HARARE, ZIMBABWE -- Seven summers ago a black Marxist prime minister, Robert Mugabe, took up residence in Government House, a victor after 15 years of barbaric civil war. Each day since has been a day of amazing grace for the shrinking white minority, now numbering barely 100,000 out of a population of more than 8 million.

Politically and militarily they are impotent. Psychologically, many remain disoriented and confused by their loss of power. But a cornerstone of their historical experience -- the "Rhodesian way of life" -- endures as one of the remarkable benevolences of the new socialist ruling class.

Whether South Africa's whites, confronted now by growing pressures for black majority rule, can look to Zimbabwe as a model for their own future is conjectural at best. But this country's experience clearly refutes the idea that black rule in Africa inevitably leads to white oppression and economic collapse.

"I could not," said one of the country's retired white generals, "match my style of life anywhere else in this world."

His pension, like the pensions of thousands of white government and military retirees, is paid in full each month by the Mugabe government. He maintains his home in one of the many lush suburbs of Harare, tranquil places of jacaranda, bougainvillea, gardeners, maids and Rhodesian Ridgebacks, traditional guardians of the private estates. There are private schools (subsidized by the government), ballet classes and a riding academy for little ladies and gentlemen.

In corporate parking lots in the city's industrial belt -- still dominated by white owners and executives -- the vehicle of choice for managing directors is clearly the Mercedes-Benz, despite reported importation costs far in excess of $100,000. In the city center, atop the new wing of the grand old Meikles Hotel, a pool of abstract design shimmers in the sunlight, ringed by young European women in bikinis. The poolside decor is out of Bloomingdale's. Uniformed African waiters glide about in elegant style with drinks and hors d'ouevres.

These are earthly symbols of a profound reality in Zimbabwe today. Sixty per cent of the economy -- not substantially less than in pre-revolutionary times -- remains in private and mostly white hands. Out in the countryside, land ownership has changed very little since Mugabe's assumption of power. Under a white government, 6,000 whites owned about 42 per cent of all the farm land in Zimbabwe. Another 42 per cent was shared by more than 800,000 communal farm families. The rest was in government hands.

Today, according to Dennis Norman, tobacco company executive, member of Parliament, commercial farm owner and former agriculture minister, land ownership breaks down in this way: 33 to 34 per cent belongs to 4,500 white farmers, 42 per cent still belongs to the hundreds of thousands of communal farmers and small freeholders and the rest is in government parklands, game reserves and resettlement estates. One result of this attractive division of agricultural wealth is that the average age of Zimbabwe's white farmers has dropped from 53 in 1980 to 37 today, according to the Commercial Farmers Union. The only substantial drawback to white agribusiness is that farmers continue to be killed off by "dissidents" and "bandits"; nine have been murdered this year.

When the black masses took power here in 1980, Mugabe spoke passionately and often of the coming "socialist transformation" of Zimbabwean society. He speaks of it still and with the same eloquence. In the introduction to a recent book on Christianity and socialism, he wrote:

"The elimination of an individualist society, with its attributes of inequality and selfishness, and its replacement by a collectivist society, with its attributes of equality and selflessness, is undoubtedly a moral philosophy. When we talk of socialism versus capitalism, we are actually talking of morality versus immorality, of equity versus inequity, of humanity versus inhumanity, and I dare say, of Christianity versus un-Christianity."

Those are noble and idealistic sentiments, worthy of any good Marxist. But there has been during these past seven years what Prof. Tim Hawkins of the University of Zimbabwe has called "a yawning chasm between socialist rhetoric and actual government policy." Analyses by Zdenek Silavecky, chief economist of Standard Chartered Merchant Bank in Harare, conclude that nominal pre-tax corporate profits in 1986 "were more than double their 1980 levels." He calculates that the pretax return on capital investment last year was 17.7 percent which, even discounted for inflation, compares favorably to rates of return in the United States and Western Europe.

No property has been expropriated since the Mugabe government came into office; no farms have been seized for redistribution to the poor or the landless. In those cases where the government has acquired commercial farm lands or enterprises such as the country's daily newspapers, the transactions have been between willing buyers and sellers at fair market prices.

Mugabe, in following this course, has honored pledges he made in the negotiations leading up to his assumption of power. This policy has led, in some cases, to incidents and scenes reminiscent of South Africa in which bulldozers and army troops remove squatters from illegal shanty towns. One such operation, involving 6,000 squatters, according to a government newspaper, took place on Oct. 15 near Bulawayo in Matabeleland. A provincial official was quoted as saying that "the squatters were not given any assistance to set up new homes but would be given plots to till while their cattle would have a grazing area reserved for them."

There have also been significant political concessions to the white community. The Zimbabwe Constitution, adopted in 1980, guaranteed that whites would have 20 seats in Parliament until 1987. That guarantee has expired but last month Mugabe and his party nominated and elected to Parliament a number of whites including the president of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Commerce, two former presidents of the Commercial Farmers Union, the president of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Industries and three of the cabinet ministers who served in the pre-revolutionary government of Ian Smith.

