Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's first Cabinet reshuffle since independence appears to have been aimed at consolidating his power. * By removing his controversial minister of manpower, Edgar Tekere, Mr. Mugabe has weakened the radical wing of the ruling ZANU-PF party of ousting its spokesman in the Cabinet. At the same time, the prime minister has served notice on those in his party who disagree with his pragmatism that he expects discipline in his administration.
* By demoting his erstwhile guerrilla partner, Joshua Nkomo, he has separated his chief rival from the powerful home affairs portfolio, with its control of the nation's police.
Mr. Tekere, the third ranking official of the ZANU-PF party, had become the favorite of the ruling party's radicals because of his outspoken attacks against whites and demands for more doctrinaire socialist policies.
His outbursts were a frequent embarrassment to Prime Minister Mugabe, whose nine months in office have been marked by a conciliatory approach to his former white adversaries and by cautious economic policies.
Of particular embarrassment to Mr. Mugabe was Mr. Tekere's recent trial on charges of murdering a white farmer. Although Mr. Tekere was acquitted on a legal technicality, the affair provided Mr. Mugabe with an obvious excuse to oust the outspoken Cabinet member.
The other major Cabinet change, the shifting of Mr. Nkomo from the home affairs ministry to that of public service, also will help Mr. Mugabe to gather the reins of power into his own hands. Since independence, the police have been the only major organ of state power outside the control of the ruling party. There has been much criticism of Mr. Nkomo's ministry by ZANU-PF members who blamed the police for many of the post-independence outbreaks of violence.
Such criticism was largely unfair, as Mr. Mugabe himself has admitted, and in demoting his longtime political rival, the prime minister has angered the Patriotic Front.
Mr Nkomo has not yet accepted the new portfolio and says he will have to consult the central committee of his party, probably later this week, before making a final decision on the offer.
The implication is that he might not accept the job and is thinking of leavng the Cabinet, possibly taking other Patriotic Front Cabinet ministers with him.
This would break up the coalition and increase the likelihood of even more serious clashes between the two major black political parties, whose support runs along tribal lines.
But while Mr. Nkomo has been humiliated by his demotion, conventional wisdom suggests that he eventually will accept the new ministry. To do otherwise would simply play into the hands of those in the ruling party who have long argued for Mr. Nkomo's removal from office. Itg also would bring the formation of a one-party state in Zimbabwe meansurably closer.
Having won 57 of the 80 black seats at stake in the pre- independence election, ZANU-PF could easily govern independently, and the prime minister's formation of the original coalition Cabinet was more a gesture of reconciliation than an act of necessity.
Mr. Mugabe's political shrewdness is reflected in the fact that although he has demoted Mr. Nkomo, the prime minister has offered the Patriotic Front an additional post in his enlarged Cabinet.
This gesture makes it even more difficult for Mr. Nkomo to quit the coalition.