Zimbabwe tempers its Marxist rhetoric after five years of independence

Earlier this month, on the eve of Zimbabwe's fifth anniversary as an independent republic, two white Trotskyites were put aboard a plane here and deported to London, for, among other things, ``indoctrinating'' Zimbabweans with ``extreme leftist ideology.'' One of the two exiles, South African-born trade unionist David Hemson, declared to the press on arrival in London that Zimbabwe Prime Minister Robert Mugabe had ``sold out the revolution to the petite bourgeoisie.''

The tide of events in the last five years has disappointed Zimbabwe's ultra-left. Many of its members expected Mr. Mugabe to smash the capitalist economy, take over the ownership of private enterprises, and introduce mass collectivization. It had happened frequently in other parts of Africa.

But the disappointment of the left has been the relief of the country's economic sector. Fears about the introduction of a Marxist-based African socialism have eroded since the early days of independence. Mugabe, then freshly out of the Mozambique headquarters of his guerrilla movement, was voted into power after seven years of war against a government dominated by a community of about 250,000 whites.

Indeed, there has been less of the strong socialist rhetoric, and a subtle shift in direction in government economic policy has given the country's farmers, businessmen, manufacturers, and industrialists cause for some optimism for the next five years.

At the first post-independence congress of his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), in August last year, Mugabe averred that the party's philosophy was based on Marxism-Leninism. But the congress resolved that implementation of socialism as an overriding government policy would be introduced only ``in the fullness of time.''

The formation of a government corporation in l982 to be responsible for the marketing of the country's million-dollar mining output was preceded by statements by Cabinet ministers to the effect that the government was proposing to ``restore the means of mineral production to the hands of the masses.''

However, the basic modus operandi of the minerals marketing corporation, mining company officials say, consists chiefly in monitoring and approving deals effected by the companies themselves.

The government has acquired majority shareholdings in a major banking corporation, two mining houses, an air freight company, a photographic processing company, and hotels. It is eyeing the multimillion dollar milling and urban bus transport industries.

But in all cases, say company executives still unchanged by the new ownership, the government has limited its role to picking up the dividends.

The commercial agricultural sector of some 4,000 farmers, mostly whites with large-scale operations, has grown close to Mugabe. It enjoys greater access to him than perhaps any other lobby group outside ZANU-PF.

Impressed by what he terms their resoluteness in the face of three years of drought during which they stayed on the land and managed to keep the country in food, Mugabe has promised them ``a very long tenure here.''

Brokers on Zimbabwe's tiny stock exchange swear they have discerned an upswing in trading since the day in February when Mugabe assured a group of white farmers: ``Profit is not a dirty word.'' It was profiteering the government was opposed to, he qualified.

Mugabe proposes to go to the polls in June for the first time since independence. His belief that he will significantly increase his majority -- now 57 of 80 of the seats, the other 20 being reserved for whites -- is shared by political observers and, privately, by senior officials of the two main political parties, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) of Joshua Nkomo, and the African National Council of Bishop Abel Muzorewa.

No matter how strong Mugabe's victory, there will be at least a few opposition members left in the House of Assembly. Only one is enough to defeat his plan to introduce his system of so-called ``democratic centralism'' and outlaw other political parties.

To introduce the one-party state, a prime goal of ZANU-PF, Mugabe needs to change a section in the Constitution that guarantees political freedom. At present such a change requires approval of each of the 100 members of Parliament.

The rigidity of this requirement relaxes in 1990 and Mugabe's silence on the issue in recent months is interpreted as acknowledgement that he will have to sit it out until then.

In January, Minister of Justice Eddison Zvobgo announced that the government would adopt a de facto one-party state, as he believed the opposition would just wither away.

That appears to be happening to the guerrilla movement that since 1982 has forced the government to deploy thousands of security forces into the western province of Matabeleland.

For the last year the South African government, which Zimbabwe alleges was supporting the guerrillas, has stopped infiltrating guerrillas and shut off supply lines to them from over the Limpopo River, Zimbabwe's southernmost border, according to analysts here.

The result has been a slow but steady decline in guerrilla activity with the exception of an escalation this month. Military sources regard it as a spurt that was inevitable as elections approached.

With the guerrillas less of a factor, Mugabe will be able to direct ZANU-PF's powerful and all-too-often brutal political machine on Matabeleland, where Nkomo derives nearly all of his support through tribal loyalty. The result can only be to weaken ZAPU further.

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