It is midsummer afternoon at the Kariba Breezers resort, in what should be a prime month for tourists. But lunch time finds only eight people scattered among the empty tables on a terrace overlooking the turquoise waters of Lake Kariba.
The 3,000-square-mile, man-made lake mirrors a small resort town, perched on the foothills of the Zambezi River escarpment here in the northern part of Rhodesia. Kariba, blessed with a subtropical climate and an abundance of wildlife, could be one of the popular tourist destinations in Africa.And, positioned as it is on the Rhodesia-Zambia border, Kariba also could be a trade gateway.
Yet the promise of Kariba remains unfilled, largely due to the seven-year guerrilla war in this southern Africa nation. Now, people here are wondering what the future holds as white-ruled Rhodesia moves inexorably toward becoming majority-ruled Zimbabwe.
Both in its unfulfilled promise and its uneasy waiting, the Kariba area in turn mirrors much of Rhodesia.
"Things could get better," says one white warily, "provided we don't start up another war. Provided we elect the right government. And that's a lot of provisos."
Kariba has been particularly hard hit by the bush war. Over the past two years, two civilian Viscount airliners were shot down near here. Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) guerrillas, operating from Zambia, claimed responsibility. The incidents sent tourism, and Kariba town's economy, plummenting.
Lately, however, the outlook for Kariba has improved. Mr. Nkomo is back in Rhodesia, campaigning to become its prime minister. Nearly all of his ZAPU guerrillas have forsaken the bush for cease-fire camps to await the outcome of the late February elections. The border with Zambia was reopened recently, and Zambians are scurring across to buy butter, maize, and other commodities unavailable in their own country.
Yet there is little rejoicing in Kariba. Many people, especially the whites, seem too distracted by what the future may bring to be pleased by the present.
Says one black woman, "Everyone is waiting for the elections."
The waiting leaves Kariba in a kind of suspended animation. Few tourists come to gaze at Kariba Dam, one of the engineering marvels of Africa, or the elephants and lions that sometimes roam the city's outskirts at dusk and dawn.
The hotels here have been kept open only with government aid, in the form of both direct grants and heavily subsidized package tours. Other amusements, such as excursion cruises and seaplane tours, operate well below capacity.
Even the black women selling crocheted goods under shade trees in the center of town undercut each other in an almost desperate competition for scarce tourist dollars: an intricately patterned tablecloth, requiring hours of work, fetches only about the equivalent of $15.
Most of the black people here live in two bleak townships, one of which is sandwiched out-of-sight between two resorts.
The gap between thait own hard-scrabble existence and the leisure of vacationing whites is a source of discontent.
Yet some blacks worry that a victory by either Mr. Nkomo's ZAPU or Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) might mean a mass exodus of whites, total collapse of the tourist industry, and disappearance of their jobs.
"I hope Bishop [Abel] Muzorewa is elected," says one black supporter of the diminutive Methodist churchman who preaches a markedly milder form of African nationalism than either Mr. Nkomo or Mr. Mugabe.
"Nkomo and Mugabe would run all the Europeans out," she predicts, "and then we would be back to square one."
White rhetoric does little to dissuade such fears. "If either of them [Nkomo or Mugabe] came to power, I reckon I'd leave," vows a white businessman.