WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration has decided to deport Ndabaningi Sithole, a former African revolutionary who sought political asylum in the United States so that he would be free to promote private enterprise as the cure for Africa's political troubles.
Sithole, the leader of one of the major black nationalist factions that fought against white-minority rule in what is now Zimbabwe, said his request to remain in the United States was rejected, although he will be allowed to appeal the decision.
A State Department spokeswoman decline to confirm or deny the decision, saying that the department has a policy against commenting on specific asylum cases.
In an interview, Sithole said that if he is forced to return to Zimbabwe, "it would be like returning to imprisonment or returning to the grave."
Sithole, the founder of the political movement now run by Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, fled Zimbabwe in 1984 after surviving several assassination attempts he believes were mounted by the government. He has been living in the United States since 1985.
In exile, he produced one unabashedly pro-American book and is working on another. In both works, he maintains that African independence has been a disappointment, largely because of disastrous Marxist economic policies adopted in much of the continent. He said that Marxism is "a foreign ideology" in Africa.
For instance, in the synopsis for his prospective book, "Hammer and Sickle Over Africa," Sithole argues, "The sooner Africa forgets about African socialism, the better for the continent."
Sitting in the modest living room of his apartment in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Md., Sithole agreed in a recent interview that his ideas frequently parallel the U.S. government's Africa policy. Consequently, he said, he had expected the Administration to applaud his efforts to promote open societies and free-market economies in Africa, "but I was mistaken in my assessment."
Sithole said he was told that conditions in Zimbabwe did not warrant grants of asylum because opposition political leaders like Joshua Nkomo were living freely in the country. Sithole scoffed at that rationale, noting that attempts have been made on Nkomo's life.
"I was 10 years in detention (before Zimbabwe's independence)," he said. "I don't want to dodge bullets. I have already escaped some (bullets)."
Sithole agreed with Secretary of State George P. Shultz that African nations are abandoning many of their unsuccessful experiments with state-run economies and are turning, instead, to private economic activity.
"But it is a reluctant free enterprise," he said, because many of the leaders still believe in Marxism but have found that they cannot make it work.
State Department officials say that Zimbabwe maintains a substantial amount of private economic activity despite Mugabe's Marxist ideology. But Sithole said that was only a ploy to keep the remaining whites from leaving the country.
He said Mugabe was "a blue-blood Marxist-Leninist" who will abandon both free enterprise and the white population when it serves his purpose.
Sithole, 68, is a Congregationalist minister, but in the years that preceded Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, he was best known as a political leader. He was sentenced to six years at hard labor in 1969 for "incitement to murder" Ian Smith, prime minister of what was then white-ruled Rhodesia.
Sithole founded the Zimbabwe African National Union but lost control of it to Mugabe during the seven-year guerrilla war against the Smith regime. His faction failed to win representation in Zimbabwe's first parliamentary election, which was won by Mugabe in February, 1980.
Drawing on the lessons he learned in the Zimbabwe independence struggle, Sithole called on the major powers to pressure the government of South Africa to negotiate with the nation's black majority over the political future of the country. This is the only way, he said, that South Africa can escape the tyranny of apartheid without succumbing to the tyranny of Marxism.
"No outside power can settle the future of South Africa," he said. "Only the people inside South Africa can settle it."
"The United States should apply diplomatic pressure to the South African government to come together with all the (black) nationalist parties," he said. "If the United States did that, if Western Europe did the same thing and even if Russia did the same thing, this would help."