Rhodesia: at last, less fear of hitting a land mine with car

Late on a recent Friday afternoon, a black Rhodesian salesman did what would have been unwise -- even foolhardy -- a few months before. He climbed into his white station wagon and made the 80-mile drive from the Rhodesian capital city of Salibury to his parent's home, deep in a tribal reserve area, arriving after dark.

Before, the danger of ambush by guerrillas, attack by Rhodesian soldiers for violating a curfew, or trigerring a land mine would have made the journey unthinkable at night -- and risky even in daylight hours.

It is but one more sign of a gradual return of normality to war-weary Rhodesia. After seven years of guerilla battle, both black and white people are slowly discovering the simple pleasures of picnics in rural areas, fishing expeditions, and countless other activities that were impossible during the fighting here.

"Thing are definitely changing," says a black worker in Salisbury. "As you go around, the atmosphere is different.

"And," he adds, "that is beautiful."

There are, to be sure, continuing problems in this country, which is soon to be known as Zimbabwe. Perhaps the most tragic to date: a hand-grenade attack on a group of about 40 black children practicing for next month's independence ceremonies. Three children were killed, and 18 others injured.

Four other, though less serious, attacks on whites have been reported. The situation prompted incoming Prime Minister Robert Mugabe to make a nationwide television address March 25 appealing for peace. While suggesting that some of the violence was "politically motivated," Mr. Mugabe pledged he would take strong measures to preserve law and order. He said the message would especially be impressed upon his own followers in the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) party.

"The time for retribution is over," he said. "Now is the time for reconciliation, reconstruction, and nation-building."

Despite the sporadic violence that is troubling Mr. Mugabe's fledging government, there are abundant signs that Rhodesia is a country switching from war to peace.

For example, the police special reserve -- which drafted men up to the age of 65 into law enforcement duties -- now is being made into a voluntary unit. the end to call-ups to older men was made "in view of the reduced security risk in our major centers," said Police Commissioner Peter Allum.

Indeed, some stores have even discontinued the searching of handbags and parcels for bombs -- a practice that had become ingrained into daily life in most of the country's urban areas.

Also, young people no longer are being required to complete two years of military service before entering a college of university. The service requirement had delayed -- and, in some cases, prevented completely -- higher education for many young males, especially whites.

The nation's armed forces also are being reduced, with some units, such as the Selous Scouts guerrilla tracking unit, being disbanded altogether.

Across the country, troop canteens where soldiers were fed and sheltered by civilian volunteers are making plans to close as soldiers head home.

In Marandellas, a community east of Salisbury, women of the town recently said goodbye to members of the 8th Battalion, a multiracial military unit, who had regularly stopped by on their way to and from duty on the border with Mozambique. There were fond, and in some cases tearful, farewells.

One woman observed, "They're sad, of course. But, if they have any sense, they're glad the war is over."

And then she added a question that probably is thought a lot more than it is voiced as this country moves toward majority-rule independence next month.

"What was it all for?" she asked, adding quietly, "All that fighting for nothing."

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