Britain released details today of a proposed constitution for Zimbabwe-Rhodesia that would strip the 230,000 minority whites of most of their ability to control the government.
White unhappiness about the British proposal led to increasing indications of divisions within the biracial Zimbabwe-Rhodesian government delegation.
Prime Minister Abel Muzorewa stayed away from today's only session in the British-sponsored settlement conference, and a white-dominated group from his delegation held a special meeting with British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington about the proposed constitution.
Both the government and the rival Patriotic Front guerrillas presented proposed constitutions unacceptable to the British as the first week of the conference wound up with little doubt that the Front had won the opening round in the public relations war.
British sources close to the conference said the Front had shown "reasonableness," especially in the "manner and presentation" of its proposals. The sources said that so far Muzorewa's delegates had not shown similar reasonableness and "seem to be speaking with divided voices."
It was noted, however, that the "crunch" for the Front would come later in the conference with expected pressure from the British on problems leading up to independence.
The proposed constitutions presented by both sides in response to the British plan were regarded as opening ploys representing maximum positions with room to negotiate.
The Zimbabwe-Rhodesian government merely submitted the controversial constitution under which it is governing. It already has been rejected by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as "defective" because it contains considerable elements of white control.
The British proposals, which aim to remove white control over constitutional changes and various government commissions, should not have surprised the Muzorewa delegation, the sources said, since they were a "straightforward elaboration" of the general points made by Britain in inviting the parties to the conference.
Zimbabwe-Rhodesian Foreign Minister David Mukome sought to downplay the changes, telling reporters, "The British proposals are very much a reproduction of our constitution but we believe they didn't quite copy it correctly."
He said today's special meeting with Lord Carrington sought clarification on four matters but they did not get through the first point and discussions would continue. He declined to disclose the points in contention, but there was little doubt they involved whites.
The proposed Patriotic Front constitution also drew British criticism, with the sources saying that "what is not in it is more important than what is."
The main element missing was any reference at all to whites, who make up only 4 percent of the 7 million population but are the key elements in the economy and among the military supporting Muzorewa.
The Front plan calls for an executive president, rather than a prime minister, with wide-ranging powers that the sources said could easily lead to "authoritarian tendencies."
The proposal also allows the removal of all current officials, judges and magistrates and does not provide specifics of a bill of rights or protect current civil service pensions -- all key issues for whites.
Patriotic Front spokesman Eddison Zvogbo, defending the lack of white protection in the constitution, said: "We say no to recism. Those who want it must state their case for it."
He added, however, that the Front was willing to negotiate and there was little question that when it comes to hard bargaining the Front will allow some protection for whites.
Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, leader of the "front-line" states supporting the guerrillas, said at the Commonwealth conference that led to the current meeting that he had no objection to special seats in Parliament for whites.
Nyerere made a one-day stopover in London today after a visit to Ireland and has talks with Thatcher and guerrilla leaders Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo on progress in the conference. Pressure on the guerrillas from "front-line" states is regarded as a key element in British hopes for reaching a settlement.
Whites, who are leaving the country at the rate of 1,000 a month in the face of an escalating guerrilla war, were likely to be particularly upset by a remark made by Zvogbo in reference to the longevity of the constitution.
"We will wind up with a republic. So many constitutions have been drawn up in this very building" -- historic Lancaster House where Britain has negotiated numerous independent agreements. "You now have to go to libraries to read them."
Zvogbo described the atmosphere as "upbeat" after one week of slow-moving talks, which have only consumed seven hours.He said progress has been achieved and the Front has created "an atmosphere conducive to constructive negotiations."
Foreign Minister Mukome said he had "no reason to be displeased," adding that there had been "a bit of progress, although we could have expected more."
Mukome said Muzorewa missed today's conference session because of "pressing" government business.
The main changes proposed by the British involve removal of a white blocking power over constitutional amendments, and ending of white control over commissions that run the military, police, judiciary and civil service.
It was evident that Britain also plans to reduce the percentage of white seats in the key lower house of Parliament but no numbers were given.
These clauses were all the product of negotiations between Muzorewa and white former prime minister Ian Smith last year over the constitution that led to the election this year of Muzorewa's unrecognized, black-led government.