While half of Zimbabwe's whites have left Africa's youngest nation in the nearly five years since independence, a few have moved in the opposite direction -- returning here after spending many of the war years abroad.

The returnees tend to be better educated and more affluent than those who are leaving. Having held a more jaundiced view of white- minority rule, they also tend to be more tolerant of the changes wrought by Robert Mugabe's government and more flexible in coping with the new challenge of being white in what has become a world for blacks.

Alastair Wright, 34, the general manager of a computer company here, came back in 1981 after nearly 13 years in Britain and South Africa. Wright had left to get a university education in engineering and to avoid fighting in what he saw as a losing battle for a white government he did not believe in. He returned with his pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter to participate in what he hoped would become Africa's model society.

Three years later, Wright concedes that his sense of idealism has been tempered by the sometimes harsh political realities. He has been especially sobered by the government's military crackdown in southern Matabeleland, where hundreds of civilians have died during the past two years.

Although once he thought of running for office, Wright did not even bother to register to vote last year. "I've become more and more apolitical and possibly insensitive," he said. "I returned as an idealist looking forward to making a real contribution. I don't think I'm an idealist anymore. The world expected too much from Zimbabwe, and I expected even more."

But for the most part, Wright said he has found what he was looking for when he returned -- a comfortable way of life, a healthy and secure climate to raise his children and, because of the country's shortage of skilled labor, the opportunity to be a top corporate manager at a relatively early age.

Michael Forde served his stint in the Rhodesian military but left in 1976 for South Africa for economic rather than political reasons: jobs were more plentiful and pay higher in the south.

He came back in 1982 with his wife and two daughters to a job as a manager in an industrial abrasives company because "this is still my home and it's hard to turn your back on it."

Forde, too, lives comfortably in a suburb -- there are two cars in the driveway, a pool in the yard and part-time servants. But there are frustrations as well in dealing with a new set of black servants who Forde feels often make decisions that are wrong or late or both. Lurking behind the frustration is the fear that Zimbabwe could squander its potential and become an African tragedy.

Wright and Forde worry about the future, whether their children will be able to receive good educations and get decent jobs, whether life for the next generation will be as good as it is for them. But both believe they have an important stake in this country and appear determined to stay on.

"This is where I was born, and this is the passport I carry," said Wright. "Every place else, I'm just a stranger."