- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe In the improbable atmosphere of an election campaign dominated by racially charged rhetoric, black Zimbabweans have for the first time elected whites to represent them two decades after the end of white-only rule.

President Robert Mugabe's focus on confiscating white-owned land and industry touched a raw nerve across the continent, where economic disparities and the legacy of colonialism remain visible. Yet blacks voted overwhelmingly in four constituencies to send white candidates of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) into parliament.

The nation and the world yesterday were still digesting weekend elections that delivered 57 seats in parliament to the MDC and 62 to the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Popular Front (ZANU-PF).

Foreign reaction was most enthusiastic in neighboring South Africa, where the African National Congress congratulated Mr. Mugabe and said the election showed "democracy is taking root not only in Zimbabwe but … in the whole of Africa."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted with pleasure that the MDC seemed happy with the result. "We must respect [the people's] will, and I rejoice with them," he said.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who had already described the vote as "rigged," said the result showed the people of Zimbabwe wanted change. "If ZANU-PF is willing to make a fresh start, Britain will be willing to respond," he said.

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry also said voters had made clear their wish for "a new way in the country's politics." In Denmark, Cooperation Minister Jan Troejborg limited himself to saying his government would not be imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe itself, many were remarking on the success of white candidates in four of the five constituencies where they had been nominated by the MDC in spite of Mr. Mugabe's effort to portray the party as a "stooge" for whites.

"It is an indication black Zimbabweans will look at the motivation of white people and ask, are they people of good faith seeking the same goals they are," said David Coltart, legal secretary for the MDC who was elected with 84 percent of the vote in Bulawayo South a district with fewer than 1,000 white residents.

The other white winners were:

• Trudy Stevenson, a veteran political activist and participant in efforts to reform the constitution, who won in Harare North by 18,976 votes to 4,852 for ZANU-PF.

• Mike Auret, the former head of the Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice, who won Harare Central by 14,207 votes to 3,620.

• Coffee farmer Roy Bennett, who rejected repeated threats by war veterans who demanded he stand down from the race or lose his farm in the southeastern rural district of Chimanimani. He handed over the keys to his farm and won the seat by 11,410 votes to 8,072 for ZANU-PF.

The fifth white candidate, Alan McCormick, ran in the violence-wracked rural district of Guruve North, where he lost 20,513 to 2,370.

Clearly the terms of white participation in Zimbabwe's politics are changing. Mr. Mugabe has accused the MDC of being pawns of white interests, but many of the party's supporters, particularly the young with little memory of the struggle against white rule, are unmoved by the insult.

"If a white man wins, it is because of the people. We put him there. It is one man, one vote. I am sure Bennett is a person very capable to help people," said 24-year-old Josphat Mudende, who voted for Mr. Bennett in the village of Wengezi.

With Zimbabwe's economy in crisis and its government desperately in need of foreign aid, tribal and racial consciousness played a secondary role to self-interest.

"This country is bankrupt. We need money from white people. If we have white people with us they can better help us get money from the Europeans," said one MDC supporter in Masvingo, who was afraid to have his name published.

Mr. Coltart said that he saw no blanket resurgence of whites in politics, but that each individual had been judged on his or her merits.

Indeed, Mr. Bennett represents a different breed of whites from those who ruled what was once known as Rhodesia. He speaks fluent Shona and when he bought his farm 10 years ago, he presented himself to the local chief as a subject.

When a cyclone hit Mozambique and Zimbabwe earlier this year, Mr. Bennett sent his farm vehicles out to clear roads, rebuild bridges and deliver emergency food facts that were related by word of mouth throughout his district.

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