The World: Caught in the Middle

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Belingwe is a cattle-ranching and mining region in south-central Rhodesia. The landscape, raw and parched, is broken by boulder-strewn hills and will soon be softened by the splashing pinks and magentas of blooming wild msasa trees. To the south of the town of Shabani (pop. 1,900 whites, 14,000 blacks) stretches the Belingwe Tribal Trust Land, a reserve inhabited by 140,000 blacks, where the guerrilla presence is most deeply felt. On election day last week, TIME's Xan Smiley visited Belingwe and filed this report on its troubled mood:

ARE YOU A DOOM GLOOM GOBLIN? demanded the posters of the right-wing Rhodesian Action Party. Among the diehard Afrikaner ranchers of Nuanetsi, near Belingwe, the gloom is virtually impenetrable. Last week most farmers there cast their ballots by mail; nowadays they rarely venture far from their fortified homes. Reason: during one terrifying two-week period in July, a different homestead was attacked every day. The Belingwe Tribal Trust Land has become what one Swiss missionary calls "occupied territory"; the guerrillas are there, the government knows it, but the army cannot do much about it. The guerrillas attack anything connected with government, however beneficial to the populace or nonpolitical the target might be. As elsewhere in Rhodesia, the guerrillas land-mine roads, rob stores, hijack buses and stage occasional ambushes. Their aim is to push the nationalist cause and to make the country ungovernable, and they seem to be succeeding.

Whatever his sympathies, a black villager in Belingwe is in a cruel predicament: he faces severe punishment from either the guerrillas or the government if he fails to cooperate. He can be sentenced to death for recruiting or encouraging guerrillas; if he reports them, on the other hand, they may well kill him. One villager, known to be a government informer, was pinned by guerrillas to a bed of straw; his young son was forced to set it on fire.

The government blames the guerrillas for every atrocity; the guerrillas blame the Rhodesian army's Selous Scouts, an elite mixed-race tracking unit whose members occasionally masquerade as guerrillas to test villagers' loyalties. Belingwe villagers are convinced, whatever the truth, that government forces last May killed the reserve's only black doctor, who had previously been warned against giving medicine to guerrillas. The government firmly insists that he was murdered by the "ters" (terrorists).

To make matters worse, there have been reports of clashes south of Belingwe between the separate (though theoretically allied) guerrilla armies—one associated with Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), the other affiliated with Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). To the west of Belingwe, ZANU is said to have warned a ZAPU group not to encroach. There are many arms caches in the Tribal Trust Land—perhaps in store for a day of reckoning between the two factions.

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