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Zimbabwe: land of contradictions. Government talks up socialism, but depends on capitalism

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Red flags flew. Youth brigades clasping wooden Kalashnikov rifles performed paramilitary displays and North Korean advisers madly waved signals to the cardholders flashing party slogans: ``Long live ZANU-PF,'' ``Socialist ideology,'' and ``Crush dissidents!'' Rufaro National Stadium, on the outskirts of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, was jam-packed for the celebration. Apart from foreign dignitaries, there were few whites. Many of Zimbabwe's largely entrepreneurial 100,000 remaining white citizens have adapted to life under black rule, but celebrating socialism's rise is not their idea of a holiday.

There also seemed to be little enthusiasm for ideology among blacks in the crowd.

``Most people come for the spectacle and the dancing, not for the politics,'' a young Zimbabwean medical student explained at the time. ``In the beginning, we were excited by independence, but now many are tired of this political talk. We just want jobs and better lives.''

The country's sixth Independence Day celebration recently was perhaps an illustrative introduction to a reporter's visit. But only with regard to the nation's ideological veneer.

Among African nations, Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), an alluring country of high-plateau tea plantations, middle-level corn and tobacco belts, and lowland cattle ranches and bush wildernesses, faces unique challenges.

Since independence in 1980, the country has been looked upon as a land of promise -- not only as a potential economic powerhouse in the region, but also as a possible example of racial harmony for blacks and whites in South Africa.

Zimbabwe, however, has serious shortcomings: An annual 3.5 percent population growth, rising unemployment, and a gradual deterioration of human rights are but a few. At the same time, the country boasts: a multiracial society with a sophisticated infrastructure that sets it apart from other black African countries; a nearly self-sufficient economy; excellent roads and railways; first-world businesses, industries, and mines; and above all, the ability to feed itself and export surpluses.

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