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Zimbabwe: after one year, two nations

Zimbabwe, after the first year of its long-awaited independence, is still very much two nations. The superficial impression of racial harmony conveyed by the sight of black and whites working together in factories, fields, and shops, invariably with the whites in command, is promptly dispelled at the end of the working day. After hourse the two races once again separate, to return to their still largely segregated residential areas or to seek social life or entertainment within their respective communities. Public places may now be legally desegregated, but within them the old divisions by race remain.

Since most whites in Zimbabwe have only known Africans in a master/servant relationship, the remain convinced that a black government is incapable of running the country, at least without their presence and guidance. What they conveniently forget, however, is that not one member of Ian Smith's Rhodesian Front party had ever served in government when they were elected to office in 1962. The "cabinet of cowboys," as they were then called, were infinitely less qualified, by educational achievement and professional experience, than the talented team of Africans led by Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.

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Nevertheless, a visitor to Zimbabwe today is continually harangued by confiding white settlers voicing their fears about "Kaffirs" ruining what they still regard as theirm country.

The obvious question raised by these complaints is why disgruntled whites continue to live in a country under black rule. Many regard themselves as financial prisoners, prohibited from taking their wealth out of the country by the currency restrictions carried over from the Smith regime. Others are deterred from emigrating by the high unemployment level in most Western countries and also by their inability to compete in an open market where job reservation by rade does not apply. But for most of the remaining 200,000 whites, the overriding consideration is that the life of abundance which then enjoy here -- the luxurious residences, gardens and swimming pools tended by cheap black servants --world except South Africa. But even South Africa, where most white emigrants have gone, offers no real escape for a people who, having lost one civil war to preserve white minority rule, can scarcely look forward to enduring another one with an equally predictable outcome.

In spite of the fact that for most whites emigration is not a viable or attractive proposition, they continually threaten to leave the country whenever the government embarks upon much needed econnomic or social reforms, such as minimum wages or integrated education and health care. Many employers refuse to pay the established minimum wage (which is still below the poverty line), and many whites have opted for private clinics and schools.

But what they have yet to realize -- and their sense of unreality is a product of years of censorship by the Smith regime --is that an African government can succeed in preserving the hard-won peace only if it meets the understandably rising expectations of the African majority. Failure to do so, in deference to white susceptibilities, could provoke a second revolution, in pursuit of the gains denied from the first.

Nevertheless, for the 7.5 million Africans, the first year of independence has brought real and visible changes. Black ministers head government departments, black representatives are in control of Parliament and, as a result of the reforms introduced by Eddison Zvobgo (who holds an American PhD), black majorities prevail at the local government level. Also visible are the changes in the media brought about by Nathan Shamuyarira (another American PhD), most notably by the removal of South African ownership of the local press and Rhodesian Front control of broadcasting. And now, for the first time, free health care and education are being made available for the African majority.

Less visible, because the needs are so vast, are the efforts to achieve a more equitable distribution of the country's wealth. With half the land owned by the white minority (in fact, only 5,000 of them) and with white earnings 10 times greater than those of Urban Africans and 100 times greater than those of rural Africans, there is obviously a long way to go. Thus far, priority has been given to resettling over a million refugees displaced by the war. While the overseas aid pledged by the recent Zimcord conference will be used mainly for this purpose, this is still only a fraction of what will be needed to remedy the problems of land hunger and black unemployment inherited from the colonial past.

Inevitably, these problem can be solved only by a shift of resources from the white to the black community. But unless, or until, this i s achieved, Zimbabwe will remain two nations, with all the risks that such a situation entails.

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