IT'S NO MEAN FEAT that the trail of Edgar Tekere, the Zimbabwe minister accused of murdering a white farm manager, was allowed to run its course without political interference.This is something in a part of the world where, in hot, unavoidably political cases like this one, due process is often a stranger. Apart from that, however, the trial was distressing. There was no question but that Mr. Tekere and a bodyguard killed the farmer. The minister's well-established status as a radical with an animus toward whites was bound to raise doubts about his good faith in invoking an old white-written law granting immunity for a killing done in the name of suppressing terrorism. That the judge who ruled for conviction was white and that he was outvoted by the two other court members, who were not white, only made it worse.

Many whites in Zimbabwe are bitter about the verdict, which threatens to accelerate the considerable white exodus that has been taking place since (as before) the multiracial government of Robert Mugabe was elected eight months ago. Mr. Mugabe himself is given high marks for his contributions to reconciliation across racial lines, but he has had trouble in settling governmental authority upon a nation brutalized by years of civil war. Even before his acquittal, Mr. Tekere, a guerrilla leader with little of Mr. Mugabe's larger political vision, was acting as something of a law unto himself. The way it is turning out in Zimbabwe, whites are a very slight political problem to Mr. Mugabe -- although it is crucially important to him that whites stay in the country, help make the economy work and serve to attract foreign investment and development capital. Mr. Mugabe's political difficulties arise from blacks.

Still, this is no time for those who would wish success upon the Mugabe-led multiracial experiment in southern Africa to be of faint heart. Under burdens that would daunt a lesser man, Mr. Mugabe is doing his best to shape Rhodesia into a working Zimbabwe. Cruelly, the United States, which counts itself among his most ardent well-wishers, has been in a poor position to support him. For two years there has been no foreign aid bill, just continuing resolutions, that was not named in the last bill. (Uganda, which was under Idi Amin's thumb the last time an aid bill was written, is in the same fix.) This means the U.S. government has been forced to scratch around in odd small pockets for Zimbabwe. It's a pity. More than most African countries, it could put aid to good use. Its importance as a multiracial achievement and exhibit provides special reason to help out.