Zimbabwe tightrope: bolstering business while pressing socialist goals

While encouraging private enterprise and seeking aid from the West, Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe government is not losing sight of its long-term socialistic goals.

In a recent review of the country's economic policies, the prime minister told entreprenuers that while private enterprise had a role to play in Zimbabwe development, it also had responsibilities to the new society he was trying to create.

"Where recognize the reality of free enterprise," Mr. Mugabe told an economic symposium in Salisbury." But this should not be taken as authority or license for private enterprise to romp unbridled on an exploitative course."

Urging entrepreneurs to ensure the steady advancement of their black workers, the prime minister said they should encourage and develop worker participation in decisionmaking and ownership.

Since, independence, the prime minister has spent much of his time reassuring white farmers and businessmen that they have a future in the country and that the government has no immediate plans for the nationalization of the private sector.

This pragmatism has come under fire from the strong radical wing of his party , and the prime minister finds himself being pushed onto a tightrope between whites' concern and blacks' aspirations.

Many blacks feel increasingly that since independence the government has spent too much time reassuring whites and too little channeling the fruits of independence to the country's overwhelming black majority.

Recognizing the threat these frustrations represent, Mr. Mugabe is trying to speed up changes that will benefit those who voted him into power in last February's election.

One of the most fundamental issues in Zimbabwe is land ownership, currently split disproportionately between the country's 220,000 whites and 7 million blakcs.

Mr. Mugabe said that a paper soon would be ready on government plans to transfer what he described as "a large percentage" of white-owned farming land to black peasants.

The plan is a significant statement of intent and, provided the reallocation can be carried out, Mr. Mugabe will consolidate his popularity in the overcrowded black rural areas.

In attempting to speed social and economic change, the prime minister is ironically dependent on capitalism.

The purchase of large numbers of white-owned farms and the resettlement of black tribesmen on them will cost vast sums of momey that are simply not obtained locally.

So far, the response to appeals to Western countries for aid to carry out these social changes and for reconstruction has been disappointing, in the government's view.

Just over $300 million has been pledged so far, the bulk of it by Britain and the United States. But the Mugabe administration calculates that it will need upwards of $2 billion over the next two years.

While many Western countries might not like the idea of providing aid that will be used in the furtherance of Mr. Mugabe's socialist ideals, the danger is that if they do not provide aid, the whole fabric of Mr. Mugabe's pragmatism may be irreparably torn.

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