Africa Notes: Whither Zimbabwe? - November 1983

When Robert Mugabe took office as independent Zimbabwe's first prime minister in April 1980, he faced a challenge of staggering dimensions. Seven years of war had left 20,000 dead out of a population of some 7.4 million, many farms and homesteads deserted, and the economic infrastructure seriously disrupted. To create a politically stable and economically prosperous country, the new government would have to be responsive to the divergent demands of at least four separate groups within Zimbabwe's population:

• Militants within Mugabe's party, the ZANU-PF

• The mass of the nation's black citizenry

• The economically crucial white population

• Adherents of Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (PF-ZAPU)

Analyses of Zimbabwe have tended to focus on the government's handling of one or two of these groups, with the emphasis on missteps and failures. Western reporting, for example, has given more attention to discontent among the Matabele ethnic group (the traditional base of Nkomo's political strength) and among whites.

Mugabe cannot afford this luxury. He needs the support, or at a minimum the acquiescence, of all four  groups.


Michael Clough