An era of Zimbabwe's history is drawing to an end. Last week, both blacks and whites in the House of Assembly voted unanimously to abolish the parliamentary seats reserved for whites, retained by a key clause entrenched in Zimbabwe's 1979 independence Constitution.
The white parliamentary opposition - what little is left of Ian Smith's once-dominant Rhodesian Front (now called the Conservative Alliance) - supported the reform bill, but abstained when the final vote came.
However, four white independent parliamentarians voted for passage, giving Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's ruling party the 70 votes, out of 100, it needed for the bill to become law. The remaining steps toward eliminating the clause, which was designed to expire this year, are largely symbolic. The Senate now must approve the bill, which it is expected to do, and the President will sign it into the statute book next month.
The removal of the white seats clears one more roadblock on the way to the promised establishment of a one-party state. To achieve this, however, Mr. Mugabe's party must secure a unity agreement with the longstanding black opposition party, lead by Joshua Nkomo. Talks between the two parties, broken off by the government in April, resumed earlier this month. But little progress has been made in closing the gap between them.
There has been little reaction to the parliamentary vote by the country's 100,000 whites, who show little interest in politics.
Abolition of the privileged white representation - the reservation of one-fifth of the parliamentary seats for the 100,000-member white minority (1 percent of the total population) - has not been the most controversial aspect of the legislation. The transitional arrangements for filling the vacancies until the next general elections, slated for 1990, have stirred far more debate.
Mark Partridge, who succeeded Mr. Smith as leader of the Conservative Alliance, said his party accepted the inevitability of reform, but disagreed with the transitional arrangements. Under those arrangements, 20 House of Assembly seats and 10 Senate slots will be filled by members elected by the remaining 80 members of Parliament. In essence, the ruling party, with 68 votes, will be able to decide who represents the ethnic minority for the next three years.
The long-run plan is to abolish the Senate and enlarge the House of Assembly creating a new voters' roll for direct parliamentary elections. Zimbabwe also plans to establish an executive presidency, replacing the existing largely symbolic post of president with a US-style executive leader.
Some of the replacement members of Parliament are certain to be whites since Prime Minister Mugabe has repeatedly stressed that he intends to retain a multiracial Parliament. White moderates are hoping that the government will not retain the former Smith supporters who hastily switched parties recently in an effort to remain in the House. They would like to see a genuine effort to bring in whites to represent the main economic sectors and different geographical regions.