Opposition leader Joshua Nkomo, breaking several months of public silence, accused elements in the government today of seeking to sabotage unity talks between his political party and that of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.
Nkomo's remarks, made in his first interview since the talks began last September, followed charges filed in court earlier this week against two top officials of his party and five senior military officers. The seven were accused of using Nkomo's house last year in the capital of Harare to plot a coup against Mugabe, charges that Nkomo dismissed as "sheer madness."
The 67-year-old patriarch said the charges were part of a conspiracy by "people in authority," whom he refused to identify, to destroy the unity talks. He also accused officials of Mugabe's ruling party of staging recent incidents of school burnings and other violence in rural Matabeleland to discredit Nkomo and his followers and to goad them into retaliation.
"We are trying to bring about peace in this country and there are people in authority who are undermining this because they don't want it," said Nkomo, speaking at his home in this southern city. "These people profit from upheaval. They have a vested interest in anarchy and chaos."
Nkomo agreed to the talks in September after hundreds of his supporters and party officials were arrested following Mugabe's landslide victory in last year's parliamentary elections.
Later that month, Nkomo met with Mugabe publicly for the first time since 1982, setting off widespread hopes that the two parties would seal a unity pact by Christmas that could lead to a halt to four years of civil unrest and government counterinsurgency campaigns against civilians in Matabeleland, Nkomo's political stronghold.
A settlement between the two parties, which between them control 79 of the 80 black seats in the 100-member Parliament, would pave the way for the one-party state that Mugabe has declared as his goal. It would also lead to the abolition next year of the 20 seats reserved for Zimbabwe's small white minority, another Mugabe objective.
But although the two men met again in November, the talks have since stalled. Informed analysts say that despite Mugabe's personal endorsement, his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union is deeply divided over the talks, with many senior members fearing they may lose status and influence in an enlarged, unified party. They have argued that the ruling party, having won two consecutive parliamentary elections by a large majority, should not make any political concessions to Nkomo and his followers.
Nkomo has also come under fire from some members of his own party, the Zimbabwe African People's Union, for maintaining public silence since the talks began and not condemning the roundup of his supporters. Amnesty International has charged that many of those arested have been tortured, beaten or otherwise mistreated by police.
"People have been tortured, including my own driver and assistants," said Nkomo. "A lot of people have disappeared forever. During all this, I have said nothing because I was interested in unity and once we have it, we will be able to control this nonsense.
"I have not talked before because I wanted to nurse this thing to success. But there are politically hungry people who want to destroy the nation for their own selfish interests."
Nkomo said unity was "still possible," but he refused to discuss the talks themselves except to say, "We have gone a long way."
Other knowledgeable sources say the two sides, both of which advocate a mixed, socialist-oriented economy, have agreed that there are no significant policy or ideological differences between them. Mugabe's party has offered to make Nkomo a ZANU vice president after unification.
A committee consisting of 10 members from each party has met twice. A major stumbling block, sources say, has been the name for the unified organization. ZANU's leaders are insisting that their party's name be retained. Other issues, including the release of those supporters of Nkomo still in detention, also remain unresolved, sources say, and no date has been set for a new bargaining session.
Mugabe and Nkomo were rival guerrilla leaders during the seven-year struggle for black-majority rule. After Mugabe's party won the 1980 preindependence election, he asked Nkomo to join his Cabinet. But the prime minister ousted his political rival in 1982, accusing Nkomo of plotting to overthrow him, a charge Nkomo has repeatedly denied.
Soon thereafter, thousands of Nkomo's former guerrilla supporters deserted from the Army and some formed dissident bands that attacked government supporters and white farmers in Matabeleland. Army units and police cracked down and hundreds of civilians were killed or were arrested and held without charge for long periods.
Mugabe's party won an overwhelming vctory in July capturing 64 of 80 contested parliamentary seats. But Nkomo held onto all 15 seats in Matabeleland, which is comprised mainly of Ndebele-speakers who make up about 20 percent of Zimbabwe's population.
Nkomo said his followers have been patient in not responding to provocations by Mugabe's supporters. "There are people in ZANU-PF who want our people to react violently," he said. Then, in a reference to Uganda, where rebels last weekend took control of the capital from the military government, Nkomo added, "We have seen things happening in other countries that we don't want to happen here."