HARARE, Zimbabwe — Fewer than 50,000 whites remain in authoritarian governed Zimbabwe, down from a peak of nearly 300,000 under white rule, according to recent census data published Monday.
The number of white Zimbabweans has continued to drop since the census was conducted in August 2002 amid the seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans, analysts said. Some independent experts estimate fewer than 30,000 whites remain.
The so-called fast-track land reform, coupled with years of drought, has crippled Zimbabwe's agriculture-based economy. Inflation and unemployment have soared and an estimated four million people are in need of food aid in what was once a regional breadbasket.
Initial results of the 2002 census published in December that year showed that 3 million to 4 million Zimbabweans had fled the country as economic refugees, bringing the total population down to below 12 million.
Adding to the problem has been widespread allegations of human rights abuses leveled at President Robert Mugabe's authoritarian government. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently labeled Zimbabwe an outpost of tyranny, while world governments and human rights groups have accused his party of rigging elections, repressing opponents and driving agriculture to the brink of collapse.
A detailed analysis of the results of the latest census was completed recently and published Monday in the state-owned Herald newspaper.
Among the findings were that whites numbered just 46,743 in 2002, the Herald reported. Nearly 10,000 of them were over the age of 65, and less than 9,000 were under 15.
The white population peaked at 293,000 in 1974. White rule ended six years later.
Other African nations, including Mozambique and Nigeria, have welcomed Zimbabwe's experienced white farmers in the hopes they can help boost commercial agricultural production. But Zimbabwe officials have appeared undisturbed by the dwindling population.
Didymus Mutasa, now head of the country's feared Central Intelligence Organization, told the British Broadcasting Corp. at the time of the census that he would be happy to see Zimbabwe's population halved.
"We would be better off with only 6 million people, with our own people who supported the liberation struggle. We don't want all these extra people," he said.
Last week, Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa slashed spending on health and education even further to fund the reconstruction of homes and businesses destroyed in a widely condemned slum clearance campaign.