Mugabe's choice

ZIMBABWE'S Prime Minister Robert Mugabe may pull back from his angry threat to rewrite his nation's Constitution in order to move more swiftly to establish a one-party state. But his intemperate outbursts of recent days are extremely unfortunate. It is too bad that Mr. Mugabe, rather than acting thoughtfully, is responding out of anger at the white support for former Prime Minister Ian Smith in last week's Zimbabwe elections, which Mugabe's party won overwhelmingly.

In the five years of majority black rule the nation's white population has shrunk from 300,000 to 100,000; recently the flight has stabilized. The tone of the Mugabe remarks, which included an invitation to whites who opposed his policies to leave Zimbabwe, could produce a return to white flight.

One effect of the Mugabe comments is to give unnecessary ammunition to those elements in South Africa that are resistant to ending apartheid and giving blacks, who are a majority in both nations, a larger share of political power. Although whites constitute a far larger percentage of South Africa's population than of Zimbabwe's, many white South Africans remain concerned as to how they would fare under black rule.

Ironically those whites who remained in Zimbabwe after its independence five years ago have fared well under rule by the Mugabe government. Although most whites live in the cities, more whites are now farmers than before the governmental change, which bespeaks confidence that they can live in isolated areas without fearing for personal safety.

Whites have been benefiting from the growth in the Zimbabwean economy, a phenomenon almost unique in Africa at this time. Not socialism but an old-fashioned economic policy of capital incentives has been used by the Mugabe government to bring about this growth. Government-provided capital incentives have caused farmers, black and white, to increase production; agricultural exports are expected to increase this year.

Mugabe's government has earned a reputation for being relatively clean and efficient; last week's election is considered reasonably honest.

Most Zimbabweans do not oppose Mugabe's call for a one-party state: He won a landslide victory in the election. But a single-party state would negatively affect prospects for needed economic investment by other nations or international agencies. In addition, it might adversely affect minorities, including supporters of Joshua Nkomo who already feel harassed by the government.

The nation's Constitution was drawn up in 1979, before black rule; Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Smith, and current opposition black leader Nkomo all agreed to abide by it. It prevents adoption of one-party rule, a stated Mugabe goal, before 1990, and forbids abolition of the whites-only section of Parliament until at least 1987.

Before the election Mugabe had said he would not move now to bring in a one-party state. He now should reaffirm that pledge, and move to restore confidence in the considered nature of his government by all his citizens and the world community.

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