HARARE, ZIMBABWE, AUG. 21 -- Parliament's lower house voted 78-0 today to end more than 90 years of white political privilege, approving a constitutional amendment to abolish the 20 seats reserved for whites since independence in 1980.
The vote almost certainly portends the end of white conservatives' political careers here. They will need the remaining 80 members to vote for them in an upcoming special election or will have to win approval from a black-majority electorate in 1990.
The vote also portends the end of political life for former prime minister Ian Smith, who led what was then the British colony of Rhodesia in its unilateral declaration of independence in 1965 and ruled until the guerrilla war ended. He is under a one-year suspension from Parliament imposed by the government after he said that he had told South African businessmen they could weather sanctions if they stood together.
With Smith, and the conservatives he led, go more than nine decades of white privilege. It began shortly after the first settlers trekked in from South Africa in 1890 and was consolidated in 1896, when rebellions among the native Shona and Ndebele peoples were crushed.
Justice Minister Eddison Zvobgo indicated today that some whites, especially those who have joined Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), may retain their seats.
The Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe, which holds 10 of the 20 white seats, abstained from the vote, its benches vacant as the tally was announced and the assembly broke into a Shona-language song popular during the seven-year guerrilla war that ended in 1979.
The constitution required 100 votes to eliminate the white seats before the seventh anniversary of independence on April 18, when the requirement dropped to 70 votes.
Mugabe's ZANU has 69 members of Parliament, and a white independent votes with the party because he is a Cabinet minister.
Today's votes came from 63 ZANU members, including four whites, 11 members of the black opposition Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), and four white independents.
The measure, which still must pass the Senate where approval is a certainty, will immediately abolish the white seats, leaving them to be filled through a special vote by the remaining 80 members.
The Conservative Alliance, while accepting the bill as unavoidable, cited the immediate end of the seats as the reason it was abstaining. The party argued that those who voted on the non-black rolls in the 1985 elections would be disenfranchised until they took part in the next general election in 1990, and called for the seats to be retained until then.
ZANU legislators brushed that argument aside, noting that whites, who number about 150,000 of Zimbabwe's 8 million people, enjoyed representation far in excess of their numbers.
"You are overrepresented by 900 percent," Zvobgo said during the debate. "What makes you think you are wonderful? All your suggestions are rejected."
Legislators thumped the green leather-covered benches in the traditional sign of approval as Zvobgo spoke, as they did when a ZAPU member replied to the conservatives.