Faced with serious divisions in his delegation to the Rhodesia settlement conference, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia's Prime Minister Abel Muzorewa today sent a message to the home front seeking to reassure whites that they still have a future in the embattled country.

Former prime minister Ian Smith yesterday led a predominantly white delegation in a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington to complain about British constitutional proposals that would strip the 230,000 white community of practically all of its considerable political power.

The British-sponsored talks, which also involve the Patriotic Front guerrilas organizations, are recessed for the weekend.

Today Bishop Muzorewa said that as a result of his three-month-old multiracial government, whites must "be convinced that given the correct black leadership they have nothing whatsoever to fear."

But he added, a strong hint that whites will have to accept constitutional changes, saying: "Very soon, anyone doubting this will discover, like the whites in Kenya did many years ago, that their fear over a majority rule constitution and what they considered as safeguards were not really that important after all.

"They will appreciate and acknowledge that what really matters is a strong, positive government, [allowing] blacks to hold sufficient power to govern the country with authority and justice."

Under the current constitution negotiated by Smith and Muzorewa last year, whites in Parliament can block constitutional changes and control many aspects of government by having most of the seats on key commissions that run the military, police public service and judiciary.

The British government is seeking to remove these white protections in new constitution strongly opposed by Smith, whose hard-line stance has played a key role in past failures to settle the 14-year-old Independence issue. He is reported to have asked in response to the proposals: "If we give away all this, what will we have left?"

It will be difficult for the whites to be intransigent, however, since this is one of the key issues blocking international recognition and the lifting of sanctions against Muzorewa's government, which depends on white support.

Muzorewa also hardened his line against dealing with matters beyond the constitution at the conference, declaring: "We will not discuss issues that are nonstarters, such as our security forces, our military or our police, our system of law and order."

These are all key issues for the Patriotic Front and are scheduled to be discussed after the constitution, with agreement on the two agenda items linked. Thus, the Front's turn to have to compromise will come later, if the issues are discussed and there is to be any hope of success.

The guerrillas are being pressured to be reasonable by the African frontline states, while Zimbabwe-Rhodesia is subject to pressure from South Africa, which pays much of the half-billion dollar annual cost of the war.

Neither side can afford to be seen as the wrecker of this conference, often described as the last chance for a negotiated settlement.