Edgar Tekere, a key Cabinet minister and the third-ranking official in Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's ruling party, was questioned today in connection with the murder of a white farmer near Salisbury, police said.
A number of reports circulated here that some of Tekere's bodyguards had been arrested and that Tekere's official vehicle was observed at the scene of the killing of Gerald William Adams, 68, at a farm west of Salisbury, but police officials refused to elaborate beyond the terse three-sentence announcement.
It was known, however, that Tekere's house and an apartment where he was staying came under separate police sieges during the last 24 hours.
The police silence reflected the delicacy of the situation since any involvement of Tekere, minister of manpower and secretery general of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front Party, would present Mugabe with a difficult dilemma.
There have been numerous complaints from the nervous white community of about 200,000 persons and from some blacks that Mugabe's former guerrillas and some members of his party have flouted the law with impunity since the party gained power in April through elections.
Tekere, however, would be the highest level official involved in such complaints and also the first such official to be linked to a murder case.
Mugabe and Tekere spent more than 10 years in prison under the white-minority government for former prime minister Ian Smith and then went to Mozambique together in 1975 to wage their successful war of independence.
Any legal or political action against the party secretary general could also cause problems among Mugabe's more than 25,000 restless guerrilla forces, living in temporary assembly camps.
Tekere concentrated much of his time during the seven-year war on helping to build camps for the guerrillas in Mozambique and thus is popular with the troops of the Zimbabwean Army.
The incident came at an embarrassing time for the prime minister who is hosting Mozambican President Samora Machel, the first official state visitor to the newly independent nation.
Tekere missed the state dinner for Machel last night, instead spending the time in a Salisbury apartment building that came under police siege after his official car was located at the building.
Witnesses said three truckloads of police surrounded the black for hours until Tekere emerged. He was questioned briefly and said he had to see Mugabe before undergoing any further interrogation.
It was not known whether he talked to the prime minister, but Tekere apparently failed to show up for further interviews today with the police, who then surrounded his suburban home in St. Martin's. The police statement said a number of weapons were removed from the house.
It was understood that Tekere agreed to undergo further questioning Wednesday, but police refused to confirm the report. It was also unknown whether any persons had been arrested in connection with the killing, but the spokesman said no one was being held "at present."
The official also said the police had been in touch with Mugabe about the incident. Mugabe arrived late for the dinner for Machel tonight and "did not look his normal self," according to a government official.
Tekere has been one of the most militant leaders of Mugabe's party and has been a cause for concerns among whites whom Mugabe is seeking to retain in the country.
Last month Tekere called for Home Affairs Minister Joshua Nkomo, leader of the Patriotic Front Party allied with Mugabe's organization, to be "crushed."
Tekere represented Mugabe's party at least year's Commonwealth summit conference in Lusaka, Zambia, which worked out the formula that led to eventual solution of the issue of independence of Zimbabew, formally called Rhodesia.After the conference, Tekere was sharply critical of some aspects of the agreement, although Mugabe later took a more moderate line from his headquarters, in Mozambique.
Bugabe sent Tekere to the United States for a long period during the crucial stages of the London conference that ended the seven-year guerrilla war. The trip was reportedly intended to remove Takere's hard-line influence.
The Tekere incident cast something of a pall over Machel's visit since today Mugab had gone to great lengths to make it a festive occasion honoring Mozambique's support of the Zimbabwean liberation cause.
One Mozambican official said, "We didn't support these guys so they could go around shooting white farmers after independence."