Zimbabwe: rebuilding hearts and homes

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Brown lizards crawl over the cracked walls. The wind, coursing through sheet metal that once formed the roof of an African homestead, adds a curiously mournful accompaniment.

Tsiga Township -- once a busy trade center northeast of the Rhodesian capital city of Salisbury -- is today a deserted patch of mud, charred timber, and twisted metal. It was destroyed during the seven-year-long guerrilla war here that reduced thousands of African from self-sufficient peasant farmers to refugees within the country of their birth.

Now that the war is over, Rhodesia -- soon to be known as Zimbabwe -- will need substantial help in rebuilding, say relief agency officials here. According to the Salvation Army:

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* 850,000 people have lost their homes.

* 10,000 have been disabled during the fighting.

* 100,000 have lost jobs due to the war.

* 483,000 children are out of school.

* Half the country's rural mission hospitals and clinics are closed.

These figures come on top of the estimated 20,000 killed during the war years , out of a Rhodesian population of 6,650,000.

Most immediately important, says Salvation Army Col. David Rumsey, traditional family life has been so disrupted that "there's been a complete cave-in of heart and mind and soul. . . . We've got to rebuild broken hearts as well as broken homes."

Fortunately, the process is already under way. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, working with various church groups, has started to resettle 30,000 of the estimated 200,000 refugees who fled to neighboring countries during the fighting. Religious and humanitarian groups are aiding in the distribution of food, clothing, and medical supplies.

But experts warn that unless longer-term aid is committed to rebuilding Zimbabwe, it may take decades to recover from the ravages of the war.

The Salvation Army, for example, estimates that it will cost at least $9.5 million to undertake regufee resettlement programs in the country. The army, however, is concentrating not only on the immediate food and medical needs of the refugees, but also on teaching them to build better homes and use more efficient farming methods when returning to the land. Otherwise, says Colonel Rumsey, a migration of people to the cities coudl set in and aggravate the country's already pressing development problems.

A six-member British parliamentary delegation her to observe the recent elections concluded that "alone Zimbabwe cannot begin to bear the heavy costs of resettling, creating essential social services, providing low-cost housing and major irrigation schemes." The group noted that the country's aid needs "may well exceed" a 1977 estimate of $1.5 billion.

But one government official here wonders, "What aid is going to be available? Even now, the aid agencies are not very quick about coming forward."

Some countries -- such as the United States -- have no foreign aid allocation for Rhodesia, simply because it has until recently been a country under worldwide sanctions for its rebellion against the British crown.

Some $2 million in US aid has been rechanneled here. But other countries say they are waiting for specific aid requests from the new government here before they earmark funds. To coordinate the nation's aid programs, Robert Mugabe, the prime minister-elect, plans to create a ministry of economic planning and development. He has asked United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim to allow a UN development specialist -- widely thought to be Dr. Bernard Chidzero -- to assume the post.

Yet most nations probably will expect internal Government reforms here to coincide with aid requests. The country is currently saddled, for example, with a confusing system of local authorities that rely primarily on the proceeds from the sale of traditional African beer to finance education, social welfare needs, and some road-building in the rural areas. Reformers have long criticized the practice, but until now little has been done to change it.

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