Mugabe moderation behind Zimbabwe's success story

Zimbabwe is beginning to reap the benefits of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's political and economic pragmatism. Eight months after the former British colony became independent there are clear signs that moderation is producing results that would have been impossible had the country followed the radical path of many of its neighbors.

Mr. Mugabe still has very difficult problems to face, of course, such as the demand of the majority black population for land, the best of which now is mostly in the hands of the white minority, and the urging of some of his radical colleagues for stronger socialist policies.

But at present, the economy is booming, employment is up, and progress appears to be being made toward the integration of rival guerrilla armies.

Much of the economic progress is the result of the prime minister's appeals to whites to stay and help in the postwar reconstruction. These appeals, along with policies designed to assure whites of their future in Zimbabwe, seem to have produced the desired results thus far.

Around 12,000 whites, just over 5 percent of the pre-independence white population, have packed their bags and gone. But that figure is only a fraction higher than the white exodus during the guerrilla war years.

December and January are traditionally months of high white emigration, but there are few indications that the present departure rate is much higher than in previous years. On the other hand, so many have left already that the additional departures may be felt out of proportion to the numbers.

Many of those who have left have been unskilled people or soldiers from the old Rhodesian Army. The private sector, from which the bulk of the country's wealth is derived, apparently has not been seriously affected by white emigration to date.

This is clear from figures just released that show that industrial output was up 14 percent this year, an astonishing increase given the world recession and Zimbabwe's legacy of seven years of war.

Factories are working overtime to keep up with demand, some of it in the form of valuable exports to neighboring countries, and large numbers of new jobs have been created.

Industry is heavily dependent on whit e skills and had there been a mass exodus there is little doubt that output would have slumped dramatically.

The same applies to the agricultural sector in which 5,000 white farmers produce most of the country's food and other crops.

The Commercial Farmers Union, which represents those on the land, says that its membership has actually increased by 200 since independence. The main reason for the increase is that farmers who took city jobs during the war are returning to the land.

The area planted with maize this season has increased by 50 percent, and the Commercial Farmers Union expects a bumper crop of at least twice the country's domestic requirements.

This would leave a surplus of up to 1 million tons of export. There are ready markets in neighboring countries such as Zambia, Mozambique, and Angola, where revolutionary fervor has not been able to fill empty stomachs.

Although Zimbabwe's economic success story is a major boost for Prime Minister Mugabe, he nevertheless has had to fend off demands from the radical wing of his party for a more radical approach. Such demands, which have confronted Mr. Mugabe since independence, conceivably could gather strength in months to come.

The radicals, led by Cabinet Minister Edgar Tekere and other party populists, have argued for the nationalization of major industries and for the expropriation of much of the white-owned farmland. (Mr. Tekere recently was found not guilty of the murder of a white farmer.)

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.