Zimbabwe: land of contradictions. Government talks up socialism, but depends on capitalism
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The extent to which Zimbabwe retains relations with South Africa is, in itself, another paradox here. Despite its condemnation of Pretoria's racist policies, ties include mutual trade missions, transport links, business cooperation, and even border intelligence cooperation.Skip to next paragraph
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However, in what some observers see as the government's two boldest moves yet, it has joined five other Commonwealth nations in voting in favor of economic and cultural sanctions against South African, and it has announced that it intends to scrap a trade accord it has had with South Africa since the mid-1960s.
At present, almost 90 percent of Zimbabwe's 5 million-ton-a-year trade must pass through South Africa. Without South Africa's transport services, observers agree, land-locked Zimbabwe's economy would founder. In announcing his intent to scrap the trade agreement, however, Mugabe said that such action would be part of his country's overall sanctions effort. And, analysts note, it is unlikely that the Commonwealth will actually implement the sanctions despite the recent vote by Zimbabwe, Zambia, and four other member nations.
After nearly a century of white rule, black-ruled Zimbabwe has come a long way in its six short years.
As part of his government's socialist platform of ``equitable distribution and growth,'' Mugabe has instituted numerous reforms. Some are considered too ambitious for Zimbabwe's present capabilities. But his efforts to provide education, health care, and broader opportunities for all have made inroads. For many, including whites, living conditions are in certain respects better today than before independence.
``Even if some of the Europeans gripe about the fall in standards or the shortage of foreign exchange, we are not fighting a war,'' says a company director. Without a doubt, one of the most striking achievements is the relative lack of racial tension. Less than seven years since the end of a bitter conflict that claimed some 40,000 lives, there is enormous goodwill.
The government has pushed hard for Africanization. But Mugabe has recognized the need, at least for the time being, to encourage a pluralistic society. Whites still play a pivotal role in keeping the country on its feet.
Scrupulous attention is paid to promoting multiracialism.
``Socialism?'' laughed a businessman, formerly active in the liberation struggle. ``You need a pair of binoculars to find it.''
The image most appealing to the growing black middle class is that of an exuberant Western life style, once enjoyed only by whites. Party activists, however, seem determined to politicize the ``masses.'' Liberation rhetoric still holds sway.
Their efforts are not necessarily popular. But government spokesmen tend to dismiss much of the alleged disenchantment, arguing that it is a matter of education. ``The population was brought up on the racist rhetoric of the past, so we are trying to transform society consistent with our socialist goals,'' said the minister of information.
Much of Zimbabwe's future, observers note, depends on what happens in South Africa, and on whether Mugabe can avoid the pressures of hard-line ideologues. He has been striving for the creation of a one-party state, a concept that draws numerous adherents, including whites.
A strong leadership, supporters of this policy argue, is the only way to preserve political stability. But the extremists are driving for a more radical East-bloc style of control.
The ruling party's seeming contempt for minority opposition has led to a disconcerting rise in repression, including press curbs.
``It is the majority that rules, and we must crush anything that threatens the state,'' a ZANU militant declared recently. Such attitudes have also emerged with the clampdown on public debate over possible consequences of international sanctions against South Africa.
A ministerial director, who requested anonymity, referred to the fears caused by this rhetoric, and said the politicians must ``change what they are saying and the image they want to project of this society. . . . Really, it's a matter of deeds. We should just get on with it.''