Mugabe: how committed to Marxism?

The most often asked questions about Zimbabwe's new leader, Robert Mugabe, concern his commitment to Marxism. Is he a Marxist, a pragmatic Marxist, Marxist-oriented, or a Maoist and what are the differences between these positions? Will an independent Zimbabwe rapidly and inevitably become a client state of the Soviet Union?

Mugabe's intellectual commitment to Marx and Mao has been tempered by his first-hand observations of breakdowns and dislocations in Marxist Mozambique, by his pragmatic acceptance that change in Zimbabwe must inevitably build onto existing structures rather than supplant them, by his recognition that private property should not be interfered with, and by his realization that economically he will be obliged to coexist with South Africa. It must not be forgotten that the People's Republic of China was the principal backer and arms supplier for the Mugabe forces and that Joshua Nkomo, the other Patriotic Front leader was favored by the Soviet Union.

Above all, after a protracted guerilla struggle Mugabe's first priority will be the reconstruction and development of Zimbabwe for which he will need Western aid, technoloogy, and skills. The United States should not be blinded by ideological labels and should make every effort to provide him with credits, necessary aid, and personnel and to establish full-scale diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe.

With Mugabe firmly in control the prospect is good for a nonaligned Zimbabwe rather than for a communist satellite state. Zimbabwe has been estimated to be the eight richest country on the continent and its future could easily be one of growth and prosperity.

Mugabe has never considered the culmination of the nationalist struggle to be a simple lateral shift of political power from whites to an African elite. The process of liberation has always been directed towards the transformation of the Rhodesia of white power and privilege into the new and more equitable nonracial nation of zimbabwe. This more radical perception of zimbabwean nationalism has differentiated Mugabe from African leaders such as Bishop Muzorewa.

His unshakable position on reform will have significant and widespread ramifications. Unlike Bishop Muzorewa, Mugabe has the intent and the power to allocate unused and underused land to the African peasants.

Land in Rhodesia has long been one of the central causes of African discontent. Today some 63 percent of the African population lives in the Tribal Trust Lands which carry three times as many people as they are able to support and where the vast majority barely exist under subsistence conditions. Yet half of the land Zimbabwe is occupied by 230,000 white.Redistribution of land will be a sensitive problem, particularly since white farmers are for the moment vital to the economic stability of Zimbabwe.

Another priority for Mugabe will be the resettlement of African peasants, many of whom fled to the towns as the war increased in intensity. It is also to be expected that collective farming units will be established, some industries will be reorganized away from the production of luxury goods, and the state will seek to acquire partial ownership of the mines. These actions should not intimidate or preclude foreign investment.

Of vital importance will be the formation of a new national army out of the two guerrilla forces and the current Rhodesian Army. Lt. Gen. Peter Walls, the armed forces commander, will continue to play a crucial role in bringing this change about. Existing loyalities must now shift to the state of Zimbabwe and become subordinate to it. The only way that this can be achieve will be by allaying white fears of reprisal, Victimization, and disorder, and by providing Nkomo and his followers with a real stake in the future of the new state, a task alleviated by his Cabinet appointments.

In 18 months a fuller assessment of the policies and direction of the Mugabe government will be possible. Now his decisive victory means the guerrilla war stops, thus sparing Rhodesia scenarios that had floated around. For at least the next six months Mugabe will be concerned with making political appointments and talking hold of the apparatus of government. He moves virtually without a transitional period from the leadership of Zimbabwe African National Union to the position of Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. He is an adroit and skilled politician accustomed to both local and international politics, but the range and scope of his office will call for substantial adaptation to new skills and procedures. The situation is complicated by possible white bureaucratic hostility and the absence of the kind of support that was extended to the interim Muzorewa government by the Smith regime.

By mid-1981 it should be clear whether Zimbabwe is in any way to become a launching pad for the liberation of South Africa and whether South Africa in turn will be able to coexist with the Mugabe government and refrain from interfering in the internal politics of Zimbabwe.

Because of the complexity of the situation it is to be hoped that Mugabe will guard against amending or moving away from the Constitution and from the possibility of establishing a one-party state even for reasons of national unity or solidarity. He will also have to closely watch ZANU intellectuals to his left, such as Enos Nkala and especially younger and more radical party leaders who will want to bring about fundamental changes too rapidly. The incorporation of Nkomo and whites into the government should remain more than a temporary political expediency and their appointments should continue to be visible and of substance. He will also have to realistically grapple with black demands for tangible rewards and benefits as a direct consequence of the coming of independence.

The 1980 election has been based on personalities. Black Rhodesian voted for Robert Mugabe and his ideals first and for his Patriotic Front organization second. Mugabe is a charismatic figure and much depends on his staying in office. He has many enemies, both black and white. However, for the ultimate well-being of the new nation of Zimbabwe and the general stability of the region it is to be hoped that he will survive and become one of Africa's prominent statesmen.

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