Marxist tide ebbs in southern Africa

Just two years ago, American officials feared that Cuban-supported black African Marxists might place much of southern Africa in the Soviet camp. Today, they find that the Marxists are pragmatists with whom they can do business.

Much has been written about the pragmatism of former guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe, now the newly elected Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, and his country's need for Western aid and technology.

But Zimbabwe's Indian Ocean neighbor, Mozambique -- founded just a few years ago on Marxist-Leninist principles -- also is now encouraging foreign investment , as well as attempting to revive the role of the private sector in its economy.

In Angola, in West Africa, a Marxist government that came to power with Cuban support against American and South African-supported forces is buying Boeing aircraft from the United States. Gulf Oil Company facilities, at one time protectted by Cuban troops, provide much of Angola's income.

United States officials say that Angola is playing a crucial role in efforts to settle the guerrilla conflict in its southern neighbor, Namibia (South-west Africa).

Some reports from Angola suggest that neither the Soviets nor the Cubans are particularly well liked there.

"The lesson in all this," said an American official at the United Nations. "is that ideology is by no means the controlling factor in African politics. . . . Tribal rivalries, economic development, nationalism are all more important than East-west ideology."

Ted Lockwood, director of the church-supported Washington Office of Africa, who just returned from a trip to southern Africa, said that in Mozambique (population: 10 million) "Soviet-style agriculture didn't work."

"Mozambique wants to learn from everybody and not get stuck in one camp," said Mr. Lockwood.

Lannon Walker, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said the United States is optimistic about the prospects for the new nation of Zimbabwe (population: 7.2 million).

The chances tha Zimbabwe will hold together and play a "positive role" in the region are excellent, he said.

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Angola (population: 6.4 million). But Mr. Walker said that the US has found the Angolans to be "very pragmatic . . . searching in their own interests for solutions."

The US has withheld diplomatic recognition from An gola because of the presence of Cuban troops there. But West European diplomats have been reporting recently an unannounced, unobtrusive reduction of some 2,000 to 3,000 men in the Cuban military presence.

State Department officials say that they cannot confirm this, that they simply do not have the information. The State Department estimate of about 20, 000 Cubans in Angola has remained constant for the past two years.

Agostinho Mendes de Carbalho, a leading Angolan offical and governor for Luanda province, said that the Cubans who remain in Angola are not there in a combat role but serve as engineers, professors, builders, and technicians as well as in other civilian capacities.

Mr. Mendes de Carvalho, who is on a private visit to the United States, said that Cuban troops that are reported to have left Angola returned to Cuba "because we decided their usefulness to us was over and we decided to send them back. They never left us because some other government told us they had to go."

Speaking in Portuguese to this reporter through an interpreter, Mr. Mendes de Carvalho declared that no other country has the right to impose conditions on Angola that say, "IF you do this and that, we will do this and that. . . Nobody tells the Americans, for example, that you have to get out of here or you have to get out of there before we do this of that."

The Cubans, he said, would stay as long as Angola feels they should stay. If Angola was again attacked, it would have no hesitation in again calling for Cuban and Soviet help.

"We would like the Americans first of all to recognize that they made mistakes in Angola and maybe offer a hand for diplomatic relationships, and after we're together again, then there's enough time to discuss the differences between our two countries and everything else."

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