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Whites stream out of African lands as blacks take charge

JOHN Smith teaches history in a secondary school. He has a pleasant house on a street lined with scarlet East African flame trees, friends built up over the last 30 years living here, and two daughters aged 12 and 15.

Outwardly all seems serene.

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Yet Mr. Smith sits back in an easy chair, contemplates the future - and doesn't like what he sees.

''Part of me,'' he said the other night as his family watched television, ''just doesn't want to go - but we're going, anyway.''

Smith has decided to join a steady stream of whites leaving black Africa to make their futures elsewhere.

He himself has chosen Britain, where he was born, and where he lived for five years in the late 1960s. Others go to South Africa, or Australia, or Europe.

Here in Zimbabwe, 280,000 whites ran the country just before independence from Britain, which came April 18, 1980.

Today, the white population is down to just under 120,000. Nineteen thousand left in 1983 alone - about 1,500 a month. The rate this year seems to have been slightly less, but a number of whites here estimate that their numbers will soon dwindle to about 100,000; some estimate that Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's government would like to see a remaining core of some 70,000.

Zimbabwe's total population today is about 8 million.

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Schools, fire departments, churches, and retail shops have all seen a steady exodus, with most emigres citing the need to provide a better future for their children.

Those with property, such as farmers, are still here, for moving is not easy. As a family man, John Smith is allowed to take with him only $1,000 (Zimbabwean) , which is about $700 (US), one car, and one set of furniture. A government inspector comes to check that he is not trying to take too much.

He is selling off furniture and other items he cannot take. All money over the $1,000 he must invest in Zimbabwe government bonds, which pay 4 percent interest a year.

There are reports that he will be able to withdraw the whole amount invested in 12 years, but ''I'll still lose money to inflation,'' he says.

Nonetheless, Smith is pressing ahead, writing to schools in England and looking for other jobs as well.

He will stay with relatives to begin with. ''Otherwise I just couldn't afford it.

''The point is that I see no future here, for me, or for our two daughters. . . . Unemployment in Zimbabwe is already 15 percent. Africans will get first choice, and the African population is growing all the time.''

John Smith is not this man's real name. He is sensitive about his move, and prefers a pseudonym. But he talks freely enough.

Isn't he worried about the high rate of unemployment in Britain itself, where 3.2 million people are out of work?

''Yes, but inflation is down there,'' he replies. ''It was terrible when we lived there before.''

Can he teach there? ''Well, no, I need extra qualifications, but I'll find something.''

Other whites confirm that John Smith is not alone. A university professor, seeing a white friend in a car outside a big Harare hotel recently, hailed him by saying, ''I see you're still here! Not many of us left now!''

However, not all whites are leaving. Some older people are coming back to Zimbabwe. They left, but missed their relatives, their friends, the hot weather, and the availability of cooks, maids, and gardeners.

A total of 7,000 whites entered Zimbabwe in 1983, many of them returnees, some emigres from Europe.

The university professor outside the hotel has a 12-year-old and a 14 -year-old, but continues to teach here.

''If a young white wants to go into farming he'll find a job,'' the professor says. Five thousand white commercial farmers still own 40 percent of Zimbabwe's rich tobacco, cotton, and farm land, and produce 90 percent of the national farm output.

''But in other fields? Well, the classes I teach are already 95 percent black , and we turn away four applicants for every one we take. All have 'A' levels (high school matriculation) and all want to learn.''

The first whites to leave were die-hard white supremacists who supported former Prime Minister Ian Smith and his Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain in the mid-1960s.

The Mugabe government has steadily tightened the rules governing emigration to conserve as much foreign currency as it can. Zimbabwe is so short of hard currency that there are continual shortages of imported goods, from auto tires to batteries to toothpaste.

A single person may now take out only $500 (Zimbabwean), about $350 (US). People try various ways to take out extra furniture, but it isn't easy.

''A number of whites are still here because the rules on money and belongings are so strict,'' says one white woman who has no plans to leave.

Those over age 70 get special dispensation: They can take out $6,000 dollars when they emigrate.

The shortage of foreign currency restricts both whites and blacks who only want to travel abroad from taking more than 350 dollars per year, though travelers can accumulate the allowance for three years and take out a lump sum of $1,050 dollars - provided they first pay a government tax of 20 percent.

Older people may also take out a retirement allowance in a once-in-a-lifetime concession.

Residents who have been here for years tend to look bleakly at whites who come to join multinational corporations on contract.

''When they go home,'' says one woman, ''they are allowed to take a lot of money with them, and it's amazing how many find friends to come and replace them for another term.''

So far the Mugabe government has not nationalized land or businesses, despite the prime minister's frequent praise for ''the principles of Marxist-Leninism.'' Yet some whites see long-term pressure on him to begin splitting up large landholdings: A growing African population will demand more and more land to farm, especially small family plots. The same pressure is being felt in Kenya, where a considerable number of whites still live.

Some white Zimbabweans haven't decided what to do.

''I have a mother in Johannesburg,'' says one woman, ''but I'm not going to live there. There's going to be a real explosion there as blacks try to take over, and I've already lived through one war for independence.''

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