Robert Mugabe, who led his guerrilla forces through a seven-year war to finally win power from the white minority in Zimbabwe, has shed much of his violent rhetoric as he struggles with the new political conflicts that threaten his country.
PBS' "Not in a Thousand Years," at 8 tonight on Channel 26, captures that new image.
The documentary is meant to be "a glimpse behind the scenes of a govenment that's had the eyes of a skeptical world upon it" since power passed from the 200,000 whites to the 7 million blacks at the end of the civil war in April 1980.
Unfortunately, the documentary is less compelling than the story of the country that has captured the attention of the world for the past two decades.
Mugabe, once considered by whites in Rhodesia as their worst enemy, is articulate and soft-spoken during a November interview with New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis and in tapes made in 1980 with Jenny Barraclough, a correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corp. He explains the difficult goal of his government: to chart a conciliatory road between the rising expectations of blacks while moderating the changes enough so that the skilled and prosperous white population believes its life style will survive.
This documentary -- unfortunately slow-moving -- looks at how Zimbabwe has fared on this seesaw after almost two years of independence. The producers have sought to talk to the key factions in Zimbabwe and explore some of the country's problems -- the economy, white flight, land reform, unequal education, poor working conditions for blacks, attacks on whites and political rivalries.
A stumbling block in the hour-long presentation is its failure to identify some speakers, their backgrounds or political significance. For example, Edgar Tekere represents blacks calling for faster changes, but his role in the fatal shooting of a white farmer is never disclosed. That slaying forced him out of his Cabinet and party posts.
The Zimbabwean struggle is identified in the show as a "remarkably British revolution," apparently because the blacks have adopted some of the holdover British institutions and customs as Mugabe waits to establish his one-party system. But the characterization seems unfair since the revolution and the transfer of power embodies an African heritage struggling against colonialism. Mugabe's reliance on white advisers and the continuation of a British-style Parliament -- complete with wigs for the speaker -- cannot change the African character of the revolution.
Among the notable omissions from the documentary is an interview with the former Rhodesian prime minister, Ian Smith, the unyielding leader of the old white guard. But his words, replayed at the program's opening while Zimbabwean workers remove his bust from the Parliament building, gave the presentation its name: "I don't believe in black majority rule ever in Rhodesia. Not in a thousand years."