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New era for southern Africa as Zimbabwe makes bow

The white-ruled Rhodesia of yore has become black-ruled Zimbabwe -- and a new era has dawned in southern Africa. The transfer of power, formalized here at midnight on April 17-18, took place peacefully. It came after 90 years of white control, seven years of vicious guerrilla warfare, and prolonged economic sanctions by world powers.

With a host of foreign dignitaries from Britain, the United States, China, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere looking on, Britain relinquished its remaining ties and Robert Mugabe, black former guerrilla leader, took the helm as prime minister.

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Britain's Prince Charles, heir to the throne, was on hand for the occasion, resplendent in white uniform. So, too, was Lord Soames, outgoing British governor of Rhodesia. Both witnessed the final lowering of the British Union Jack over Britain's last African colony.

Many changes are certain to ensue in Zimbabwe. But it remains for the new nation to show, as has Kenya, that blacks and whites can live and work together in harmony.

Meanwhile, in the village of Msami, far from the ceremonial festivities in the capital city, Maria Rusere, a black African child, uses her finger to trace letters and figures in the soft sand.

In rural areas of Zimbabwe, paper and pencils are in short supply. School classes sometimes are held outdoors, and some children etch their lessons in the earth.

Overnight, the soft African rains may wash away the work. But that does not stop children like Maria, who wants to be a teacher, from patiently repeating the exercise the next day -- and the next.

Such persistence and determination are among the key elements behind the story of Zimbabwe, Africa's newest independent nation. Its emergence as the 50 th independent nation on the continent is testimony to the powerful desire for self-determination among Africa's peoples.

That desire -- and the struggle to see it fulfilled -- have proved that domination by a white minority in Africa is, ultimately, about as impermanent as writing in the sand.

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Although Robert Mugabe had been frequently been called a radical firebrand during his days as a guerrilla leader, in his independence eve broadcast to the nation the new Prime Minister called for peace, reconciliation -- indeed, love.

"Our new nation," he said, "requires every one of us to be a new man, with a new mind, a new heart, and a new spirit. Our new mind must have a new vision and our new heart a new love that spurns hate, and a new spirit that must unite and not divide. This to me is the human essence that must form the core of our political change and national independence."

The end of the fighting here could not have come too soon. Government estimates are that it will take some $113 million to repair damage in the rural tribal areas alone, and uncalculated millions more for education, health care, rehabilitation, and refugee resettlement.

Zimbabwe will have plenty of help, however. Britain has pledged some $172 million over the next three years, and the US is expected to give some $50 million through 1981.

Zimbabwe does have a great deal in its favor as it starts rebuilding. It has one of the most sophisticated economies in Africa, due in part to the economic self-reliance forced on it during the period of economic sanctions.

Last year, the Zimbabwean earth yielded millions of dollars worth of minerals and enough agricultural products to make this country one of the few food exporters on the African continent.

In addition, there are an estimated 10,000 college-educated Zimbabweans in exile. Many are now returning, providing a valuable reservoir of skilled workers.

But the country also faces serious problems. Population growth hovers around 3.2 percent annually, one of the world's highest rates. If unchecked, the country's population of 7.26 million will double in just 22 years. Estimates are that 40,000 new work-seekers will be entering the labor market each year over the next two decades.

Prime Minister Mugabe says he is committed to an eventual restructuring of the nation's economy to make it more "people-oriented." His ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party feels that the type of capitalism that has been practiced has not served the country well, since it worked mainly to enrich the white minority and keep the black masses impoverished.

Still, Mr. Mugabe has taken a pragmatic view that such changes cannot take place overnight and that, for the time being at least, private enterprise will be preserved.In this way, he hopes to avoid the economic stagnation and decline that has often accompanied independence in other former colonies in Africa.

But that is not say that things will stay as they are here. The government is already plunging ahead to make sure that independence brings tangible changes in the lives of the people, Maria Rusere's school, for example, was hurriedly opened on april 1 this year after a 10-month closure due to the war.

And next week, there are plans to introduce a new course at the school. It will impart the basics of farming, says an official, while stressing the "dignity of labor and the value of traditional African culture."

In such ways, the government hopes to encourage people to stay on the land and farm, thereby avoiding an influx to urban areas and consequent agricultural decline and urban decay that has bedeviled much of independent Africa.

The hopes of many people are that Mr. Mugabe's government will be a success. Some believe that a prosperous, multiracial demmocracy in Zimbabwe -- which Mr. Mugabe says he is committed to establishing -- will serve as an object lesson to the last holdout against majority rule on the African continent, South Africa.

Because it shares a common border with South Africa, Zimbabwe now becomes a member of the so-called "frontline states." These are black-majority-ruled nations that oppose apartheid, South Africa's system of racial discrimination. Mr. Mugabe has promised to "assist our brothers and sisters in South Africa . . . who are striving for their own national independence."

He has ruled out the use of Zimbabwe as a staging area for guerrilla attacks on the white-ruled republic, however, because of his country's great economic dependence on its southern neighbor.

Unmistakably, the process of peaceful development has already begun in Zimbabwe. It is evidenced in Maria Rusere, sitting quietly in the sunshine, drawing letters in the sand.

"The children used to run to the mountains, running here and there because of the war," a teacher says.

"Now," she adds, "the children are free."


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