By John Carey ONE of the most politically sensitive jobs in the reconstruction of the new Zimbabwe was entrusted last week to a staff member of the Catholic Institute of International Relations.
Mr Roger Riddell was named by the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Mr Robert Mugabe, as the chairman of a National Cornmission to investigate incomes, prices and workers' conditions.
Another Commission member is a Dominican nun. Sr Mary Aquina OP, a former teacher at the university in Salisbury and an expert on rural conditions in Zimbabwe. .
The recommendations of the Commission will be crucial in determining the direction of the country over the next ten years and timid go a long way towards creating a just and stable society following years of white rule an& a damaging civil war.
But Mr Riddell and his seven colleagues know that they must pick their way through a political minefield, balancing the demands of justice for the lowest income groups against the need to preserve white expertise and the expectations of the black middle class, The choice of Mr Riddell as chairman is believed to have been made by Mr Mugabe himself. It represents a tribute to the work of CI1R during the long and painful transition to majority rule as well as a considerable feather in Mr Riddell's own cap.
The offer of the job was made and accepted in June. It was hinted at at the CIIR annual meeting but the public announcement in Britain had to wait until the final details of the commission had been worked out in Salisbury.
Mr Riddell went out to Zimbabwe three weeks ago. He returned to Britain last week to be with his wife Abby at the birth of their first child, a daughter, last Friday. He will return to
Salisbury next week with the family following as soon as possible afterwards.
Because of the importance of its work the commission is expected to produce an interim report by Christmas and a final one by next Easter.
Mr ftiddell said that he hoped its investigation would act "as a focus for widespread reflection on Zimbabwe's economic and social problems". "It is an opportunity for different groups to discuss the problems together. There are no easy quick answers and any recommendations we make will have to take account of the need to maintain business confidence," he said.
The Commission includes representatives from business, commerce, trade unions, the civil service and peasant farmers. It is thought vital to take the latter's interests into account because of their importance both politically and economically.
During the six weeks immediately after independence in April there was a series of strikes by workers impatient to see the rewards they expected from the new government.
A national minimum wage was established as an interim measure before the Commission reported. Although it has succeeded in forestalling further trouble, it is recognised that it is unsatisfactory. •