Illusory Progress In Rhodesia

AFTER SEVERAL MONTHS of negotiations, Ian Smith and the three black leaders who agreed to talk with him have apparently reached a settlement, which is supposed to be the beginning of a slow transition to majority rule in Rhodesia.

The settlement calls for the creation of a 100-member National Assembly, with 28 seats reserved for white-elected candidates, giving whites virtual veto power over future legislation. In addition, the settlement guarantees compensation for any expropriated property and protects the right to maintain foreign citizenship. Finally, the agreement stipulates that the armed forces would remain under the control of the white-dominated National Assembly.

It is not surprising that the leaders of the Patriotic Front, the coalition of black nationalists who have led the fight against the Smith government, have rejected the settlement, on the grounds that it will merely create a puppet black government without changing the basic inequalities that now exist in Rhodesia. The Patriotic Front argues that a settlement that does not alter the white community's domination of political and economic power is no settlement at all.

One obvious flaw in the proposed settlement is that it is impossible to determine whether the black majority will accept the agreement, because Smith's government has never permitted free elections or any other realistic expression of black opinion. United States Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young has aptly criticized the settlement, noting that a settlement without the Popular Front will probably set black against black, eventually outweighing any possible benefits. Furthermore, the Smith plan does not meet the standards of the Anglo-American proposal hammered out last year.

In addition, there is considerable evidence that Smith is not dealing in good faith with Rhodesia's blacks. Ominous signs like an order last week to shoot black villagers out of their homes after 8 p.m. can only indicate that Smith is once again trying to buy time by dividing his opposition and maintaining Rhodesia's repressive atmosphere.


Until some method of holding a true referendum--not one that restricts blacks to a choice between absolute or modified white domination--Zimbabwe seems doomed to continued struggle. At least 8500 people, mostly black, have already died in Rhodesia; it would be tragic if the whites' continued refusal to permit open elections led to further bloodshed--which, at the moment, seems inevitable.