These various governmental policies have done more than merely pacify and reassure a fearful white minority. They have a produced a stable economy and a functioning society that stands in sharp contrast to the chaos and economic collapse in such African countries as Zambia, Angola, Uganda and Mozambique. Despite five seasons of drought in the past eight years, Zimbabwe remains a food exporter and has on hand nearly 2 million tons of reserve grain stocks, according to estimates by Standard Chartered Bank.

Although no significant land redistribution has occurred, there has been an agricultural revolution of sorts on black farms. African farmers historically have pursued forms of subsistence agriculture. In Zimbabwe 10 years ago, they produced only 13 per cent of the commercial harvest; a handful of white farmers produced the rest. This year 400,000 black farmers are producing corn for the commercial market and nearly 200,000 are producing commercial cotton, according to Eric Witt of the United States AID mission. They now account for approximately 50 per cent of the commercial production of those crops and 10,000 of them have moved into large scale operations of up to 10,000 acres.

They have gained access to farm credit programs, agricultural chemicals, transportation and marketing facilities and extension services. They have been the beneficiaries of government efforts to extend into rural areas such urban amenities as a wide range of consumer goods and health and educational services. This, the Commercial Farmers Union says, is all part of a conscious and successful government effort to "keep them down on the farm" and prevent the unchecked growth of vast urban slums and shantytowns which are now characteristic of most large African cities.

Avoiding the pitfalls many had predicted, Zimbabwe still faces an economic dilemma. Although the economy has not been socialized, neither has it "taken off" in terms of growth and development. And, in that sense, there is a feeling that the other shoe may yet drop.

A vast expansion of educational opportunities, for example, has created what economist Silavecky describes as a "ticking time bomb." Tens of thousands of African secondary school graduates have begun entering the labor market only to find that there are virtually no jobs. Between 1983 and 1985, the Central Statistical Office estimates, 255,000 new job seekers entered the job market. But formal employment during the period rose by only 5,000.

Silavecky's estimates are only slightly less grim. He calculates that 35,000 new jobs were created between 1983 and 1986 in addition to normal retirements each year. But 205,000 secondary school graduates were turned out in that period, of whom only 25,000 pursued further education. As a result, he says that unemployment increased from 375,000 in 1984 to 500,000 in late 1986, a rate of 16 per cent. Future prospects for this newly-educated class of young Africans are even more discouraging.

For university graduates the situation is much the same. Prof. Hawkins, dean of Zimbabwe University's business school, says many of the liberal arts graduates in history, English and political science find there are few job opportunities except for teaching. His business school graduates, holders of MBA degrees, are forced into jobs for which they are overqualified. Some become bank tellers and bookkeepers. Others seek work in South Africa.

The government's five-year plan for 1986-90 projects the creation of 144,000 new wage and salary jobs, including both private and government sectors. But the secondary schools will turn out during those years more than 857,000 graduates. If these projections are borne out, Silavecky said, 30 per cent of the wage and salary labor force -- 1,350,000 people -- will be unemployed in 1991.

In his view and the view of other economists, the only rational response to the problem is a set of government policies that will encourage job creation through private investment: an overhaul of restrictive foreign exchange regulations and guarantees to investors that they will be protected against expropriation and allowed to take profits out of the country, as they are now prohibited from doing.

But it is precisely proposals of this kind that are said to be anathema to Mugabe. By all accounts he is a principled socialist with an unshakeable belief that capitalism is "immoral." He has allowed it to survive in Zimbabwe because of promises made at the time of independence and because of intense lobbying pressures by government colleagues and private businessmen who argue that without a strong free market economy Zimbabwe will end up like its impoverished neighbors. They have persuaded him thus far to maintain Zimbabwe's close economic ties to South Africa but it has been, by all accounts, a struggle.

Harare's financial institutions are not sanguine about the future. The largest of them, Standard Chartered Bank, recently published an economic forecast for the country entitled, "Heading for Stormy Waters". That is also the prognosis of some western diplomats who note with alarm that since the Mugabe government came to power in 1980 foreign investment in the country has been insignificant.

Nonetheless, Zimbabwe today, compared with its neighbors, is an island of prosperity, stability and social harmony. And a number of its white citizens think the whites of South Africa have a great to learn from their experience.

A white industrialist, David E. B. Long, expressed that attitude earlier this year in an interview with an American journalist:

"We're obviously looking at a serious {economic} situation. But I'm still tremendously positive and optimistic. We've achieved fantastic things in seven years -- reconciliation, a mixed economy, a positive balance of payments. The success of Zimbabwe is in what has not happened."

Richard Harwood, deputy managing editor of The Washington Post, returned recently from a trip to southern Africa.