8 DECEMBER 1979, Page 10

Mugabe: joker in the Rhodesian pack

Peter Kemp

Salisbury Whatever the outcome of the Lancaster House Conference and however protracted the efforts of the Patriotic Front to delay it, it seems almost certain, at this moment of writing, that within a matter of weeks, if not days, Rhodesia will return for a time to her allegiance to the Crown; a British Governor will join his car in Salisbury; and the 'Fourteen Glorious Years', as the more retarded elements of the Rhodesian Front call the period since UDI, are coming to an end. The prospects of a cease-fire, of course, are far less sure.

The British Government — Lord Carrington in particular — have come in for much hostile criticism in Rhodesia for their refusal to accept the results of last April's elections, to recognise Bishop Muzorewa, and to lift sanctions immediately. 'We have been totally and utterly betrayed', announced P. K. van der Byl, formerly the most influential of Ian Smith's ministers, on his return from London; although it is quite difficult to see how he can .reasonably complain about it when his has been one of the loudest voices over the last 14 years in the process of telling successive British governments to get stuffed.

But this criticism is.by no means confined to the members of the Rhodesian Front. I heard it, in milder terms, from the lips of Walter lVitimkhulu, a Minister in the UANL government. A royal Matabele of the House of Lobengula, he is a man of moderation and intelligence, greatly respected by conservatives and liberals, black and white; formerly one of Nkomo's lieutenants, he left the Front, he said, because he 'could not stand the continual bickering at headquarters'. Yet even he told me sadly that the British Conservatives had gone back on their promises to his government.

Most of the Rhodesians I have talked with — business men, farmers, soldiers — declare they will go along with the Lancaster House proposals, though few are happy with them; most of the whites who are still here are here to stay, and will remain after the cease-fire — provided conditions are not made intolerable for them. The hard-liners of the Rhodesian Front, who once enjoyed considerable support, seem unable to accept the realities of today — their own situation as a tiny white islet in the sea of black Africa, and the failure of Britain's power and will to shoulder imperial burdens. It was presumably this myopia that made Ian Smith reject, at the Fearless talks in 1968, much better terms than the whites can hope for today.

The event that most clearly spelt the end of white domination was the collapse in 1974 of the Portuguese African empire; from that moment black rule in Rhodesia became only a matter of time. It is arguable that this collapse was a tragedy not only for white Rhodesia but for all sub-equatorial Africa. As Anthony Wilkinson has pointed out in a pamphlet for the International Institute of Strategic Studies, before this event there was a possibility that a multiracial but predominantly black, Portuguese-trained administration would have emerged in Mozambique. creating 'a zone capable of mediating between white South African nationalisms and the black independent states to the north.'

Few Rhodesians entertain much hope of an effective cease-fire. Doubtless there are many guerrillas who will be delighted to come in from the cold; but there are plenty more who are a law unto themselves and don't — won't — take orders from Nkomo or Mugabe; Nkomo's men, in particular, include a hard core of communists, trained in Russia, who certainly don't share his inclination towards capitalism. Moreover, there is acute rivalry between the two terrorist organisations, ZIPRA, the military arm of Nkomo's Zambia-based ZAPU, and ZANLA, the guerrillas of Mugabe's ZANU, based in Mozambique; they are busy trying to infiltrate each other's operational zones, and are fighting frequent bloody battles among themselves in the bush. If the elections are not to be a farce, it is vital that the Rhodesian security forces — with suitable monitoring be given the task of maintaining order in the intervening period; this point was emphasised to me by, of all people, one of the most senior officers of ZAPU. Otherwise there will be immediate civil war — as there may well be in any case.

