Power struggle clouds efforts to rebuild Zimbabwe

With the political climate in Zimbabwe heating up, Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's difficult task of piecing this war-torn country back together again is becoming increasingly more complicated.

Most informed observers say it is much too early to predict failure. Some add that three months after independence the prospects for Zimbabwe remain bright. Nevertheless, there are some formidable problems confronting Prime Minister Mugabe and his new government.

The chief cause for concern among many observers here is the deteriorating relationship between the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party and the Patriotic Front (PF) party of Joshua Nkomo.

Some of Mr. Mugabe's followers in ZANU-PF have accused Mr. Nkomo of fostering tribalism (he is a member of the 19 percent minority Ndebele tribe) and have owned to "crush" him.

Mr. Nkomo first replied that, "i am not easily crushed" -- a reference to his political stature, not his formidable girth. A hasty trip to Britain, Libya, and a number of unidentified countries fueled speculation he was seeking outside backing for defiance of ZANU-PF.When we returned here, he blamed press reports for fostering disunity in Zimbabwe, charging that some people are playing up "splits that don't exist."

But well-informed observers here are unpersuaded by Mr. Nkomo's efforts to downplay friction in the government. Several say the clashes with Mr. Nkomo are engineered primarily by two members of Mr. Mugabe's Cabinet, Finance Minister Enos Nkala and Manpower, Planning, and Development Minister Edgar Tekere. Both are members of the powerful central committee of ZANU-PF, which sets policy for the party.

Recently, a pamphlet attacking Mr. Mugabe as a "white man's puppet" and lauding the more radical members of the central committee appeared on the streets of the capital. Although purportedly from an "underground group" within Mr. Mugabe's party, its origins remain suspect among many observers.

There is little doubt, however, that Mr. Mugabe is facing pressure from the more radical elements in his party to make more dramatic moves toward socialism here. Mr. Mugabe, although committed to more state control over the economy, has indicated that Zimbabwe's mixed economy will stay intact "for the time being" -- thereby allowing whites to continue in key private-sector roles.

Mr. Mugabe must also concern himself with left-wing reaction over his choice of a replacement for Lt. Gen. Peter Walls, the white commander of the country's military who is retiring at the end of July.

General Walls, who headed the Army under former Prime Minister Ian Smith, was retained by Mr. Mugabe to oversee integration of the country's standing army with the guerrilla forces loyal to Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo. The general claims the integration is proceeding smoothly, but a number of sources doubt that. One reliable source says, "The Army is in a mess."

Mr. Mugabe could turn to the commander of his own guerrilla forces, Rex Nhongo, to head the nation's military, but that is considered unlikely in view of Mr. Nhongo's mercurial temperament and involvement in several altercations with whites since independence some three months ago.

Equally unlikely is the appointment of the head of Mr. Nkomo's guerrilla army , Lookout Masuki, to the post, since that would likely provoke a confrontation within Mr. Mugabe's party. Consequently, many observers think Mr. Mugabe will draw the new commander from a neutral commonwealth country, or perhaps from Great Britain, the former colonial power here.

Whoever takes the post will have the responsibility for redeployment of some 20,000 guerrilla fighters who have been waiting uneasily in assembly camps since a ceasefire some 6 1/2 months ago. Plans are to use some 8,000-9,000 of them to help resettle war refugees and reclaim croplands that were not cultivated during the war.

"That's excellent," says one observer, "but it's only a fraction of the total that need to be redeployed. And there's nowhere to redeploy them."

Equally worrisome is the continued lawlessness of some guerrilla bands that do not recognize the new government. These renegade forces may have been responsible for the recent killings of two white farmers near Salisbury -- the first such incident since independence.

Yet despite these negative developments, many whites seem convinced the country's problems can be solved in time.

"You don't sort these sorts of problems out in only three months," says John Deary, head of the Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice. Given time and cooperation, he predicts, the Mugabe government will be able to bring both stability and prosperity to Africa's newest nation.

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