In a move reflecting continuing strains within the Patriotic Front alliance, Rhodesian nationalist leader Robert Mugabe today predicted that the Front will not contest the upcoming Rhodesian elections as a single party.

Mugabe, who heads the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) wing of the Patriotic Front, stated at a press conference here, "If we feel that we can win better by fighting as two separate parties . . . we will do precisely that."

He added that the "general view" within his party is that "we should pool results after the election, rather than attempting unity at this stage."

Mugabe said a final decision on how the Front will contest the March elections will be made when he meets with Joshua Nkomo, leader of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) wing of the Front in Dar es Salaam next weekend.

Mugabe's views are at odds with those of both Nkomo and of Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, an influential voice within the group of five African nations, known as the front-line states, that supported the Patriotic Front in its guerrilla war with Salisbury.

Nkomo's party, which has fewer guerrillas inside Rhodesia and has been doing less of the fighting than Mugabe's group, has been urging the Front to run on a single ticket in the forthcoming elections.

Nyerere, who was instrumental in the formation of the Front in 1976 and has consistently pushed for a military as well as political alliance, also has argued that the front's unity must be maintained to secure an election victory and cut down on the chances of civcil war following the elections.

Nyerere, who met Mugabe in private late today, is undoubtedly distressed by the latter's reluctance to keep a united Front during the elections. An editional today in Tanzania's government-owned newspaper, the Daily News, declared, "In unity the Patriotic Front [is] assured of victory." It added that the Front's leaders "should strive for more unity of purpose and direction."

However, the lack of unity which Mugabe hints at is openly talked about by his party's militants. Many unequivocally state their dislike for Nkomo, and their feeling that Nyerere and other front-line presidents have pressured them into accepting a much-flawed peace agreement.

This hostility comes in large part from a conviction that Nkomo and his party are trying to come in on the coattails of Mugabe's successes. In recent years Mugabe's supporters, whose rear bases are in Mozambique, have been doing much more of the fighting than Nkomo's followers. During the London talks, Mugabe informed the British he has 29,000 guerrillas within Rhodesia. Nkomo, operating out of Zambia, claims to have only 6,000. w

In addition, Nkomo is said to have lost much popular support within Rhodesia after his guerrillas shot down two Rhodesian commercial airliners, one in September 1978, and the other last February. Mugabe, in contrast, has concentrated on grass-roots organizing in rural areas where he claims to have established substantial "liberated zones" almost totally under his organization's control.

Nkomo's group, despite its weaker military showing, has been heavily financed by the Soviet Union, Eastern European countries and Cuba. Since the 1960s Mugabe has received funding primarily from China. But, in the last two years, China has stopped most aid to Mugabe's organization and other liberation movements. Of late Mugabe has been receiving financial and military assistance from Romania, Yugoslavia and Ethiopia, as well as from Tanzania and Mozambique.

Mugabe and his organization's other leaders stress that, while they always need more money, they have plenty of manpower. The organization seems confident it can win a majority of the parliamentary seats with or without Nkomo. "We can win a clear-cut majority. ZAPU may prove a liability to us. The people know who has been doing the fighting," stated one official.

Yet even the most militant among Mugabe's officials seem determined that some form of Patriotic Front alliance continue. One explained it is likely that the two wings will divide up the constituencies so that they will not be running against each other. He predicted that the parties will run as ZANU-PF and ZAPU-PF with the understanding that, after the elections, they will have some kind of working alliance.