites and to prevent an exodous of skilled white workers. In a nationwide radio and television address, he told listeners in this war-ravaged country that the time had come "to beat our swords into plowshares."

He also raised the possibility of including whites in his government and announced that he had asked Gen. Peter Walls, white commander of the government security forces, to supervise intergration of the guerrillas into the national army.

Ealier, sitting under the trees at his suburuban Salisbury home, Mr. Mugabe had observed, "Those who say that personal and other property will be seized or nationalized have not read us correctly."

"We will proceed to bring about changes," he says, "but changes in a realistic manner. There is no intention on our part . . . to victimize the minority."

Mr. Mugabe's message of moderation may get through in the vital farming sector, which produced $750 million in agricultural products and employed 38 percent of the work force in 1979. "I don't see a mass exodus taking place, or anything like that," says Dennis Norman, president of the Commercial Farmers Union.

Nevertheless, there will be strong pressure from black peasant farmers for more land. Blacks, who comprise 96 percent of the population here, in the past were restricted to only about half the country's land.

"There are some people who have four wives. And for each wife they have five children," explains a lanky farmer in the Bushu tribal reserve. "How," he asks, can we get by with only 80 acres?"

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