New Internationalist

Zimbabwe

Issue 209

new internationalist
issue 209 - July 1990

COUNTRY PROFILE

ZIMBABWE

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Photo: Claude Sauvageot Zimbabwe's contradictions run deep. While First Street in the capital, Harare, throngs with teenagers trying to look American, most rural Zimbabweans are still proud to be peasants.

Ten years after the end of Rhodesia, business magazines call Zimbabwe 'Independent Africa's brightest hope'. They are paying tribute to Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's policy of reconciliation, which had forestalled the kind of 'white flight' from the commercial sector that helped cripple the modernizing economies of African countries in the 1960s. The price of this pragmatism has been to disappoint those who expected radical changes after Independence.

Zimbabwe's Rhodesian inheritance persists in its barely-changed colonial pattern of land ownership, with the best land used for private commercial farming and cattle grazing. Farmworkers conditions are still, on the whole, degrading.

The resettlement programme for peasant families lags far behind its targets. However Zimbabwe has managed to produce huge surpluses of maize, in non-drought years, with a much higher proportion than before grown by peasant farmers encouraged by good prices and improved roads.

There is much to celebrate: thousands of rural clinics have been built, and programmes established to spread information about hygiene and sanitation. Secondary education has been extended throughout the rural areas, and though it is expensive (about Z$300 or US$125 per year per child), most parents still pay up: the only expanding job sector is teaching. Zimbabwean pop music has now hit the Western scene, and those who know regard contemporary Shona sculpture as among the world's finest. Since the much-welcomed United Agreement, signed in 1987 between Robert Mugabe's ZANU and Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU, the atmosphere in hard-pressed Matabeleland has been peaceful, and the South African-backed MNR (Mozambique National Resistance) has been pushed back into Mozambique.

Below the surface, however, are severe tensions. Having waited patiently to see the fruits of Independence, people are now asking how their 'daytime socialist' leader can afford to drive brand-new imported cars while 'shortage of foreign exchange' prevents purchase of spare parts for the run-down buses.

In Zimbabwe everyone knows a thousand songs; songs about work, liberation, faith, love, drought and about struggle. Zimbabwe has to juggle the conflicting demands of democracy and livelihood for its peasants with the foreign-exchange addiction of its 'modern' economy.

Maggie Sinclair

 

Leader Prime Minister Robert G Mugabe

Economy GNP per capita $580 (US $18.530)

Currency: Zimbabwe dollar

Exports include: tobacco, tea, coffee, gold, asbestos and basic manufactures. Imports are oil, chemicals, machinery and transport. Maize as porridge ('sadza') is the staple food. Other crops include groundnuts, roundnuts, finger millet (for beer-brewing, rural women's main income generator), beans, squash and sweet potatoes. Overcrowding and land exhaustion in the old 'reserves' fuel migrations to drier regions suitable for cotton growing. The government is developing rural 'growth points' to decentralize spending and improve services.

People 9 million

Health Infant mortality 71 per 1,000 live births (US 10 per 1,000)

Culture Shona make up about three-quarters of the population, with Ndebele around 18 per cent.
Religion
: Traditional ancestral belief co-exists with Christianity of various denominations.
Language: National language English; local languages Shona and Sindebele.

Sources: State of the World's Children 1990

Last profiled in 1981

 

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Improving; minimum wage legislation helps the employed.
1981: **

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Imports oil but some local processing of food, paper, sugar.
1981: ***

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Traditionally strong but getting worse for majority.
1981: ****

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'Socialist' but pragmatic one-party state.
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81% men 67% women. Universal primary education.
1981: ***

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Fluctuates; criticism unwelcome but no widespread repression.
1981: **

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59 years
(US 75 years)
Worse in rural areas.
1981:**

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