Guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe, the overwhelming victor in Rhodesia's election for black-majority rule, was asked by the British colonial governor to form a government today. He immediately set out to bind up the wounds of this war-weary country.
Mugabe made a direct appeal for the 200,000 whites not to panic about the victory of his Marxist-oriented party. He hinted strongly that he would include whites in his Cabinet and maintained that he had no immediate plans to ask for retirement of white officials, including Gen. Peter Walls, commander of the Rhodesian security forces that fought his guerrillas for seven years.
The newly elected leader said the government would not nationalize companies or seize private property, adding that he realized "the economic structure of the country is based on capitalism and whatever ideas we have must build on that."
It remains to be seen whether the strongly anti-Marxist white minority will take him at his word or begin a mass exodus that could eventually have an impact on the struggle for majority rule in South Africa and Namibia.
Mugabe repeated his call for Lord Soames, the temporary British governor, to stay on for a while after independence to help insure stability.
Soames, who had been at logger-heads with Mugabe during most of the two-month election campaign, joined in the conciliatory spirit in a 90-minute meeting with Mugabe.
The governor's spokesman, Nicholas Fenn, said the two leaders agreed on "the need for stability, reconciliation and peace" after a 15-year independence struggle capped by seven years of guerrilla warfare.
Soames also met with defeated party leaders Joshua Nkomo and Abel Muzorewa as well as white former prime minister Ian Smith. Fenn said as a result of the meetings, Soames had "high hopes" that a peaceful, conciliatory transition can be achieved.
Although not responding directly to Mugabe's request for the governor to remain after independence, Fenn said: "We're not in any tearing rush. Having come so far, the last thing we want to do is to destroy" the orderly turnover of power "by unseemly haste."
The emphasis by both the British and Mugabe was on a slow, orderly transition. The governor, Mugabe told a press conference, "wants us to take our time to bring about a government which can be reassuring to the whole people of Zimbabwe."
Fenn outlined procedures for choosing a 40-member senate, the upper chamber in the Parliament, which elects the constitutional president, and selection of a Cabinet, which will take a minimum of two weeks and probably longer. All this must be accomplished before Rhodesia will once more change its status -- from temporary British colony to the independent nation of Zimbabwe, the African name for Rhodesia.
Nkomo and Muzorewa also held separate press conferences to say they would cooperate with Mugabe. Later Mugabe and Nkomo began discussions to establish an alliance to govern the country.
The flurry of activity followed this morning's official announcement of the results of last week's three-day election that gave Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union, part of the Patriotic Front, 57 of the 80 black seats in the lower house of Parliament. Nkomo won 20 seats and Muzorewa, the victor in last year's disputed elections, received three. Mugabe received 63 percent of the 2.7 million votes.
As a result of the Mugabe landslide, many former members of Muzorewa's Cabinet failed to regain their parliamentary seats. Nkomo's deputy, Josiah Chinamano, also was defeated.
Nkomo made it clear he was willing to join in a government with Mugabe if the victor so desired.
Muzorewa, although reiterating his sharp criticism of the conduct of the election, congratulated Mugabe and offered to cooperate with the new government. Later, however, he said 10 of his followers had been killed overnight by Mugabe partisans and therefore "I reserve our position to support and cooperate with such thuggery."
British spokesman Fenn said the Rhodesian police were investigating the reports but said there had been "no murders, no bodies, and many rumors." He also defended the widespread depolyment of Rhodesian security forces to maintain law and order, saying the report of the election results caused "an unusual day."
It was apparent that the deployment was mainly to reassure the whites, since all the troops in highly visible places were white.
Armored vehicles carrying .50 caliber machine guns and towing 106-mm recoilless rifles trundled past Mugabe's house while reporters waited for the start of his press conference.
Smith canceled a scheduled press conference but did issue a brief statement telling whites there was "no reason to panic."
Mugabe repeatedly emphasized the need for peace and security at his press conference, saying "our theme is one of reconciliation. We want to insure a sense of security on the part of everyone . . . We cannot talk of losers."
Some changes, however, would come about soon, he said, adding, "certain irregular features of the present Army must be attended to quickly."
"We don't need mercenaries in this country. We don't need Selous Scouts," an elite branch of the military long used for special missions against the guerrillas.
One change was readily apparent to persons listening to the evening television news in this country where whites have felt they were fighting communist encroachment.
The announcer, in several references to the new leader, called him "comrade Mugabe."