Zimbabwe: charges of government corruption stir political dissent. Ruling party takes harsh steps against criticism and student protests

Eight years after gaining independence, Zimbabwe - Africa's youngest nation - is facing allegations of governmental corruption and much political dissent. Just after ending a low-level rebellion in the southwestern region of Matabeleland earlier this year, Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's government has been stung by a rising tide of charges that greedy ministers are betraying the nation's poor.

Allegations of corruption among top officials of the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), are nothing new. Mr. Mugabe himself has repeatedly pledged to take action against violators of his socialist party's ``leadership code.''

But in recent months, students, members of Parliament, and press reports of corruption by party and government officials have pushed the issue to the forefront of politics in this southern African nation of 8 million people.

The party's reaction has been tough.

Police violently quashed student protests against corruption in the capital, Harare, in late September and temporarily detained nearly 500 students.

A week later, the government ordered Kenyan law lecturer Shadreck Gutto to leave the country.

Then in October, ZANU-PF's 90-member central committee expelled Edgar Tekere - a firebrand politician - from the party he helped to form 25 years ago.

Mr. Tekere had outraged the party leadership by going public with his claim that Mugabe's plans to establish a one-party state would lead Zimbabwe to dictatorship. ZANU-PF officials attributed Tekere's expulsion not to his criticism per se, but to his failure to take it to the party leadership before making it public.

And early this month, the government effectively censored remarks by one of Zimbabwe's most senior and respected leaders - Didymus Mutasa, a member of the powerful ZANU-PF politburo and speaker of the House of Assembly.

Mr. Mutasa had suggested to reporters that the central committee overreacted by expelling Tekere. ``It is part of an MP's duty to criticize government where he thinks [it] is going wrong,'' he said.

Mutasa's statements were carried by the national news agency but were not published in the local press, reportedly on orders from the Ministry of Information.

Ironically, the corruption controversy followed a December 1987 agreement to merge ZANU-PF with its rival, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU).

The ``unity accord'' helped to ease bipartisan squabbling among the political elite and an ethnic conflict between the majority Shona people and the minority Ndebele. And Mugabe's declaring amnesty in April ended a six-year rebellion in Matabeleland by ``dissident'' gunmen.

But as peace has returned to the countryside, signs of public dissatisfaction with government policies have become evident. The expectations of the rural poor, raised high during the war for independence, are smoldering.

Many observers say the student protests symbolized growing frustration over the slow pace of improvement. Despite Zimbabwe's relative prosperity, unemployment is rampant, with one job for every 10 high school graduates. While agriculture continues to feed the nation easily, farms are not absorbing the jobless. Thousands of families live as squatters, still waiting for a parcel of land.

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