Despite official denials, there has recently been a pronounced increase in the numbers of guerrillas crossing the frontiers from Zambia and Mozambique in preparation for the elections; President Kaunda in particular has been moving them south as fast as he can — hence the Rhodesian attacks on his road and rail bridges. I heard reliable stories that both ZAPU and ZANU started their pre-election campaigns nearly a month ago by placing in every kraal cadres whose job is to 'guide' the villagers which way to vote. They are probably capable of doing it too, with their claims that they have the most powerful witch doctors and are in touch with the tribal spirits; although the voting is meant to be secret, they say, their witch doctors will tell them how everyone votes, and their vengeance will fall on deviators. There is evidence that these methods are remarkably effective with simple and superstitious people.

The tribal structure in Rhodesia is important because it is likely to influence profoundly the pattern of African voting. I would predict that most of the whites will vote this time for Bishop Muzorewa's United African National Council, as will the African middle classes and intellectuals in the towns; but in the country districts Africans will tend to vote tribally.

Rhodesia is divided, very roughly, between the Matabele, or Ndbele, in the west, centred on Bulawayo but extending a long way northward, and the Shona-speaking peoples in the east. Bitter memories divide them, for almost until the end of the last century the Matabele, an aggressive warrior tribe of Zulu origin, made devastating raids on all Shona within their reach; Shona and Ndbele today are each afraid of political domination by the other. It is from the Ndbele that Nkomo's ZANU derives its support and he would probably sweep all the Ndbele seats in an election; but they only amount to 15-20 per cent of the electorate.

Robert Mugabe's ZANU relies on Shona support, but there exists little unity among the Shona; they are split into tribal groupings with deep rivalry among them: the Zezurus, who include Robert Mugabe; the Manyikas, among them Bishop Muzorewa, and the Ndau, Sithole's people — to name 8 few. The most important, however, are the Karanga — warriors with a proud tradition, whose ancestors built the old fortress city 01 Zimbabwe; they make up 80 per cent of the black security forces and about 50 per cent of the PF guerrillas. Until recently theY were resentful at having no political rer resentation, and there was speculation th8! one day the Karangas on both sides wool°, unite and tell the bishop and the leaders? ' the PF to go jump in the Zambesi. But i.11 early November an effervescent and Ow able politician, Mike Mawema, launched a new party, under Karanga leadershiP which, he told me, should take votes awaY from Mugabe's ZANU. Any attempt to forecast the result of thiei elections must be an exercise in crystal hal gazing. The PF once enjoyed strong supPo, among the country people, who have alwa_Y: resented being deprived by the white illa_14 of so much land, being confined to snia,_ holdings, and being obliged to restrict. tn! numbers of their cattle — to the Africa" cattle represent wealth as well asbY price; a leading African authority quote_ci Anthony Wilkinson states that the Stir have been rebels at heart ever since their have of 1896. Nevertheless, 1:4, relations in Rhodesia struck me as reinftaio ably friendly — much better than in Eir,"ics, and infinitely better than in South An_00 Moreover the war has hit the tribessTa'rit hardest of all; the guerrillas make en" and demands on him for food, drin,k'sonie women, and have even made him in.:00 of places abandon the profitable cultivadotho. cotton in order to grow maize to fee He is coming to see the PF's delaying tactics — of which he is well aware from the African grapevine — as an intolerable prolongation of his misery; and so the longer the PF withhold their agreement to a cease-fire the more support they will lose in the countryside.

According to most predictions, the election result will be a very close-run thing. The bishop has to contend with two serious disadvantages — apart from some domestic and financial scandal, neither of which has ever been a bar to leadership in Africa: first, the fact that he has had to call a second election so soon after his success in April makes him appear in African eyes to be admitting failure. Secondly, the short interval between elections has not given him enough time to fulfil the promises he made to the voters — to end the war and to raise the standard of living. It is hardly his fault, but many former supporters are disillusioned. There is a distinct possibility of a victory for the PF — again a narrow one, and only if they fight the election as a single party. Here the joker in the pack is the true character of Robert Mugabe, which has yet to emerge. Nkomo has already revealed himself as a cynical opportunist without principles, and if he came to power, any material improvements would be unlikely to filter far down the social scale; furthermore, if he returns to Rhodesia he runs a serious risk of assassination, either from White Rhodesians enraged by his callous gloating over the two Viscounts his men shot down and the massacre of survivors, or from Africans whose families have been raped and slaughtered by ZIPRA.

