Despite alarmist rumours, the Katangese rebels who retreated to their bases in Angola last month have shown no immediate desire to invade Zaire's Shaba Province once again.

That is just as well for Zaire.

For if everyone from President Mobutu Sese Seko on down is convinced the rebels will eventually try again, right now the whole military operation designed to prop up his battered regime is in a holding pattern.

Giant U.S. Aire Force C-141 transport jets are still bringing in material via staging areas in Senegal and Gabon.

But no troops are moving out of herebecause of a complicated game of diplomatic maneuvering and power politics.

The French and especially Belgian civilian communities - perhaps still as many as 9,000-strong in Shaba, despite the attacks on white in Kolwezi - whose expertise makes Shaba's mines work are sworn to leave if Paris and Brussels go through with their reiterated intention to fly their troops home.

Facing increasing criticism from their respective oppositions, the French and Belgian governments keep promising to withdraw their troops by fixed dates - then allow the dates to slip under the local civilians' threats.

The slippage is not of the European governments' making. Belgian paracommandos and French legionnaires, now down to roughly 750 and 250 men, respectively, make no secret of their desire to leave.

The sticking point is the formation of an inter-African force - or at least of a token black African presence.

Almost all of the 1,500-man Moroccan contingent earmarked for Shaba has been here for days - flown in mainly on French commercial aircraft.

But their commander, Col. Maj. Abdelkhader Loubaris, is in no hurry to move his men into position.

Technically he is waiting for the C141s to finish flying in 200 new Jeeps and 70 Mercedes trucks which, along with new uniforms, small arms and crew-served weapons, France is providing as a sweetener for Morocco's taking over the Shaba burden.

Enough equipment has piled up at the airport here to start moving the Moroccans into the field. But Loubaris, who commanded last year's all-Moroccan expeditionary force in Shaba which rescued Mobutu, this time does not want to be all alone.

He is waiting for token forces from former French black African colonies and such pro-Western regimes as Egypt and possibly Somalia.

Despite Zaire's claim that Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon, the Central African Empire and Togo have committed roughly a thousand men, Western sources believe Mobutu will be lucky to persuade half that number to come.

In any event their arrival keeps getting postponed much to the annoyance of the Belgian and French troops.

Belgian officers, for example, had hoped Loubaris would send in Moroccan units to serve alongside Belgian troops now scattered around Kipushi, Lubumbashi, Likasi, Kambove, Fungurume and other Shaba towns with white communities.

The Belgians thus wanted to win over the towns' white residents and persuade them to stay. Once the Moroccans' deserved reputation for military prowess and discipline was established, then the Belgians hoped to leave.

But if the Moroccans are respected by the Belgians and French troops - hated by many Shaba residents for their return performance in propping up Mobutu - they "are still African," as one Belgian miner said summing up the racist doubts many white civilians harbor about them.

But Loubaris said in an interview, "We are grownups and need no introduction."

A Western observer said, "The Moroccans are tired of being considered the Cubans' of the French who themselves don't much like being tagged as the 'Cubans' of the Americans."

Loubaris seemed resigned to a long stay. Recalling he spent more than two months in Shaba last year, he said, "We can stay longer, as long as the situation requires and as long as Zaire asks."

Mobutu is already on record as having asked the French to speed up their training of a paratroop brigade, the Belgians to train an infantry division and the Moroccans to pitch in and help retrain units in Shaba.

"Last year it was a hunting expedition," Loubaris said. "This year it's a question of reparing a broken piece of machinery," he said in an apparent allusion to the 50,000-man Zaire armed forces.

The accuracy of his description was verified by a white who long ago became accustomed to paying mata-biche, or a bribe, to get through army roadblocks in Shaba.

As for the half million local inhabitants of Shaba's capital, their life has been made even more unpleasant by the current curfew which has allowed army patrols to shake them down with impunity after dark.

By all accounts the army has become more brutal and grasping since the Kolwezi affair. The troops now combine the usual practice of intermittently paid armies with the sullenness to troops humiliated by their runaway performance in the midst of a population making few efforts to hide its pro-rebel sentiments.

Zaire soldiers are so hard up that they have offered to sell the American airmen at the airport M-16 rifles for as little as $20. And Belgian troops, stationed at the giant Kamina airbase in northern Shaba, reported Zaire soldiers confiscated the more than $400 given a boys choir who had sung for them.

A local study is said to have established that an average family of seven members needed 260 Zaires - or $325 at the office exchange rate - to provide the basic necessities every month.

Few workers make that kind of money. As Kolwezi proved, Shaba is crawling with angry and violent unemployed youth with little to lose.

Western diplomats report the discovery of arms caches inside Lumbubashi's crowded black residential area and Zaire officials are taking no chances of being caught by surprise in another Kolwezi-like urban uprising.

More than a hundred young male prisoners were seen on various days this week being loaded into Zaire air force planes at the airport in full view of American, Belgian and French servicemen.

One batch was beaten and forced to sing pro-Mobutu songs before being put aboard the planes.

Tied by the wrists in some cases, they presumably were flown to Kinshasa where persistent, but unconfirmed, reports suggested as many as 300 prisoners have been executed.

Even without such tensions that nationalized mining corporation called Gecamines has managed to reach 40 percent of Kolwezi's pre-attack production.

Aside from the rebels' theft of more than 80 company vehicles only minor damage was caused the mines.

But without the white technicians the highly automated machinery risks eventual breakdown.

With eyewitness reports that the reinforced company of 215 French legionnaires in Kolwezi is unable to stop wholesale looting by Zaire troops - cars, washing machines and refrigerators, are said to have flown out on Zaire air force C130 aircraft - there would seem little for the Kolwezi whites to return to.

They were evacuated with suitcases at the most.

Even the government-controlled press recently published letters from irate readers complaining of Zaire army excesses.

Whatever hopes that Mobutu himself would see the need for taking tough medicine appear to have disappeared since he told Western reporters this week he rejects any conditions imposed by Western countries now reluctantly propping him up.

Such posturing comes less than a week before a crucial Brussels meeting - called before the latest Shaba crisis - to correct Zaire's parlous finances by limiting Mobutu's spend thrift ways.

A Western specialist in Zaire affairs shook his head and said, "There is a terrible explosion coming and we Westerners are going to be on the wrong side."

But Mobutu, the country's self-styled "guide," is one of contemporary history's great survivors. He has emerged from many a crisis in the past.

For the time being the major Western capitals for better or worse seem to agree with a large billboard on Lumbumbashi's outskirts which proclaims "Mobutu Sese Seko - our only hope."