A revolution grapples with reality

Caryle Murphy February 1 1982

A revolution grapples with reality

Caryle Murphy February 1 1982

A revolution grapples with reality


Caryle Murphy

From the roaring, breathtaking Victoria Falls, to the cool, troutfilled mountain streams of Inyanga, resorts are booked solid on weekends. In Salisbury, the capital, the sidewalks are lined with brightly blossoming trees. Restaurants, serving imported wine from South Africa and prawns from Mozambique, are doing a brisk business, and shops are bustling with customers, black and white. In fact, the beauty and abundance that make this landlocked country of nearly eight million the “jewel of Africa” are more than ever in evidence these days.

Born 21 months ago from white-run Rhodesia following a bloody seven-year insurgent war that left 30,000 dead, this emergent blackrun state has been given billions of dollars in aid and reams of goodwill by the West in the hope of seeing it become an economically prosperous, multiracial democracy on a continent better known for its political strife and debt-ridden economies. The heady euphoria that accompanied Zimbabwe’s independence is now gone, replaced by the strains and tensions of coping with the political and economic problems inherent in Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s

self-appointed task of revolutionizing Zimbabwe without destroying it. Having won independence, the government is tucking into the long-haul task of deciding what to do with its prize.

Though the restoration of peace has been one undeniable achievement, for the country’s 170,000 whites life is now taking on a tinge of “the way we were.” Certainly all their homes still have servants and swimming pools. Living costs and taxes are low—an impressive fivebedroom home sells for $40,000 (U.S.). Tennis courts, bowling greens and Salisbury’s Borrowdale racecourse still draw crowds for lazy, sun-filled hours. There’s no more military duty, and resi-

dents can now travel safely anywhere in the country. One British-born career officer in the former Rhodesian army who has stayed on to serve in Mugabe’s defence force plans to stay as long as he can. “Look, it’s a good life,” he explained, sipping his gin and tonic. But for those who do not have either the racial open-mindedness or the stamina to cope with a country going through immense social change, the future is uncertain and unsettling. More than 14,000 people emigrated to whiter pastures (mostly to South Africa) in the first eight months of last year, compared with 10,000 in the same period in 1980.

Though the white farmers are, for the most part, con tent-they have grown rec ord crops, spurred by top prices in a more stable econ omy-businessmen and tech nicians are uneasy and are leading the exodus, causing a disturbing drain of vital skills. There is a growing con cern among white Zimbab weans that Mugabe himself has turned against them. Not only are they worried about "good old Bob's" brand of so cialism, but they are dis quieted by his harsh rhetoric against the people that, up to now, he has tended to coddle. At a rally in Gatooma, Mu gabe told his 40,000 black lis teners that he has come to

the conclusion that many whites have not altered their old racial attitudes.

“From today, I give you my permission to hit aftyone who calls you a kaffir,” he said, using a derogatory term for blacks. “But don’t hit the innocent, just those who maltreat you.” He also lashed out at white businessmen for failing to recognize the contributions of their workers. “It is the blood and sweat of the workers that have made these people millionaires,” he said. Remarked one Western diplomat: “The

honeymoon appears to be over.”

White sensitivities are not Mugabe’s only problememdash;the country’s more than seven million blacks are increasingly restless over the slowness of economic improvement and racial reform. There have been scores of wildcat strikes by railroad and factory workers, black nurses and teachers. Though they

all eventually went back to -

work, they made a point in challenging, the black leaders they had put into power less than two years ago. The new order has brought rising aspirations, and meeting these has put a burden on Zimbabwe’s economy. Western investors, offered little by way of incentives so far, have yet to venture into Zimbabwe in any significant way. The pressures are not only economic. The four million rural blacks who bore the brunt of the war are demanding a redistribution of land. But here Mugabe is on the horns of a dilemma since 4,500 white farmers produce 80 per cent of Zimbabwe’s food and much grain for export. If the peasants were allowed to take over the white farms, it would mean economic disaster.

So far Mugabe has not made any of the sweeping changes his self-avowed

Marxist philosophy has presaged. Zimbabwe still has a mixed economy, heavily weighted toward a large and active private sector. No companies have been nationalized and no land confiscated. Increasingly, the prime minister talks about instituting a one-party state, though he promises this would only be done after the people had spoken through a referendum. Late last fall, the government issued a notice requiring political parties to

obtain police permission for all meetings. At least two meetings of opposition parties have already been prohibited under the new regulation. The notice followed news reports that Mugabe’s old rival, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who joined former prime minister Ian Smith in a coalition government prior to independence, was drawing huge crowds at political meetings. Mugabe accused Muzorewa and Smith of conspiring with South Africa to unseat him and warned they would be “punished” if they continued with their “subversive statements.” He was, he said, “giving them enough rope to hang themselves.” For reasons still not totally clear, Mugabe appears to feel threatened, and there are indications that not all the opposition is coming from outside his own government. A youthful wing of his

party is agitating because it wants to see more radical political change. Some of the more ambitious party officials, it is said, are less cooperative than they appear in public. Already Mugabe has fired two ministers for openly criticizing the government. The first to go, Manpower Planning and Development Minister Edgar Tekere, embarrassed Mugabe with his involvement in the murder of a white farmer and then angered him with the

jibe that “the revolution is running out of steam.”

The most serious threat to Zimbabwe’s stability is the country’s worsening relationship with South Africa. As in everything else, Mugabe walks a tightrope in his dealings with “big brother.” His dilemma is to distance Zimbabwe from a government whose racial policies it abhors while not biting the hand that feeds it so hard that it ends up with only a cold shoulderemdash;a disastrous development given Zimbabwe’s dependence on South African railways and ports. Although Mugabe has refused to allow antiPretoria insurgents to use Zimbabwe as a staging base, which could invite immediate military reprisal from South Africa, he has not been reticent about verbal attacks on his southern neighbor. In late December, ¡¿when Mugabe’s political party by a bomb, offices were Zimbabweans wrecked were quick to blame the deed on South African sub-

versives, although there was no evidence to support the accusation.

The South Africans have reacted to an almost constant stream of provocative anti-apartheid rhetoric from Zimbabwean officials and media with a gentle economic squeeze. They withdrew 25 locomotives after their lease ran out (they have since been returned), gave notice they would not renew a preferential trade agreement and the work permits of some 20,000 Zimbabweans living in South Africa, and lent support to Mozambique guerrillas who disrupt Zimbabwe’s shipments through that country to the sea. Pretoria also began requiring visas for Zimbabweans visiting South Africa. As one U.S. diplomat in Salisbury said: “I used to think that South Africa believed that it was in its best interests to have a stable Zimbabwe. Now I think Pretoria may have decided it’s best to have a Zimbabwe that’s in trouble so it can point to another black majority that has failed.” Nonetheless, more important than all the aid and support the West has offered, Zimbabwe’s success will depend, to a large extent, on the acceptance of a modus vivendi with its powerful whiteruled neighbors. Perhaps of all the problems facing Mugabe, it will require of him the most tact, shrewdness and diplomacy. As black journalist Phil Mtimkulu put it, “Running a revolution is one thing, running a country is quite another.” lt;£gt;