HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ After some dithering, it's official. The title ''comrade'' is here to stay.

Although the communist honorific has been dropped almost everywhere else, Zimbabwe will keep it as a formal means of address as long as President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party remain in power, a top official said Tuesday.

''Comrade is now part of our culture. ... What is wrong with Zimbabweans using that word?'' said Foreign Minister Nathan Shamuyarira, who is also information secretary in the ruling party.

Shamuyarira spoke after media reports that editors of the five main state- controlled newspapers decided to eradicate comrade, or ''Cde'' for short, from their pages.

The Information Ministry ordered them to reinstate it, especially when referring to Mugabe and government ministers, according to the media reports.

The word was first used in the 1970s by black nationalist guerrillas trained in the Soviet Union and China to fight for independence in the former British colony of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then known.

The title gained common usage after Mugabe was swept to power in 1980. Several years later, the government closed down a fast food outlet named Comrade Kebab on grounds it trivialized the nation's revolutionary history.

But continued use of comrade was criticized as Zimbabwe's East bloc allies collapsed and the government adopted market-led economic reforms and launched a drive to attract Western investors.