Zimbabwe: land of contradictions. Government talks up socialism, but depends on capitalism
Red flags flew. Youth brigades clasping wooden Kalashnikov rifles performed paramilitary displays and North Korean advisers madly waved signals to the cardholders flashing party slogans: ``Long live ZANU-PF,'' ``Socialist ideology,'' and ``Crush dissidents!'' Rufaro National Stadium, on the outskirts of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, was jam-packed for the celebration. Apart from foreign dignitaries, there were few whites. Many of Zimbabwe's largely entrepreneurial 100,000 remaining white citizens have adapted to life under black rule, but celebrating socialism's rise is not their idea of a holiday.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
There also seemed to be little enthusiasm for ideology among blacks in the crowd.
``Most people come for the spectacle and the dancing, not for the politics,'' a young Zimbabwean medical student explained at the time. ``In the beginning, we were excited by independence, but now many are tired of this political talk. We just want jobs and better lives.''
The country's sixth Independence Day celebration recently was perhaps an illustrative introduction to a reporter's visit. But only with regard to the nation's ideological veneer.
Among African nations, Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), an alluring country of high-plateau tea plantations, middle-level corn and tobacco belts, and lowland cattle ranches and bush wildernesses, faces unique challenges.
Since independence in 1980, the country has been looked upon as a land of promise -- not only as a potential economic powerhouse in the region, but also as a possible example of racial harmony for blacks and whites in South Africa.
Zimbabwe, however, has serious shortcomings: An annual 3.5 percent population growth, rising unemployment, and a gradual deterioration of human rights are but a few. At the same time, the country boasts: a multiracial society with a sophisticated infrastructure that sets it apart from other black African countries; a nearly self-sufficient economy; excellent roads and railways; first-world businesses, industries, and mines; and above all, the ability to feed itself and export surpluses.
Nevertheless, this state of 8.4 million people represents a host of contradictions. The most notable is that Zimbabwe, though a self-declared ``socialist'' state, depends on an ebullient capitalist economy for survival.
Some of the more radical ideologues in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union -- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), regularly voice harsh Marxist-Leninist or anticolonialist sentiments. Not everyone agrees with them. Many Zimbabweans fear that such diatribes hurt the country's image, and scare off needed foreign investment and aid.
And, last week's cutoff of all US aid to Zimbabwe may be the most significant realization, to date, of such fears.
The Reagan administration halted aid, according to observers, because of what it sees as Zimbabwe's lack of diplomacy in relations with the US.
Three issues the US was unhappy with pushed the administration to this decision: a document, highly critical of the US, prepared by Zimbabwe for a summit of the ``nonaligned'' movement; anti-US rhetoric espoused by Prime Minister Mugabe at the summit; and Mugabe's refusal to apologize for anti-US statements made in July by a Zimbabwe foreign ministry spokesman.
Although the Prime Minister has occasionally launched into both Marxist-Leninist and anti-US rhetoric, he has usually, through quiet diplomacy, let it be known that his words should not be confused with his actions. Since assuming power in 1980, he has tended toward a cautious approach toward socialism.
But, observers say that the world's attention to Mugabe's stand on South Africa and his acquisition of the leadership of the nonaligned movement at last week's summit have impelled him to heighten his rhetoric. Much of the current tension between Zimbabwe and the US, in fact, stems from Zimbabwe's ire with the US refusal to impose harsh sanctions on Pretoria.