Zimbabwe: Mugabe sets priorities

In his first 10 weeks in office, Prime Minister Robert Mugabe has worked hard to establish an image of being a pragmatic moderate with socialist leanings. In particular, Mr. Mugabe has moved slowly and cautiously in setting the new nation's development priorities.

He has ruled out nationalization of industry. Although he has called for the "Zimbabweanization" of the economy, he has spoken against taking control of the private sector. And he has rejected suggestions that foreign companies be prevented from repatriating their profits.

But, despite his careful moderation, many whites here (in what formerly was white- ruled Rhodesia) have been disturbed by at least two innovations:

1. A marked change in the tone and content of this country's news media has shaken white morale. In the past, the main newspapers and the broadcasting services tended to support the cause of the white minority. Today, however, radio and television commentaries champion the liberation cause and sharply attack capitalistic exploitation of the masses, the role of multinational corporations, and inequitable distribution of incomes.

2. A program for accelerated black advancement in the public services has just been announced. This is to be encouraged by promising compensation for those whites in government service who were superceded by less qualified blacks as part of the policy of securing racial balance.

But for many younger whites in the public sectors, this is likely to be seen as the thin edge of the wedge, and analysts here are predicting an accelerated exodus of whites from public service (and probably from the country as well) in the latter half of 1980.

Overall, it is not clear yet how far or how fast the Mugabe government will go in its pursuit of fundamentally socialist policies. The present picture in various fields is:

* Integration of the armies. Progress toward integrating the three armies -- the former Rhodesian security forces, the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) guerrillas, and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) guerrillas -- is being made, but it is slower than the government would like.

There still are some 30,000 guerrillas in the assembly camps who must either be integrated into the new national Army or found jobs, land, or places in training institutions here or abroad.

* Wages. On the labor front, the country has suffered more than 100 strikes in the past three months as workers demand more pay. Labor Minister Kumbirai Kangai has been negotiating with businessmen for a national minimum-wage agreement, but this still has to be finalized.An announcement is expected soon, but the minimum wage in mining, industry, and commerce is likely to be set at $ 105 per month from July 1, rising to $130 from Jan. 1, 1981.

* Jobs. In many respects, unemployment is a more serious problem than wages. It has been calculated that in the past five years nearly half a million school dropouts or graduates became unemployed. Thus, the economy must grow very rapidly in the 1980s to find job opportunities for the young.

A key policy is to try to keep people on the land, thereby avoiding the flood to the towns and the emergence of large-scale urban unemployment that is so very characteristic of third-world states generally.

* Foreign investment. Business sources in Salisbury believe that the government needs to announce a firm code of conduct for foreign investors, arguing that unless this is done, Zimbabwe won't attract the necessary foreign funds from private-sector investors to provide jobs for its growing black population.

Cecil Parkinson, the British Minister of State in the Department of Trade, who visited Zimbabwe recently, made appeals both in public and private for such an investment code, and this need is emphasized by the initial hostile business reaction to a report by the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) entitled: "Zimbabwe -- Towards a New Order."

* Foreign policy. Mr. Mugabe has promised a policy of nonalignment. Economic relationships with South Africa remain close because Zimbabwe is almost totally reliant at present on the South African railways and ports. But the South Africans were not invited to Zimbabwe's independence celebrations, and the decision last week to cancel the rugby match in Salisbury between the touring British Lions team and Zimbabwe suggests that links with South Africa will be gradually severed.

(The Lions are on a three-month tour of South Africa, and in the past Rhodesia was always included in the South Africa tour program because of its links with South Africa.)

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