Although ZANLA have committed even more —and worse —horrors against Africans and whites, Mugabe has not condoned them. Those who know him personally agree that he has a formidable intellect and total integrity; all I have met insist that his Marxism is paper-thin. When asked by a friend of mine who has known him since boyhood why he makes such uncompromising statements in public, he answered, 'I have to do my shopping in the East' — implying, according to my friend, that he would be very happy to do it in the West. He is certainly very wary of the Russians.

His mother is an intensely devout Catholic, and he himself, when in prison, attended Mass regularly. He has repeatedly emphasised to my friend that he would never expropriate white farmers, but would want them to stay. 'They are very productive,' he said.

Mugabe is likely to be the real power in a PF government, and if those estimates of him prove wrong there will be a mass exodus of whites and chaos within six months. But he is an intelligent as well as a strong man, and can hardly fail to see the advantages of economic co-operation with South Africa; he has already stated in public that he wouldn't allow Rhodesia to become a launching pad for guerrilla operations against the Union. As for the South Africans, even that stubborn verkrampte, the late Dr Verwoerd, stated in 1969 that he would rather see a strong black government in Salisbury than a weak white one. rational explanation; the belief that if sufficiently well-informed they could have rationally gnticipated it; and the belief that such a rational foreknowledge of events can be had by a week of self-education. The result is that, all over Washington, people are now speed-reading the Koran.

That this is not necessarily a healthy way for the Western mind to entertain itself may be judged by reading Carlyle's essay on Mahomet in On Heroes and Hero-worship. In none of the other essays does he thrash about so much, as he holds up 'this wild man of the desert, with his wild sincere heart, earnest as death and life, with his great flashing natural eyesight, who had seen into the kernel of things'. But already, at previously polite tables and even on the television screen, this is how once demure Americans are beginning to talk, as they come from their evening reading of the Koran, with its 'panting breathless haste . . . a headlong haste: for very magnitude of meaning, he cannot get himself articulated into words'. If only they had known all this, they sigh, the 'fuzzy-wuzzies' would not be in the streets or in their embassies.

You may think that I exaggerate. But there are professors of Islamic studies at Georgetown University whose wives have been nagging them for years: 'Why did you take up such a subject? We never get invited to the Kissingers.' But all at once the professors find that that very door is open to them, they are asked to give seminars and to appear on television, they are fetched and taken home in limousines with fat cheques in their pockets, and as they leave for the Kennedys their wives look back and purr meanly to the neighbours. All of this is one characteristic of the Americans — they will always try to find a cultural explanation for what is merely political — and it has something to do with the inter-disciplinary studies they took at college. But it makes them forget what is at hand.

As television now begins its nightly news with readings from the Koran, no one seems much interested in the political opportunities which have been opened. But those whose knowledge of the Middle East comes from more than speed-reading (and have just returned from there: it is amazing how brisk is the traffic) say that it is a long time since America has been as strong there as it is now. One of them offered his observations to a group of us the other day. He said that the ruler of every Arab state is appalled and alarmed by what is happening in Iran and that, when the immediate situation is quietened, they will individually and even collectively be looking to restore their alliances with America. 'From our point of view,' he said in summary, 'they needed this fright'.

We should also pay attention to the remark of the American ambassador to the United Nations, that what the other ambassadors are saying in public is only what all along they have been urging in private. They included the ambassador of Kuwait, whose speech was carefully worded, and yet unreservedly condemned Iran. It was certainly a great deal more courageous than the speech of the ambassador of Japan. The simple fact is that, although at moments the debates in the Security Council have sounded a little like a Moslem prayer meeting, the speeches have been political. The Arab states have exact interests to protect, and everything the Ayatollah Khomeini does threatens them. They are not about to act like 'the wild idolatrous men' whom Carlyle portrays in his essay.

