With its cast of thousands, dominated by such figures as Cuba's Fidel Castro, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega Saavedra, and Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, it was inevitable that the eighth summit of the ``nonaligned'' movement would generate anti-Western sentiment on a large scale. The focal point of the Harare summit, which began here Sept. 1, has been South Africa, and the West's failure to impose comprehensive economic sanctions against Pretoria. This has provided the West's third-world critics with an opportunity to lambaste the United States and its allies. Criticism has been aimed not only at their southern African policies but also their stances -- particularly the US's -- on Latin America, Libya, nuclear disarmament, and the world economy.
On Tuesday, as Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Robert Mugabe was taking over leadership of the 101-nation movement, the US announced that it intends to end all new aid programs for Zimbabwe.
The timing of the decision, a US official in Harare said, had no particular significance. But, in his announcement Tuesday of the cut-off of aid, US State Department spokesman Charles Redman cited criticism of US policy in a document that Zimbabwe prepared for the summit. The declaration, Mr. Redman said, includes ``a litany of arbitrary and unfounded'' charges that raise doubts about the objectivity of the movement.
Redman said the aid decision had been made as long ago as mid-July, following a Zimbabwean Cabinet minister's sharp attack on US policy toward South Africa at a reception at the US Embassy here. Prime Minister Mugabe refused to apologize for the Cabinet member's attack.
Zimbabwean officials accuse the US of seeking to use its aid -- which has totalled $350 million since 1980 -- to force Mugabe to change course.
But, far from giving ground to its major donor, Zimbabwe seems set to follow an increasingly hard line, particularly on southern African issues. Relations between Washington and the nonaligned movement could deteriorate further if Mugabe proceeds with a planned visit to the US to directly appeal to US voters for economic action against Pretoria.
To what extent the criticism of the US is part of a cycle of political rhetoric doled out at the triennial meetings, rather than serious disillusionment with the Reagan administration, is impossible to ascertain.
Some of the nonaligned movement's member nations, which profess to lean toward neither of the superpowers, have serious reservations about their movement's place and influence in world politics. This was evident in the remarks of the outgoing chairman, India's Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The success or failure of this summit, he warned, would be judged by the extent to which liberation of South Africa is accelerated because of concrete action rather than mere resolutions taken by the movement.
An even more telling and -- to many delegates -- unpalatable assessment of the movement came from Singapore's foreign minister. He complained that the movement's ``sword of morality'' has been blunted by lack of a stance on the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan and this inconsistency invites derision.
Many Western observers see double standards at play here this week. ``What is nonaligned about Libya, about Angola, and about Cuba?'' a Western diplomat asked.
While the US, along with Britain and West Germany, has been singled out as the main target of criticism over South African sanctions, Oliver Tambo, a leader of the outlawed African National Congress, expressed optimism that his planned meeting with US Secretary of State George Shultz would lead to a reappraisal of the Reagan administration's policy toward South Africa. The ANC is the most prominent black movement fighting for an end to South Africa's system of white-minority rule and apartheid.
The preoccupation with South Africa is two-faceted. First, the summit is being held in Harare to mobilize opinion against Pretoria. Second, and important from the viewpoint of the movement's unity, South Africa is a safe topic on which the only disagreement is over how toughly worded a final statement should be.
This is in stark contrast to the Middle East and other regional conflicts where divisions have surfaced.
The summit's final declaration this weekend seems certain to call for mandatory United Nations sanctions against Pretoria. And there is likely to be a strong denunciation of Western economic policies and of strategies followed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. It is clear, however, that there will be no agreement on a Iran-Iraq war resolution and little criticism of Soviet activity in Afghanistan.
Ultimately, analysts say, the nonaligned movement will be taken far more seriously if it comes up with concrete measures to solve problems. At the summit's halfway stage, it seems that South Africa offers the movement just that opportunity. If translated into action, the movement's call for a military force and an economic fund to aid South Africa's neighbors in the face of retaliations against sanctions by Pretoria will help the movement's quest to be taken more seriously.