A Zimbabwean Cabinet minister today angrily threatened to take "legal or administrative action" against the country's recently resigned Army commander, Lt. Gen. Peter Walls, for his outspoken criticism of Zimbabwe's new black government. He also invited all whites who thought like Walls to leave the country.
The comments by Information Minister Nathan Shamuyarira in Zimbabwe's Parliament in Salisbury were the harshest attack on the white minority population by a member of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's government since it took power in April.
They appear to indicate a growing impatience in government circles with frequent statements from leaders of the 220,000 whites that if they leave the country it will fall into chaos and bankruptcy.
Shamuyarira also claimed he had documentary evidence of Walls' complicity in a white-led coup conspiracy that would have involved bombing the camps where guerrilla forces had assembled on the eve of independence. The minister did not say exactly what measures the government might take against the 54-year-old general.
"We are now irritated by the continued threat of a mass exodus of Europeans being held like a pistol to the head of the government. I am authorized to make it abundantly clear that all those Europeans who do not accept the new order should pack their bags and go now, either individually or in organized groups," the minister said.
As other members of Parliament chanted, "Now, now, now," Shamuyarira added, "We beg no one to stay, but we push no one to go."
"We welcome those whites who want to stay in a new, free and independent Zimbabwe. We will, however, not be held [to] ransom by our racial misfits and malcontents who do not accept the new order," he said.
Walls, who is in South Africa on vacation, could not be reached for comment. Last night he told a Johannesburg audience he would like to move to South Africa where "I reckon there is a tremendous future."
Walls reportedly angered the government by interviews he gave to two overseas television stations in which he expressed doubt that Mugabe's government could bring stability to the country; said Mugabe only won last February's election through massive intimidation; confirmed that he had asked British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to cancel the election results, and revealed the existence of plans for a white-led coup that was never put into operation.
Those criticisms come at a time when the government is trying to promote racial harmony and political stability to win foreign investment. They also follow on the heels of an embarrassing murder charge against Minister of Manpower Edgar Tekere, who is accused of killing a white farmer.
Wall's comments have put the white population, which is nervous about its status in black-ruled Zimbabwe, into a difficult position. One Western observer in Salisbury said today that there is a "widespread feeling Walls should have kept quiet."
Mugabe reportedly was stung by Walls' comments because as minister of defense he was the one who asked Walls to stay on after independence to oversee the integration of Wall's former Army with Mugabe's guerrilla forces.
Mugabe had developed a good working relationship with Walls and initially tried to dissuade him from leaving his post as chairman of the Joint High Command on July 17, according to informed sources. He had also suggested that Walls take a job with the government when his Army retirement becomes effective at the end of the year.
But sources close to Walls say he had come to consider Mugabe's policy of reconciliation as only temporary until he had consolidated his power. One close observer of Walls believed the general had not reconciled himself to working under a man he considers a Marxist and against whom he had fought for seven years.
Today, Mugabe sat impassively as Shamuyarira said Walls had done "incalculable harm" to the government's policy of reconciliation and accused him of being "fundamentally a racist."
"The question the government would like answered is how many Europeans are in this category. Peter Walls and those who think like him have neither regard for democracy nor any respect for the constitution," Shamuyarira said.
Addressing the 20 white members of Parliament, he added that the government would like to know whether they "are in support and in sympathy with the sentiments and the subversive activities in which Peter Walls has been engaged."
Speaking for them, P. K. Van Der byl said they would reply to the "unfounded allegations" against them later. He said he believed they were attacking Walls in order to draw attention away from their own internal party problems.