Leadership strife takes bloom off Zimbabwe's independence

Three months after the euphoria of its independence celebrations Zimbabwe is a country beset by serious problems. Internally, the long simmering tensions within the ruling coalition government of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo have cone to a head.

Externally, relations with South Africa, on which Zimbabwe is heavily dependent economically, have deteriorated sharply. Zimbabwe has recently announced the breaking of diplomatic ties with its white-ruled neighbor to the south.

although the break came as no surprise, the South Africans appear anxious to maintain as close links as they possibly can, partly because they have an estimated 60,000 citizens or passport holders normally resident in Zimbabwe, and partly because any representation at all in black Africa is very valuable to Pretoria as its isolation increases.

Prime Minister Mugabe is willing to maintain mutual trade and transport representation necessary to service the high levels of business that exist between the two states, even though he favors an intensification of the armed struggle against South Africa.

A more intense struggle is taking place within the government itself following two hard-line speeches this past month by Finance Minister Enos Nkala.

In one speech he called for one-party state in Zimbabwe, which would mean outlawing Ian Smith's Rhodesian Front, Mr. Nkomo's Patriotic Front, and Bishop Muzorewa's United African National Council, all of which are represented in Parliament. In his second speech Mr. Nkala threated to "Crush" Mr. Nkomo, whom described as the "self-appointed king of the Ndebele."

Relations between the Mugabe and Nkomo parties have never been of the best. Mr. Knomo derives his electoral support and almost all his 20 seats in Parliament from the western half of the country dominated by the minority Ndebele tribal grouping. Mr. Mugabe's support is much broader both numerically and regionally. He won 57 of the 100 seats in Parliament and, since he had an absolute majority, could have formed a government on his own with Mr. Nkomo's support.

However, because he wanted to pursue policies of unity and reconciliation, he invited Mr. Knomo and three other ministers from the Nkomo Patriotic Front into the Cabinet. For good measure, he brought into two whites as well.

Unfortunately, this well-intentioned policy has now run into difficulties not through any fault of Mr. Mugabe himself but because of grass-roots pressures within both parties.

Mr. Nkomo took the view that he had been slighted in being offered the Ministry of Home Affairs, whose chief function is control of the police, while his other party colleagues were offered minor ministries in government -- water development, posts and communications, and public works.

none of these are strategically important position. In addition, Mr. Nkomo has been left out of delegations from Zimbabwe that went to Yugoslavia for Mr. Tito's funeral and to the Organization of African Unity summit at Freetown, sierra Leone, early this month.

On the other hand, there are senior party members within Mr. Mugabe's party who believe that Mr. Mugabe should not have acted as "generously" as he did in offering Cabinet appointments to the Nkomo supporters. This has been expressed at grass-roots levels with demonstrations against the police -- whom Mr. Nkomo controls -- who have been accused of "harassing" Mugabe supporters for political reasons.

Both parties have accused one another of using their former guerillas to intimidate rival party supporters ahead of the regional elections due later in the year. This week the trouble spilled over into the streets of Salisbury when there was a minor clash between Mr. Nkomo's supporters and Mr. Mugabe's followers.

The real worry is that the rivalry will take on a far nastier aspect if it spreads to the guerrilla camps where there are some 32,000 former guerrillas -- two-thirds of them loyal to Mr. Mugabe and the remainder to Joshua nkomo. If this happens, then the situation could deteriorate very rapidly indeed. already , what are termed "dissident" supporters of Mr. Nkomo have been accused of flouting the government's authority and last month Mr. Mugabe announced that police and Army units were being sent to western and central parts of the country to take disciplinary action.

however, the prime minister was careful to absolve Mr. Nkomo from any blame for this state of affairs and another government minister said the dissidents were not loyal to any political party but acting as free agents.

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