Business as usual in Rhodesia as Mugabe charts course

"We're just going to wait and see," said the young white bank teller as she counted out crisp green-and-brown 10-dollar bills. Similar comments are being heard across this capital city as Robert Mugabe picks up the reins of power in this southern African nation.

In an important development March 5, Mr. Mugabe, as Prime Minister-designate, and Joshua Nkomo, his former partner in the guerrilla movement, agree d in principle to form a coalition government. The coalition, a Mugabe spokesman added, also would include representatives of Rhodesia's white minority, numbering 230,000 people.

Meanwhile, the election of Mr. Mugabe to the post of Prime Minister in the first one-person, one-vote elections here has virtually turned the country upside down. Yet, on the surface, it is business as usual.

Businesses are open, government employees are at their posts, and blacks and whites pass on the sidewalks with the same mutual indifference as before.

Yet both blacks and whites here known that some major changes are taking place behind a high concrete wall in a white stucco house in a formerly all-white suburb called Mount Pleasant. There, at Mr. Mugabe's home, a string of meetings is being held to form the country's first internationally recognized , majority-rule government.

In addition to Mr. Nkomo, former white Prime Minister Ian smith also was involved in the negotiations. Each of these leaders now controls 20 seats in the 100-member Parliament.

Mr. Mugabe, according to aides, is deliberately adopting a slow, methodical approach to forming a government, partly in an attempt to reassure whites. Shortly after the election results were announced March 3, a Mugabe spokesman predicted a Cabinet would be chosen in "one or two days." Now, he says, Mr. Mugabe is carefully weighing his choices for each post -- and is not sticking to a fixed timetable.

Similarly, the caretaker British administration here had planned to declare Rhodesia independent in two weeks or so. Now, there are signs that period could be extended.

Both moves are clearly intended to ease the transition from white-ruled British colony to independent black nation. However, as the initial surprise of Mr. Mugabe's victory wears off, most people appear to be adjusting rather well.

A typical comment came from a white shopkeeper, who said, "I don't see any reason why I should leave. After all, I've been here 25 years. Might as well stay around and see what happens."

Some whites are finding -- much to their surprise -- that the once silent, subservient blacks around them now are voicing definite views about what they expect from a Mugabe government.

Rex Mudukuti, a downtown laborer whose duties include serving tea to white office workers, confidently says, "Everything is going to change" when the new administration comes to power.

He says the top priority ought to be bringing about "equal rights" for everyone, regardless of race. Then, he says, equal pay will naturally follow.

As for whites, he says, "Mugabe is above politics. They should not fear anything."

Reuters reports from Salisbury:

Beyond the politics of balancing black and white emotions lies another urgent problem for the Mugabe administration.

The guerrilla war, which formally ended with a Dec. 28 cease-fire, has left thousands of armed rivals whose passions are far from cooled after one of Africa's most brutal and prolonged conflicts.

Only limited efforts have been made to integrate the hostile forces into an army to serve the independent Zimbabwe that will be born when Britain concludes its final, brief imperial venture into this African colony.

Some 22,000 armed guerrillas, three-quarters of them loyal to Mr. Mugabe and the rest to Mr. Nkomo, are in ceasefire assembly camps, still suspicious of the rapid developments that have brought their homeland to the brink of independence.

Mr. Mugabe's victory at the polls has brought a new confidence to his guerrilla fighters, many of whom would have returned to the bush conflict had the vote failed to produce a clear outcome.

A key role doubtless will be played by Mr. Nkomo. His well-disciplined guerrillas already have helped him to win the confidence of a powerful white Rhodesian military establishment that still is deeply mistrustful of Mr. Mugabe's larger number of bush fighters.

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