Zimbabwe murder. What impact on the nation's future?

Arrest of one of the most powerful members of Prime Minister Robert mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party on a charge of murdering a white farmer could have far-reaching effects on the future stability of this country.

Edgar Tekere, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party and also minister of manpower planning and development, was arrested Aug. 6 and charged with murder. He is ranked No. 3 in the party hierarchy after Prime Minister Mugabe and Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime minister Simon Mzenda.

Mr. Tekere, who is nearly 10 years younger than the prime minister, has been widely tipped as the logical successor to Mr. Mugabe should the radical wing of the party that he leads come out on top in the debate within the party's central committee. That debate is between supporters of Marxist radicalism on the one hand and Mr. Mugabe's very special brand of pragmatic moderation on the other.

As seen here, two very different scenarios could evolve as a result of the Tekere affair. One holds that the minister's involvement in the murder of the white man is likely to spell the end of Mr. Takere's political career. According to this version, Mr. Mugabe is well rid of the extremist views represented by Mr. Tekere.

For example, not only has Mr. Mugabe been forced to criticize Mr. Tekere in front of the powerful central committee of the party for his antiwhite statements, for his attacks on the Anglican bishop of Mashonaland, and for his outburst againt the junior member of the governing coalition -- Patriotic Front leader Joshua Nkomo -- but within the government Mr. Tekere is said to have been a constant thorn in the premier's side.

The manpower minister's name is linked with the views being expressed by some party sources that Mr. Mugabe is too soft on the whites, too soft on multinational business and capitalism, and, above all, too willing to accommodate and cooperate with Mr. Nkomo.

According to this scenario then, the potential sidelining of Mr. Tekere -- depending, of course, on the court case itself -- could be a blessing in disguise.

At present, however, this view is not widely held. One reason is that the alleged implication of a Cabinet minister -- and a high-ranking one -- in a murder has done damage to white morale and, indeed, the morale of anyone who does not support the ruling party, such as the Nkomo followers. It also has harmed international investment sentiment.

After all, it is only a fortnight since the radical finance minister, Sen. Enos Nkala, produced a very pragmatic and mild budget designed to retain white skills in the country, to reassure investors both local and foreign, and to demonstrate his "fiscal conservatism" to the community at large.

Many in the white community and in business believe that even if the incident brings mr. Tekere's political career to an end, the incident has done a gret deal of damage to the country's image internationally.

Much, of couse, now hinges on how the case against Mr. Tekere evolves. Political observers here point out that already some are arguing that the case is a put-up job. Mr. Tekere was pursued and arrested by white police -- under the ultimate control of his political enemy, Joshua Nkomo.

This scenario assumes that far from being sidelined by the whole affair, Mr. Tekere could emerge as a hero instead. Certainly, he is a very popular figure with the party at grass-roots level and, furthermore, with the 22,000 or so Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army guerrillas in the assembly points around the country.

If he were acquitted, then the "put-up job" school would find considerable support for the argument that it was all a plot by an alliance of whites, Nkomo supporters, and party moderates to discredit the man who has defended "the revolution" time and again.

Possibly the worst outcome of all would be for government or the politicians to intervene in the judicial process. This step seems remote since, if he had wished to interfere, Mr. Mugabe probably would have done so by now.

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