Peter Rawby, a husky Rhodesian-born white farmer, stood before a crowd of African workers on the Benridge Farm six miles west of here, waving a Soviet-made AK-47 rifle and talking vivaciously in the local Shona language.

"He's telling them that this is how the terrorists want to take the country, by the gun, instead of by voting as they are going to do," explained another white farmer standing nearby.

The "terrorists" are guerrillas belonging to the black nationalist Patriotic Front, which is refusing to participate in the forthcoming elections for Rhodesia's first black-led government and has vowed to disrupt them. Their standard arm is the AK47.

The guerrillas are increasingly active these days throughout Rhodesian capital of Salisbury. The Benridge Farm owner was himself off on a follow-up operation Friday after guerrillas attacked and burned down the black quarters on the neighboring farm just the night before.

The Rhodesian government is trying to convince the country's 2.8 million blacks of voting age that they should, and must, go to the polls to stop the war and win international recognition for the new black government.

Crucial to a successful turnout are the 340,000 full-time African workers on the nearly 6,000 white farms scattered across Rhodesia. Along with their wives, voting like them for the first time in Rhodesia, farm laborers constitute around 25 percent of the black electorate.

Rawby, who owns his own farm in the nearby Shamva area, is one of 20 white farmers serving during the massive pre-election military call up in the army's psychological operations unit. He is touring white farms at the rate of three a day explaining to the largely illiterate and fearful black farm workers how to vote and why they must do so.

In addition to Shona, the 34-year-old farmer speaks fluent Chinyanja, the language of many farm workers in the Bindura area who come from neighboring Malawi.

The elections, it was announced here Friday, will begin April 17 and last for five days. The counting of votes begins April 23 and the results will not be known for another full week.

Altogether, the complicated electoral process will not be completed until May 23. No data has been officially set for Rhodesia's independence under a black government, but it seems likely this will happen sometime in early June.

There is no roll of registered black voters for the first universal suffrage election. Any man or woman 18 years of age and a resident in Rhodesia for at least two years is being allowed to participate. This means a lot of farm workers from Malawi among neighboring countries will also be voting in the Rhodesian elections.

Speaking to a gathering of 250 workers and their families from Benridge and several other nearby white farms. Rawby illustrated on the back of a campaign poster the initials of the five African parties contesting the 72 elective black seats in the new parliament and the symbol by which each has chosen to be identified on the ballot.

"These people have never voted in their lives," said Rawby to a party of 40 foreign journalists accompanying him to the Benridge Farm. "They are a little bit apprehensive about his. But once it is explained to them that by voting the war will stop, they seem quite happy."

The farmhands listened attentively as Rawby rattled on quickly in Shona and Chinyanja, and several times even broke out in laughter at his jokes. They sat in the shade of towering eucalyptus trees with six rifle-toting local black militiamen standing impassively nearby.

In early January, the guerrillas came and took away five other farm militiamen and later killed three of them. No incident has occurred on Benridge since.

Judging from what the farm's schoolteacher, Chenjirai Madzonga, 24, had to say, voting in the forthcoming elections is seen pretty much as a must.

"They tell us we must vote regardless of whom we vote for," he remarked.

"We have never seen any of the leaders here but i'm sure they [the farmhands] will vote for Bishop [Abel] Muzorewa. They know his name even if they haven't seen him."

Like the black population throughout the Bibdura area, the bishop is Shona, the majority ethnic group among the 6.8 million blacks of Rhodesia. His United African National Council is widely expected to win the vast majority of the 72 African seats and he to become Rhodesia's first black prime minister.

According to Chenjirai, the guerrillas here are not actually advising the people to boycott the elections.

"They say that is you are asked to vote then you should do it. Otherwise you might lose your job," he said.

Fear of losing jobs, explained Chenjirai, is one reason farmhands and their families all turned out for Friday's meetings.

"We are just afraid," he said. "We don't know what would happen if we don't attend meetings."

Interestingly, one of the two questions put to Rawby by the black workers after his explanation of the elections was whether they could vote for the Patriotic Front's leaders, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.

"I explained that if these leaders come back, to the country, then, yes, they would vote for them," he said afterwards.

Would Benridge's black farm workers prefer Mugabe or Nkomo to Bishop Nuzorewa if they were to come back?

"There are men here who would vote for Mugabe, but they are afraid to do so," remarked one young farmhand as the meeting broke up and workers returned to their jobs.