I think that this is one reason why the State Department has stayed generally so calm, on the one hand, and yet felt that it could lash out at the effrontery of the government of Libya. The diplomatic activity in the past four weeks has been intense and wide-reaching, and one thing that has emerged from it is a renewed sense of America's position as a world leader. The truth of the matter is that, during the past five weeks, the Vietnam war has ended in the American mind. The Americans have at last stopped fighting it — and so also have stopped losing it — and the Ayatollah has done it all by himself. The main impression that one has of the State Department is, that although its eyes are still fixed on the embassy in Teheran, they are also lifted to the great affairs that await.

I even get the impression that in the past week the emphasis has begun to change. The first hope is of course still that the hostages will be released unharmed and without trial, The second hope is that they will be tried and then deported. The third hope is no hope for them at all, but a readiness to move, not militarily perhaps and certainly not recklessly so, to exploit the diplomatic advantage which America has gained. It would be a tough political choice for President Carter to make in an election year, but he is going to be told that too much ground has been gained to be idly thrown away. The formation of new military alliances could seem, as well as be, a stronger response than any military action that would justify the cost and the danger.

No one now doubts that there will now be little difficulty in increasing the defence budget, but all such developments will be primarily important as reflections of the new mood. America has felt itself behaving as a great power, and so found that other nations are regarding it as a great power. We are probably about to enter as creative a period of American diplomacy as in the late Forties. The only doubt is the one which I described at the, beginning: the temptation of Americans to think that every danger is their own fault, that they should have understood the world and its cultures better, until they will be overwhelmed again by their 'vast involvement in guilt'. But then I do not think that they have been reading the Koran in the State Department, or have had it read much to them behind the scenes in the United Nations. The Egyptian ambassador was reading it aloud to the Ayatollah Khomeini: it is he who needs it, after all, and not the Americans. Mussadiq grew increasingly hostile towards the Shah whose programme of land reform shocked the aristocratic land-owners. The Teheran mob was vehemently on the side of Mussadiq and always threatened to lynch or blind with acid those critics of his in the Majlis, or Parliament. He also had the support of Persia's holy men, as the Spectator pointed out in several editorials during the crisis: 'True, if there were no oil industry, the country would be bankrupt. But this itself is a prospect which is the reverse of alarming to the rnujtadis and mullahs, who hanker for the days when Persia was as remote from the west as Tibet' (16 March 1951). 'And behind him stands the even more determined Ayatullah Kashani, a man even more extreme than Dr Mussadiq himself in his determination to keep Persia unspotted from the rest of the world. A return to a primitive, pastoral and utterly poverty-stricken economy would not be too much for him' (26 September 1952).

The British simply did not know how to deal with Mussadiq, who was capable of such eccentric deeds as offering £80,000 to anyone who could win back Bahrein for Persia, When the British took Persia before the International Court of Justice (as the United States is doing today), Mussadiq simply resigned from the court. When Britain spoke gently, Mussadiq exploited our weakness. When we spoke sharply, it seemed to the Spec' tator (25 May 1951): 'the sound of a British, or even an American voice is sufficient by itself to set the Persian press and public into a frenzy'. Yet although three British sailors were killed at Abadan after getting mixed up in a demonstration, Mussadiq was anxious that foreigners should be treated with Persian hos0tality. He expelled British oil technicians rather than holding them to ransom. By 1953, Mussadiq was Britain's' favourite national joke, as Amin was to become 20 years later. His habits of taking to his bed and weeping made him I' joy to the newspaper cartoonist. The Spectator competition of 30 January, 1953, featured a number of nursery rhymes on the theme of 'Persian Oil'. For instance: