Zimbabwe whites measure tenure in years -- not days

There is grumbling, anxiety about the future, and a good measure of resentment. But the whites of Zimbabwe are adjusting to life under a black majority -- and some are cautiously optimistic about the future of their country.

When white-ruled Rhodesia became black-majority-ruled Zimbabwe just over a year ago, many whites measured their tenure in the country in terms of months, if not days.

Now, the most common unit of measurement seems to be years. And numerous whites share the sentiments of a Bulawayo shopkeeper who avows, "I'm going to be here as long as I live. After all, this is my home --my country."

Such a commitment to permanent residence is not nearly universal, however. Many whites seem to be taking a "wait and see" attitude, even after a year of black government under Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.

"I reckon we have about three years left before the economy goes downhill, and we'll have to get out," says a white salesman.

Indeed, other whites share his concern that the government is spending itself into an economic straitjacket. Alleged government profligacy is the topic at many a dinner party in Salisbury's white suburbs these days.

In fact, government spending probably does need to be brought under control. This year's budget deficit is projected at about $650 million.

A substantial portion of the budget is going toward social programs -- notably the provision of free education for all primary-school-age children.

Whites don't specifically complain about such programs. Instead, many are nettled by smaller, but nonetheless symbolic expenditures, such as the purchase of imported automobiles for parliamentarians and Cabinet ministers.

Former Prime Minister Ian Smith "may have done a lot of things wrong," grouses one white man, "but he at least drove around in a 15-year-old motorcar."

Of course, Mr. Smith also headed a country under economic sanctions, in which most of the scarce foreign exchange was going to finance a million-dollar-a-day war. And many blacks, of course, consider that to have been not only a follish expenditure, but an immoral one as well.

That only underscores the gap in perceptions that still separates blacks and whites here.

Clearly, the government's goal of a non-racial society has yet to be attained , most whites refer to the government as "them," not "our."

However, there is some evidence that is changing. Some white parliamentarians are leaving the all-white Rhodesian Front Party headed by Mr. Smith, and forming a new white opposition party dedicated to working with Mr. Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front). Others are going even further and becoming members of the ruling party.

Even the Rhodesian Front itself -- long the standard-bearer in the fight against majority rule -- shows signs of accommodating itself to the new political realities in Zimbabwe.

While resisting calls to disband the party, one spokesman concedes that the organization may well draw up a new statement of principles and perhaps take on a new name. Significantly, references to the country's former status as a minority-ruled colony will probably be dropped, the word "Rhodesian" is unlikely to form part of the party's new name.

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