London — The young African salesman from newly independent Zimbabwe could scarcely contain himself as he waited for the airplane home from his first working trip to neighboring Marxist Mozambique.
''Did you see all the food queues?'' he demanded of anyone who would listen. ''There's nothing in the shops. They can't service their cars, and look at all the peeling paint on the walls.
''These are the people who helped us win our independence, but you can't do business here. There are no taxis to get into town, the phones don't work, and I had to wait days for a single appointment. If this is Marxism, then I hope we never get it.''
His comments were the harsh but predictable commentary of a young Zimbabwean - used to the relative il12l,0,7l,5pplenty of his own country's mixed economy - when confronted by the economic dislocation, numbing bureaucracy, and chronic shortages that plague its Marxist ally.
Nearly seven years after it won independence from Portugal at the end of a bitter civil war, Mozambique's economy is still in the doldrums. Production of food and cash crops is barely half what it was 10 years ago. The few factories that kept producing when their Portuguese owners fled now operate at no more than a third of capacity because of shortages of raw materials and spare parts, and lack of maintenance.
The same story is true of Angola, Mozambique's former sister colony, on the other side of the continent.
More trading is done on the black market in Luanda, the Angolan capital, than in the shops. Their windows are often empty, or filled with long-forgotten machine parts not for sale.
Yet black-market prices are beyond the reach of most ordinary Angolans. A pound of onions may cost as much as the average worker's weekly pay, and a fresh fish almost one month's salary. Everything depends on having the right contacts, and much of the formal economy has simply broken down.
Behind the economic disarray in both former colonies are several factors: their common choice of a Soviet model of development, their colonial heritage, the continuing eruption of wars within their borders. The illiteracy rate is more than 90 percent among the local populations.
Both Angola and Mozambique suffered a massive exodus of Portuguese colonists at the time of independence. The Portuguese took with them their cars, trucks, household belongings, and left behind a chronically inefficient system of administration.
Both countries are still fighting wars. In Angola, the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has never resolved its struggle with the rival National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) led by Jonas Savimbi. On the southern border with Namibia (South-West Africa), South African troops raid at will in pursuit of guerrillas of the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), operating from Angolan bases.
As for Mozambique, the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) government faces a lesser but nonetheless debilitating threat from guerrillas of the Mozambique National Resistance Movement, attacking key road and rail links in the central provinces of Manica and Sofala, and even blowing up ships in the port of Beira.
Both governments see the hand of the minority white rulers of South Africa behind their security problems. Both rely heavily on their Soviet-bloc allies for arms and military assistance, including an estimated 18,000 Cuban soldiers still garrisoned in Angola.
Yet few Western observers would doubt that the determination of both regimes to follow doctrinaire Marxist paths has aggravated economic dislocation caused by the wars and colonial heritage.
Imposition of centralized and state-run institutions on essentially peasant economies has proved incapable of reviving production in agriculture and industry.
The Soviet Union and its allies also have shown themselves to be ill-equipped donors of peacetime aid and technical assistance.
Essential economic developments in Mozambique have been held back to await the finalization of a 10-year plan. But planners are hampered by lack of basic information.
''How can I make a 10-year plan when I do not even know where we are today?'' a Cuban statistician and adviser to the Mozambique government bemoaned.
All imports and exports are controlled by central state bodies, but a lack of qualified personnel makes them hopelessly inefficient. A shortage of light bulbs in Mozambique was reportedly caused because someone ordered a year's supply from Eastern Europe, without realizing they would not fit the sockets.
Potentially, Mozambique's most serious failure, however, is agriculture. The nation's leaders decided to replace colonial estates with highly mechanized state farms, but a shortage of spare parts and skilled mechanics has proved disastrous. Much of the farm machinery lies idle for lack of maintenance. As for attempts to bring peasant farmers into cooperatives or communal villages, progress has been very slow.
Samora Machel, Mozambique's president since independence in 1975, has launched a series of offensives against ''bureaucracy and idleness.'' He blames his apparent policy failures on the ''psychology of underdevelopment'' and on ''people who prefer slogans and sitting in their offices to going out and doing political work.''
The real problem, says a foreign agricultural adviser, is that peasants have simply gone back to subsistence farming because the government has failed to offer them incentives to bring their crops to market.
''Prices have been kept too low,'' says the adviser. ''And anyway, there is nothing for them to spend their money on when they do get paid.''
This problem is common to many of the struggling economies of Africa. But it has been exacerbated in Mozambique and Angola by the bureaucratic rigidity of Marxist rule.
It has been further aggravated by inappropriate advice and technology from Eastern Europe. The docks at Beira are lined with Yugoslav tractors; each has an enclosed driver's cab designed for European winter weather. And flooding in the Limpopo Valley - Mozambique's breadbasket - caused great losses because Bulgarian agriculturalists insisted on planting rice right up to the river banks , not on the traditional terraces.
Ironically, it is the Cubans, whose presence in Africa the United States regards with great hostility, who are generally regarded by Angolans and Mozambicans as the most helpful and relevant cooperantes from the communist bloc - whether in building apartment blocks in Luanda or reviving the sugar industry in Mozambique.
Mozambique and Angola have come to recognize that the Soviet Union and its satellites are not as capable of providing suitable aid as the West, however. Both are turning to Western donors, particularly Scandinavian countries. But such pragmatism has not apparently shaken their ideological commitment.
Neither Angola nor Mozambique has agreed to sign the Lome Convention, which would entitle them to aid from the European Community. According to one Western estimate, Mozambique could qualify for loans and grants from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Community, but the regime will not apply.
Indeed, Mozambique has formally applied to join Comecon, the East bloc trading community, although with little success. Moscow is understood to be unhappy about opening its doors to too many impoverished third-world states. The bloc has already had to admit Cuba and Vietnam.
A similar mix of ideology and pragmatism is apparent in the African Marxists' attitudes to Western investment. They want the technology, but each possibility is judged on its merits and passed through the bureaucratic sieve. Each step must comply with the cumbersome plan.
Angola, in particular, is aware of the benefits of Western technology and managements. The country's only two economic success stories - oil and diamonds - are Western-run. Gulf Oil, Texaco, and Belgium's Petrofina are all involved in oil production. France's Total and Elf-Aquitaine; the United States' Mobil, Marathon, and Cities Service; and Italy's Agip have exploration rights.
''I am sure there are some very serious Marxist-Leninist thinkers in the party,'' according to one Western businessman in Luanda. ''There are also a lot of pragmatists.''
A sign of growing self-confidence has been the keenness of both governments to bring Portuguese companies and technicians back to their former colonies, where their common language makes them the useful partners. Without fuss or fanfare, East German engineers at Luanda's port - where up to 50 ships at a time wait for the chronic congestion to ease - have been replaced by Portuguese.
The openings to the West do not as yet indicate any change in basic ideological commitment. If anything, the continuing conflicts within their borders have made Angola and Mozambique more determined to follow a Marxist path. But they have shown that they are quite prepared to be pragmatic in their use of Western aid, skills, and technology to reach an ultimate Marxist goal.