Zimbabwe leads Africa on several fronts. In the eight years since assuming power, Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, has encouraged remarkable growth in agricultural production by small-scale black farmers. More broadly, the Mugabe regime has managed a relatively harmonious racial balance in the formerly white-ruled nation. It has preserved the white agricultural and manufacturing sectors, and worked out a political accommodation with its black political rivals. Internationally, President Mugabe remains an implacable opponent of South Africa's racial segregation, apartheid, and among the most outspoken leaders of the so-called front-line states, seven of Pretoria's closest neighbors. The Monitor talked with Mr. Mugabe in New York recently where he received the Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger.''
Despite his eloquent English and smartly tailored suits, Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, is still the anticolonial leader who fought white domination in his country, the former Rhodesia. Today, that translates into supporting the fight against South Africa's system of white domination and racial segregation, known as apartheid.
``Zimbabwe supports all forms of struggle. They are justified against apartheid. Apartheid is immoral ... vicious ... murderous.''
Yet this African leader frankly admits his country is not strong enough to take on its giant southern neighbor.
Zimbabwe funds violent anti-apartheid groups. ``Armed struggle is the key element'' in fighting apartheid, Mr. Mugabe says. But, he says, political struggle in South Africa and international sanctions are also important.
Zimbabwe's support for armed struggle is funneled through the Liberation Committee of the Organization of African Unity, he says.
``We do not allow any bases and we do not allow the ANC [African National Congress] to use us as a launching pad. We are too weak to let them do that. We wouldn't be able to defend ourselves if South Africa has a justification for attacking us. But if we were strong we would say, `Yes, come fight from our territory'.''
(The outlawed ANC is the most prominent group fighting to overthrow South Africa's government.)
Not surprisingly, Mugabe remains very suspicious of South Africa's intentions in the region. He says Zimbabwean troops aiding neighboring Mozambique have found concrete evidence that South Africa continues to destabilize that country. He charges that South Africa is still supporting the guerrilla Mozambique National Resistance Movement (Renamo).
``We come across evidence all the time of South African complicity,'' Mugabe says. In a recent sweep of the border area, he says, his troops ``seized documents ... and radios which were provided by South Africa - very sophisticated equipment.'' These radios, he says, are linked to Renamo's radio station in Portugal via a communications relay station in Phalaborwa, a city in the northern Transvaal Province of South Africa. Well-informed Western officials with access to intelligence reporting concur with this charge.
Mugabe says South Africa also regularly flies supplies to Renamo. A senior Western relief official, who is active among refugees fleeing the fighting in Mozambique, says his impression is that the rebels would be hard pressed to survive if it were not for this type of South African support.
``This is done through the South African military side,'' Mugabe says. ``The civilian side, [South African President P.W.] Botha will say, `Ah, the military is doing what we don't want it to do.' But you can't separate your defense forces from your government.''
Renamo was first created by the white regime in Rhodesia and later came under Pretoria's tutelage. South Africa pledged to cut its ties to the group in a 1984 agreement with Mozambique. Renamo is accused by the United States, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique of atrocities against civilians .
Mugabe says he supports Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano's decision to meet recently with President Botha. But ``what tends to mar these meetings is that the South African party is not honest and behaves in a deceitful way.'' Mistrust of South Africa can begin to dissolve only if it takes action against Renamo in one way or another, he says.
The Zimbabwean has a similarly skeptical view of the ongoing US-mediated negotiations on independence for Namibia and peace in Angola. He says South Africa pulled its troops out of Angola last month only because they were encircled and beaten. The pullout thus does not prove South Africa's intention to grant independence to Namibia, he says.
While South Africa's pledge to honor the UN plan for Namibian independence raises hopes, Mugabe says, the test will be if it really abides by that plan this fall.
Zimbabwe, he says, is not about to pressure Angola to reduce the Cuban troops present in that country as part of an overall solution. Nor will it push a solution to the civil war in Angola as part of the negotiations.