Surpassing all past efforts to persuade the outside world of its viewpoint, the Rhodesian government in an unprecedented manner has turned this war-ravaged country into a glass house open to the close inspection of 70 international observers and 200 news correspondents here for the elections.
Press censorship has been dropped, visitors can go wherever they wish at their own risk and Rhodesian civilian and military officials are talking on the record with a frankness and openness never before witnessed.
Resident Western correspondents, accustomed to military censorship, travel restrictions, terse war communiques and official evasiveness, are hearing things said officially that previously were taboo.
The government is not telling or showing all, but it is hiding relatively little. It has arranged daily trips by Army plane, helicopter, armored vehicle and truck to guerilla-infested remote corners of Rhodesia scarcely under its control as well as to protected villages, white farming and urban areas still firmly within its sphere of influence.
The obvious objective of this open-door policy is to persuade the West that the elections now under way are indeed free and fair and therefore the new black-led government should be given recognition, and economic sanctions should be lifted from this breakaway British colony.
Whether the tactic will succeed with Western governments remains to be seen, but is apparently already having its effect on some observers and reporters.
Among the observers watching the election process are representatives from five conservative leaning American groups-the Heritage Foundation, the Georgetown Center for Strategic Studies, the American Conservative Union, the American Security Council and Freedom House-as well as black civil rights leader Bayard Rustin and former U.S. delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Commission and anti-war activist Allard Lowenstein.
Predictably, visitors have been taken to see long lines outside the polling stations in the cities' African townships where festive dancing and singing has been organized by the contending parties.
They have seen obedient farm laborers, driven in trucks and flatbeds to the rural booths by their white bosses, lined up by the hundreds waiting patiently to vote and they have watched thousands of residents in the protected villages turn out under the protection of armed guards.
But they have also been taken to see empty polling stations in tribal trust lands, or African reserves, where guerrillas opposed to the elections have succeeded in keeping the hundreds of thousands of Africans away.
The abstention is blamed on "terrorist intimidation" of the local population rather than positive grassroots support for the guerrillas. But quite unexpectedly, the district commissioners and army commanders are explaining their problems and answering tough questions with considerable, if not total, honesty.
The logistics of the operation are being handled well given the demands of the war and government's limited resources.
Government buses pick up the journalists and observers every morning at their hotels and take them to an Air Force base, where after tea and biscuits they are loaded aboard Rhodesian and South African Dakota planes and flown to smaller towns such as Umtali, Chipinga, Karoi, Gwelo and Bulawayo.
There, district commissioners and local commanders give a rundown on the overall situation in their areas, the state of the war and the organization of the elections. They take questions of all kinds and with a few exceptions give fairly detailed answers providing statistics to back them up.
Then, observers and reporters are broken down into smaller groups and taken by helicopters, trucks or buses to surrounding rural areas and urban polling centers.
Each group has an armed escort, a government guide and an interpreter. Once at the polling station, observers and reporters are free to go anywhere, and talk to anyone. Photographers though are barred from taking pictures of anyone in the process of actually voting.
Reporters have generally found that it is possible to find some Africans who speak enough English, often schoolteachers but also laborers, to answer questions. Thus, they have not had to rely solely on government-provided interpreters who would be suspected of arranging answers to fit the official viewpoint.
After spending anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour at one polling point, observers and journalists are taken to another, usually of a different kind and in another area. Thus, for example, the group visiting the northwestern Karoi area Thursday visited polling stations in two white farming areas and a mobile one in a tribal trust land.
In the first three days of polling, I visited about 10 points in three different areas. At some, nobody was seen voting and at others there were thousands.
At two points in the southeast, the guerrillas clearly had a predominant influence in the district. Elsewhere the army, armed party auxiliaries, administration, or white farmers dominated.
After a day of poll hopping, observers and reporters return to the jump-off point for another discussion with the district commissioner and army commander. Then they return to Salisbury.
At 6:30 every night, there is a press briefing where the number of votes cast that day is announced and questions are answered. Each night a different party leader, plus top civilian and military leaders, have addressed the conference.
Not all have distinguished themselves. Wednesday night, Police Commissioner Peter Allum astounded the crowded room of visitors as he tried heavyhandedly to demonstrate that Rhodesia had enjoyed relative peace compared to other neighboring countries.
Since 1972, the commissioner announced proudly, the country had only experienced 16 civil disturbances. He then rattled off what kind they had been-riots at sports events, feuds between political parties, a traffic accident and other minor incidents.
But somehow the commissioner failed to include the seven-year-old guerrilla war that has taken more than 14,000 lives. CAPTION: Picture, Prime Minister Ian Smith casts ballot in Salisbury, AP