"I wish I could lend you my black skin so you could lie there for two days and then you would see... It is anarchy out there."
The anguished words of a 44-year-old black teacher living at Domboshawa, only 20 miles from Salisbury, would no doubt be reinforced by almost all of Rhodesia's 4.5 million peasants. They are bearing the brunt of Rhodesia's war, now spread over at least 80 percent of the country.
In some places, the rural tribesmen are intimidated, harassed, mistreated and killed by as many as five separate armed forces. Besides the guerrilla armies of Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, "private armies" loyal to one of the two internally based black leaders, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole, are vying for the support of the black population.
In addition, as martial law has been extended to about 80 percent of the country since its introduction Sept. 23, the Rhodesian security forces reportedly are subjecting the rural citizenry to increasingly rigorous retaliatory measures in their efforts to turn back the tide of guerrilla infiltration.
Because of the chaotic conditions, it is difficult to assess what is happening in the tribal reserves, where 80 percent of the population lives. According to rellef agencies and church sources who operate in those areas, government forces appear to be adopting a "scorched earth" policy to deprive the guerrillas of the material and psychological assistance of the local people.
The homes of more than 700 families have been burned, beatings and arbitrary executions of suspected guerrilla sympathizers are more frequent and the numbers of civilians reported in military communiques to have died in "crossfire" have increased, according to the same sources.
In isolated cases, civilians are reportedly forced to brush dirt roads with branches to detect landmines and in one gruesome incident, the bodies of two guerrillas killed by security forces were hung in trees over water wells for weeks as a warning to others.
One body wore a handwritten note: "This is the way I have died and the way people like me die." The relief worker who saw the body said that because of the stench people could not draw water or eat in the area.
"It's collective punishment now," remarked one member of a relief organization.
In what appears to be an attempt to deny guerrillas food, shops have been closed and granaries are destroyed. Buses are stopped and passengers told to eat or dispose of the food they are carrying wherever a guerrilla presence is suspected.
A Red Cross spokesman confirmed that in the areas of Mtoko and Mudzi, authorities asked the international agency to stop distributing food to the civilian population for the time being. This followed a report onthe statecontrolled television late last year saying a Red Cross food parcel has been found on a dead guerrilla.
The Rhodesia Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, distressed by the army's apparnt effort to starve out the guerrillas, emphasized in a statement that "the food situation will become critical in six or eight weeks' time, when the last crop is exhausted."
Military authorities counter that martial law -- evenwith its alleged abuses -- is necessary to eliminate atrocities by the guerrillas. Military communiques often relate stories of lips being cut off, people buried alive and pregnant women burned in huts by guerrillas who suspect civilians of collaboration with the white-dominated biracial government that the guerrillas are trying to bring down.
Military sources also say martial law has assisted their war effort and, in some areas, has even permitted the reopening of schools. Because of the "delicate" situation in these areas, though, journalists have not been able to verify them.
In the opinion of military observers, martial law "checkmated" the war, now in its seventh year. While it has decreased the effectiveness of the guerrillas, it has not staunched the influx of insurgents, especially those from Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union Liberation Army in neighboring Mozambique, they said.
There is evidence that those forces are crossing the border in larger groups of up to 40 and have begun to train new recruits inside Rhodesia rather than in Mozambique. Both developments seem to attest to the wider mobility and freedom of the guerrillas inside Rhodesia despite the proclamation of martial law.
Military observers predict that infiltration will continue and increase before the country's first universal suffrage elections, scheduled for April 20. The guerrillas have pledged to disrupt the polling.
Among the laws taking effect with publication in the government Gazette was one repealing the Land Tenure Act that stipulated where people could live and work depending on their race.
The new laws establish economic and cultural restrictions that effectively limit the access of large numbers of the country's 6.7 million blacks to housing, education and medical care available to the 230,000 whites.
On the military front, the armed forces' latest casualty report listed 15 deaths, including those of two black Roman Catholic missionaries, attributed to the guerrillas in a recent, unspecified, period.