Zimbabwe Braces for Shifts in Regional Leadership Role Ten Years after Its Bold Start, an Economic Bloc of Front-Line States Fighting Apartheid Is Shifting Its Strategy. Spurred by Political Reforms in South Africa, Neighboring States Now Are Preparing to Include the Regional Giant in Efforts to Promote Growth and Political Stability. Series: POINTS OF THE COMPASS. Part 3 of a Series. Third of Four Articles Appearing Today

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ZIMBABWE, a leading member of SADCC, is looking forward to the emergence of a majority-ruled South Africa with both anticipation and fear.

Once white-ruled itself, Zimbabwe has campaigned vigorously for an end to apartheid in South Africa. But as that day draws closer, Zimbabweans are increasingly aware that a new South Africa will dwarf this country's star role in regional affairs, as well as threaten its fledgling industries.

Zimbabwe's strong economy and central location have given the country an unofficial leadership role in SADCC, the 10-member South African Development Coordination Conference. It has the largest industrial sector and boasts the most-educated leadership in the SADCC grouping. Gaining full independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe emerged just as SADCC was formed. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been a high-profile figure in African affairs, and as head of the "Nonaligned Movement."

Because of SADCC's emphasis on shared responsibility, Zimbabwe, which coordinates the portfolio responsible for food security in the region, is not officially more prominent than the group's other nine members.

But "right now Zimbabwe is the biggest fish in a small pond," says an economist at the University of Zimbabwe. "When South Africa comes in (joins SADCC as a black-ruled state), not only will the size of the pond increase dramatically, but it will be as though a whale - maybe even a shark - has been put into it."

"Although this is not a popular thing to say right now," he says, "it is not clear that the economic impact of a free South Africa will be less harmful than the economic impact of overt destabilization."

Zimbabwean business leaders fear that better political relations would lead to cheap South African goods flooding its markets and pushing them out of business. …