In 1979, after seven years of guerrilla warfare, the 100,000 whites in Rhodesia gave up control of the nation to their nine-million black countrymen. The name was changed to Zimbabwe. The world watched, hoping that Zimbabwe would be an example and encouragement for change in neighboring South Africa, where a white minority also rules.
There was a lot going for the new nation, including one of the healthiest agriculture-based economies in all of black Africa. Sadly, as Zimbabwe begins its 10th year this week, its existence has not been as successful as many had hoped.There have been gains, to be sure. Low-cost education has been made available for all, and there is free health care for the poor, who make up most of the population. A rebellion in one of the provinces has been crushed. President Robert Mugabe has ended a bitter and even murderous feud with longtime political foe Joshua Nkomo.
Despite these successes, and the fact that Zimbabwe is still black Africa's most prosperous nation, the avowed socialist state is in serious economic trouble. There are shortages of foreign currency and a lack of foreign investment. There is little government encouragement on behalf of either.
A war in neighboring Mozambique is bleeding the Zimbabwe treasury as it keeps 12,000 troops in the war zone to protect vital supply lines to landlocked Zimbabwe.
Land hunger, the main cause of the war for independence, still exists. While 160,000 families were promised farm plots, only 40,000 have actually received them. Unemployment has reached record levels, and there is high inflation.
The population is growing restless as one scandal after another rocks the government with examples of greed, corruption and mismanagement. Political leaders are growing rich and flaunt their wealth.
And the deal between Mugabe and Nkomo has led to an agreement to merge their political forces, turning what has been one of Africa's few Western-style democracies into a one-party state. Many Zimbabweans fear that the independence they fought for may end up as a dictatorship of rich and corrupt politicians.
All of this makes Zimbabwe's future look less than promising. It would be a tragedy if the struggle for majority rule and the end of white domination were to result in even more poverty and less freedom.
And the example is hardly going to encourage white-ruled South Africa to follow in Rhodesia's footsteps and give control to the black majority.