Zimbabwe troubled by outbreak of political violence

A wave of urban political violence is washing around the foundations of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's six-month-old Zimbabwe administration, compounding the problems it already faces in the rural areas.

In recent days two people have been killed and dozens injured in interparty fighting in the black townships surrounding Salisbury and in the farming center of Sinoia, 100 kilometers north of the capital.

The trouble appears to have been sparked off by the government's decision to move thousands of guerrillas from rural assembly points to townships just outside Salisbury and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city.

The guerrillas have been in the assembly points since they were set up by the caretaker British administration earlier this year. Ironically, one of the reasons for the decision to move them nearer the cities is the trouble they are causing in some rural areas.

Last month, guerrillas from an assembly point near Mtoko, a small administrative center 145 kilometers east of here, killed two policemen in separate clashes and later fired on the police station at Mtoko.

There have been clashes between the police and guerrillas in other areas, too , and last weekend a white police officer was killed in a shoot-out with a gang of dissidents, one of several bands of former guerrillas which continue to ignore appeals by their commanders to lay down their arms.

In an effort to restore order in the rural areas, Mr. Mugabe visited Mtoko and told villagers to stick within the law. He also spoke to guerrillas from the assembly point near Mtoko and is believed to have appealed for greater discipline.

The recent spate of clashes between police and guerrillas is blamed largely on growing boredom in the camps, which still hold more than 22,000 armed men.

Another 10,000 guerrillas originally assembled in the 14 assembly points scattered around the country have been integrated or are in the process of being integrated into the new national Army. But a permanent role for the remainder has yet to be found.

Earlier plans to use the remaining guerrillas as Army reservists and to deploy them on rural reconstruction programs for much of the year seem to have foundered as a result of the reluctance of the men to swap their guns for hoes.

A major reason for this is that while bearing arms the guerrillas are being paid what, by Zimbabwean standards, is the princely sum of $160 a month.

"It is like asking someone on welfare to work for the same amount he's already drawing in unemployment benefits," said a guerrilla commander. "The men are just not interested."

Boredom is not the only problem. Facilities and accommodations are poor and, while bearable in Zimbabwe's long, dry winter, are unlikely to stand up to the torrential rains that start in November.

To ensure that the summer rains do not lead to more serious outbreaks of violence, the government plans to move most of the guerrillas to the outskirts of Salisbury and Bulawayo in the next few weeks.

But the move is meeting some resistance, and the recent wave of violence in the capital follows the government's announcement that it plans to house around 17,000 guerrillas at Chitungwiza, 15 miles from the center of Salisbury.

Although it is difficult to say who started the fighting, it now has developed into a feud between the prime minister's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the Patriotic Front led by former guerrilla leader Joshua Nkomo.

Hand grenades have been thrown in crowded bars, houses burned down, and people assaulted by gangs from the rival parties, which, although they fought the war on a common political front, have since gone their separate ways.

Inter-party rivalry also has broken out in Sinoi and, while falling far short of a civil war, the overall political urban violence reflects the delicate nature of the structure Mr. Mugabe has inherited.

Tribal rivalries grew rather than diminished during the war and while Mr. Mugabe has brought five Patriotic Front men, including Mr. Nkomo, into his Cabinet, there is dissatisfaction on both sides.

While battling with the complexities of tribal politics, Mr. Mugabe is having to balance white fears with black expectations.

Last week, his minister of health, Dr. Herbert Ushewokunze, launched a blistering attack on the white nursing staff at Salisbury's main hospital, during which he showed a film about a Rhodesian raid on a guerrilla camp in Mozambique at the height of the war.

This angered many whites and prompted a threat of a walkout of the white nursing staff. It also prompted the national Sunday newspaper to call on the prime minister to reprimand Dr. Ushewokunze.

But if black ministers are given to recalling the past in seemingly unconstructive ways, so, too, are some of the country's 220,000 whites.

Last weekend when Zimbabwe played its last rugby match in the South African provincial league, in keeping with the government's policy of ending sporting links with South Africa, defiant whites carried the old Rhodesian flag onto the pitch and waved it aloft.

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