HARARE, Zimbabwe — Not long after Ian D. Smith relinquished control of his resilient little anti-Communist, white-ruled country to the black majority, a newcomer moved in next door to his suburban Harare home--the Cuban Embassy.
Smith now uses the embassy sign out by the main road to give directions to his house. "At least they're good for something," he said recently.
"We didn't have embassies all over the globe when I was prime minister," he added. "But this government's got so much money it can afford these things."
Sarcasm, delivered with a straight face and a politician's sharp wit, is about the only weapon Smith has left these days.
As prime minister of Rhodesia for 15 years, he was one of the most controversial and well-known leaders in the world. Then, for seven years in independent Zimbabwe, he was the vocal leader of a white opposition party in Parliament.
Suspended From Post
Now, suspended from Parliament because of his views on sanctions against South Africa, he has retired to his soapbox.
Many whites here still admire Smith but say he has ended up way outside the political mainstream. Smith, of course, does not agree.
"I would like to get out of politics. Forty years is enough for any man," Smith said recently. "But when you've been in a position of great prestige and dignity and respect, standing up against the whole of the world and creating a country that was the most efficient in the world, it's easier said than done. People still look to you for leadership."
Smith is 68 years old, his age handsomely etched around a permanent frown and eyes as blue as the African sky. Ever the proper country gentleman, he wears a three-piece brown suit, with matching wing-tip shoes, and serves tea to a visitor from a service of proper English china.
He remains a man of undebatable opinions rendered politely, with a highly polished flair for political gamesmanship.
'Haven't Lost Faith'
Smith's main function today, he said, is to "talk to the poor white community . . . and give them a bit of confidence in the future, encourage them to go on living here and making their contribution."
"This is my country, and in spite of some of the unfortunate things happening to me, I still haven't lost faith."
He divides his time between his Harare home, where his wife usually stays, and his central Zimbabwe farm. About 20 families of black farmhands live on the 6,000-acre farm, growing irrigated crops and running 1,500 head of cattle.
An avid sports fan, Smith boasts that his farm workers have the best soccer team in the region. "We're a happy family," he said.
When in town, Smith usually watches a few afternoon rugby matches and goes about his political business, talking to both whites and blacks.
"Just this afternoon, walking down the street downtown, I was surprised at how many people stopped me," he said.
"One black man said to me, 'I just want to shake your hand, Mr. Smith, and say please keep going because you are a beacon of hope, not only for white people but also for black people here. We are not really happy.' "
Frequent Critic of Mugabe
Although he has lacked real political force since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, Smith has been a constant thorn in the side of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's government.
Smith's Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe Party has controlled most of the 20 whites-only seats in the 100-seat Parliament, using that status to, in his words, "challenge the government and keep them on their toes."
Mugabe's vow to create a Marxist, one-party state has been Smith's main target. In fact, Smith says he'd like to be remembered "as someone who helped stem the tide of Communist encroachment down the continent of Africa."
"It is typical of Marxism," Smith said. "The bureaucracy here has gone mad, the civil service has doubled, the army is four times larger, and every night white people go to bed here worried that industry is going to be nationalized."
Smith was kicked out of Parliament earlier this year after telling a group of international businessmen meeting in South Africa that sanctions against Pretoria "would be devastating to my country" and would actually help South Africa by forcing it to become economically independent.
That angered and embarrassed the Zimbabwe government, one of the strongest supporters of international sanctions against its southern neighbor.
"What I said in South Africa everybody knows is true," Smith said. "Sanctions were an absolute tonic for our country (Rhodesia)."
But, he added, "the government here calls me a racist. How could I live here if I was a racist? The Communists can sure beat the Free World at the propaganda game."
His yearlong suspension has apparently ended his political career. The government has announced its intention to do away with the 20 whites-only seats, and it has the votes in Parliament to do so this year.