Job and water shortages dry up Zimbabwe's progress

Although Zimbabwe Prime Minister Robert Mugabe can look back with considerable satisfaction on the first two years of his country's independence, he can have few illusions about the tough problems facing his government in the next two years.

The successes of the first two years of independence are well documented: The war was ended. The two guerrilla armies and remnants of the former Rhodesian military were integrated into a new national army. The economy grew an average of 10 percent a year since 1979.

There was also a small but important start in resettling black farmers on previously white-held land. The number of children in schools has doubled; 1.8 million children attended school last year compared with 900,000 in 1979.

Black Zimbabweans were appointed to most of the top positions in government. And $1.7 billion in aid pledges were obtained at the March 1981 Zimbabwe conference on reconstruction and development.

However, these solid achievements have been marred by the collapse early this year of the two-party coalition government. Joshua Nkomo's Patriotic Front (ZAPU) played a prominent role in the government until caches of arms were uncovered on his land. And there has been a continuing high level of white emigration, with an estimated 40,000 people leaving Zimbabwe since independence. The relative failure to attract significant private foreign investment has also marred an otherwise good economic record.

Mr. Mugabe has dubbed 1982 as the first year of national transformation. But political and social change will be circumscribed by more difficult economic times following a severe drought and a steep fall in agricultural production. In addition there is a severe balance-of-payments problem, and the expectations of the rural majority are rising. Rivalry between Mugabe's majority ZANU-PF party and ZAPU may create new divisions, since Nkomo and some of his political colleagues are no longer a part of the government.

Observers are heartened that a serious recurrence of violence -- predicted by many analysts after the Nkomo dismissal -- did not come about. However, at a recent rally in Bulawayo, Nkomo demonstrated that his political power base remains strong.

Nkomo can be expected to maintain a low profile as investigations continue into the arms caches found in his tribal stronghold in western Zimbabwe. His formidable personal following remains a substantial obstacle to Mugabe's long-cherished goal of a one-party state.

Appointment of Dr. Eddison Zvobgo as Cabinet minister responsible for legal and parliamentary affairs indicates there may be a shift ahead in the British-sponsored Lancaster House Constitution. More emphasis on a one-party state is expected, but such a change cannot be made without the agreement of Nkomo and his 20 members of Parliament and the 20 white representatives. And these minority groups say they will oppose the push for a one-party state.

Mugabe has stressed that he has no intention of seeking to change the Constitution ''illegally,'' and he will be tied to the Lancaster House formula until 1989 unless he can win Nkomo and the whites to his way of thinking.

Economic challenges will be a major obstacle to achieving some other Mugabe goals. A vital issue is the government's handling of the politically and economically sensitive land issue. The government has resettled some 9,000 families since independence. This is viewed by some as too slow a shift. Over the next three years the plan is to resettle 55,000 families a year. The resettlement plan is undoubtedly ambitious - some call it an unattainable target.

Another question is what land will be tapped for resettlement. One informed estimate is that the government would need some 8-to-9 million hectares of additional land on which to settle 165,000 families. This would involve making substantial inroads into the 14 million hectares of white-owned land, with possibly severely adverse consequences on agricultural output. At present white commercial farms are responsible for between 80 and 85 percent of agricultural production and provide a livelihood and homes for more than 1.5 million blacks.

The land issue is but just facet of the crisis of rising expectations. A critical element in this challenge is jobs. Since independence, an estimated 60, 000 jobs have been created. But over the same period at least 160,000 job-seekers came onto the market, thereby highlighting a need for the country to speed up its job-creation process.

To make more jobs there at least two essential preconditions. The first is faster economic growth, which depends on higher investment and enhanced foreign currency earnings. On this count, the outlook for 1982 is not good. Export growth is unlikely to exceed 15 percent, and the real growth rate of the economy -- which was 11.75 percent in 1980 and 9 percent last year -- is expected to slip to between 2 percent and 3 percent this year. Thus job creation will be slower and the pool of unemployed and under-employed will expand.

The second precondition to creating an adequate number of jobs is return of business investor confidence. This declined sharply in the second half of 1981, primarily in response to repeated statements of Mugabe's long-term socialist intentions. But in recent months, there appears to have been an upturn in confidence, in part because political rhetoric has been toned down slightly, but mainly because politicians and the private sector are getting along better.

Although the third year of independence is expected to be difficult for Zimbabwe, economic growth could resume in 1983. Much depends on the policy turns of Mugabe's government over the next few months.

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