An armed attack on the home of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe last week was the first major strike in a city in a rising tide of violence here.
For months armed men have robbed and looted - and 25 people have been killed -- in the southwestern countryside. Rural unrest has had much impact on the nation as a whole, but the strike at the President's home in the capital, Harare , may shake the mood of calm.
Mugabe's government has blamed ''bandits'' for the attack on his home and violence in the countryside. But the arrest this spring of three senior officials in opposition leader Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), suggests the government sees a link between the violence and Nkomo's party.
Nkomo's political base is in Matabeleland, the province where much of the unrest is occurring. He was booted out of Zimbabwe's coalition Cabinet in February after huge arms caches were found on land owned by him.
Nkomo has called for a bipartisan commission of inquiry into the violence. His appeal is interpreted here as a gesture of conciliation toward the government, but Mugabe's ministers are pressing for quick, tough action against the ''bandits'' instead of an investigation.
At mid-month the government began calling up former bush war guerrillas for dispatch to Matabeleland and surrounding areas. It is also encouraging civilians to join police reserves. One minister warns that if violence continues, the government will unleash the North Korea-trained ''fifth brigade'' against the bandits.
The government plans to extend for an indefinite period the state of emergency imposed 16 years ago by Rhodesian white rulers.
Mugabe has also announced a $27 million increase in defense spending, which overturns earlier moves to reduce the size of the Army.
New spending and the violence are expected to have an adverse effect on the economy, which is in recession. The mining industry is in a slump and drought has cut agricultural production by more than 20 percent.
Land and unemployment already are two of the nation's chief problems. On the land side, the government must resettle 164,000 families over the next three years. It has resettled only 15,000 since independence more than two years ago. In order to resettle them, it must acquire substantial chunks of white-owned commercial farm land at great cost.
Even if the funds to do this turn up -- which is by no means certain - the potential impact on farm productivity is a worry. (At present, 85 percent of agricultural output for sale comes from the white farmers.)
The second problem, employment, is serious. Since independence, nearly 100, 000 new jobs have been created in the commercial, industrial, and service economic sectors, but farm employment has fallen. A three-year development program is expected to address this issue within the next two months.
To date, morale among whites Zimbabweans appears not to have been severely affected by violence or economic conditions. In fact, latest figures point to a slowdown in the pace of white emigration.
In the first quarter of 1982, the number of people leaving the country fell nearly 13 percent -- to 4,619 during that three-month period -- but businessmen here say it is too early to read the statistics as stabilization of the earlier white exodus from Zimbabwe after independence. The present downturn could well turn out to be no more than a temporary dip; in fact an early look at second-quarter figures indicates there may be another surge out of the country.
The economic impact of whites leaving is significant. When they go, much reliable business experience and skills go with them.
The government's recent decision to ''bond'' apprentices -- that is, require them to stay in Zimbabwe for as many years as their period of training requires -- is expected to produce a short-term outflow of white apprentices who are reluctant to sign on in Zimbabwe for an extended period.
Gunman attacked the home of Zimbabwe's minister of national supplies, Enos Nkala, that same day as the raid on Mugabe's home. Neither the officials nor their families or aides were hurt. The body of one man, believed to be one of the attackers, was found near Nkala's home.
The national news agency Ziana reports that the raid was staged by individuals wearing at least parts of Zimbabwe army uniforms, although there is no evidence army personnel were involved. Two RPG rocket launchers reportedly were found unfired and abandoned near the President's home.