Mugabe wrestles with Zimbabwe strikes, violence, party firebrands

Zimbabwe today faces three key priorities, in the opinion of analysts here. First is the need for Prime Minister Robert Mugabe to defuse the tension among top politicians within his Cabinet. To many, this means ensuring that some of the firebrands within his own ranks take a softer line and stop verbal attacks on the rival faction headed by Joshua Nkomo.

Second is the vital need to reduce the level of violence in urban areas by disarming the guerrillas, some of whom are loyal to Mr. Mugabe, some to Mr. Nkomo. Mr. Mugabe said he had plans to do this, even though it ran counter to the London Lancaster House constitutional agreement, which stipulates that the guerrillas will not be disarmed until after the new national army has been established.

Finally, on the industrial front, the government needs to curb the strikes that pose a very minor threat -- to date, at least -- to the economy. As far as industry is concerned, the worry is longer-term in nature. The fear is that the trade union movement is likely to become increasingly politicized.

It is admitted that the current rash of strikes at Wankie coalfield and at Shangani and Trojan nickel mines, are politically inspired, with one official of the workers' committee at Wankie saying quite openly that the management was not to blame.

At Wankie, the strikers say they want their pension payments refunded to them , and they want an end to the system of deductions from the paypackets for pension contributions. Only the government can take the necessary steps to do this, as management is willing, it seems, to accept the workers' demands.

At Trojan nickel mine, the problem was also political, with workers demanding the sacking and deportation from Zimbabwe of "management officials."

There also has been considerable disappointment in Zimbabwe at what are seen as low levels of foreign aid and foreign investment in the country since April. Businessmen have warned the government that there will be no major foreign -- or domestic -- investment until the security and industrial-relations situations improve.

"No one will invest money while we have wildcat strikes going on," a white trade unionist said. And bankers believe that the country's very positive economic achievements are not being fully exploited because of concern abroad at the domestic political position.

"Firm action by the prime minister would do wonders for your image abroad," one visiting banker said recently.

Meanwhile, pressure is building up on Mr. Mugabe to take a harder line, not only on "political dissidents" within his own party and the rival Patriotic Fron (ZAPU), but also against members of his own Cabinet.

In addition, the business community is looking to the prime minister to take firm measures against militant strikers.

Mr. Mugabe is being told that actions are needed to back up his words. Labor Minister Kumbirai Kangai warned, "wildcat" strikers that they faced dismissal, but this week some 8,000 mineworkers were reported on strike for "political reasons."

Only a week after the violence in Bulawayo's Entumbane township in which 58 people died, new outbreaks of interparty fighting were reported from Salisbury and from the northeast of the country.

In one incident, three members of the newly integrated regular Army (made up of former guerrillas from Joshua Nkomo's faction of the Patriotic Front and Mr. Mugabe's own faction, as well as the remnants of the former Rhodesian security forces) were severely beaten by Mugabe guerrillas, and one of the soldiers died.

In separate incidents in Salisbury's Chitungwiza suburb, where the two guerrilla armies face each other, a total of eight people were killed and more than 25 injured.

These outbreaks of violence are easily the worst since the end of guerrilla war in January this year.

Before the latest incidents in Salisbury and Mtoko (in northeast Zimbabwe), Mr. Nkomo, who is home affairs minister, called on Mr. Mugabe to take action against some of his "wide-mouthed" colleagues, whom the veteran nationalist leader blames for last week's fighting in Entumbane.

Mr. Mugabe, speaking in the Marandellas farming area, disowned some of the more radical statements made recently by Finance Minister Enos Nkala. There was no question of declaring a one- party state in Zimbabwe, Mr. Mugabe said, and he had no plans to take over the newspapers -- both statements contradicting policy suggestions put forward by Mr. Nkala.

Mr. Mugabe says the public should draw a careful distinction between statements made by ministers as individuals (that is outside their own portfolios) and those made that refer directly to their ministerial responsibilities. Only the latter matter, he says.

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