Zimbabwe's Mugabe steps up pressure on opposition leader

In the weeks following Zimbabwe's recent election, the government has kept unabated pressure on opposition leader Joshua Nkomo. Mr. Nkomo is regarded by the government of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe as the man solely responsible for guerrilla unrest in the western areas of the country.

In a show of force over the weekend, police confiscated the passports of both Nkomo and his wife and arrested Nkomo's brother, Steven.

But while the actions of the government are some of the most serious to be taken against the opposition leader since Zimbabwe became independent five years ago, it has stopped short of physically restricting Nkomo's freedom, or outlawing his party.

In the last three weeks, Nkomo, leader of the Zimbabwe African People's Union -- Patriotic Front (ZAPU), has been deprived of his bodyguards and his household staff -- later allowed to return -- during police swoops on his residences in Harare, the nation's capital, and Bulawayo, the capital of the western province of Matabeleland. ZAPU draws nearly all of its support from the Ndebele-speaking population of Matabeleland.

Arrests have also been used to weaken ZAPU. The party's chief whip, Sydney Malunga, was arrested outside Parliament and was still in detention on unspecified charges at the weekend.

Immediately after the early July elections for the country's black voters, Mugabe declared that ZAPU, with its block of 15 seats in Parliament, was the main stumbling block to ``total unity,'' a phrase generally regarded here as meaning ``one-party state.'' Since then Mugabe has publicly stated that he proposes to put an end to ZAPU if the party does not cease its alleged guerrilla acgivities.

It is evident that the guerrillas back ZAPU and are fighting against domination of the country by Mugabe's party -- the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). But the government has yet to convict any senior ZAPU official for links with the guerrillas.

Mugabe's terms for peace between ZAPU and ZANU-PF require that ZAPU's leadership join ZANU-PF. The guerrillas would not accept such an agreement, and they are likely to ignore all appeals to throw down their arms and join ZANU-PF.

Mugabe will then be obliged to implement his promise: ``If ZAPU does not stop bandits, we will stop ZAPU.'' At a recent rally he said that several ``agents'' had been deployed by ZAPU into Harare townships to foment unrest during the elections, and that they would appear in court. A conviction would strengthen Mugabe's case against ZAPU, allowing him to move more quickly to ``stop'' the party.

The government said the police action directed at Nkomo concerned investigations into guerrilla activities. In one of the swoops on Nkomo's homes the government said it had arrested a guerrilla.

Nkomo has kept a low profile, avoiding Parliament and seldom leaving his home. He appeared resigned to what he termed police ``harassment'' and told newsmen, ``Do not be surprised if you hear I am dead. It is horrible.''

Visitors calling on Nkomo have also been arrested. Just being seen at the Nkomo household in Bulawayo has begun to be regarded as dangerous.

Observers here say that any precipitate action against Nkomo, who is still a hero of the liberation war, could create dangerous antagonism among the people of Matabeleland, who are already strongly resentful following two antiguerrilla campaigns in Matabeleland.

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