WORLD

A historic breakthrough

Cuba, Angola and South Africa make a deal

JOHN BIERMAN December 5 1988
WORLD

A historic breakthrough

Cuba, Angola and South Africa make a deal

JOHN BIERMAN December 5 1988

A historic breakthrough

SOUTH AFRICA

WORLD

Cuba, Angola and South Africa make a deal

South African Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik)

Botha was in unusually high spirits. “A major and very important step has been taken on a long, long road,” he declared last week. “A hard nut that had to be cracked has been cracked.”

The reason for his evident ebullience: agreement after more than six months of tough negotiating to a plan removing an estimated 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola and according independence to Namibia, now ruled from Pretoria. Botha clearly hopes that the breakthrough will help ease his country’s diplomatic isolation.

In reaching the agreement, which is likely to be signed formally in December, both South Africa and Angola are taking a calculated risk. Without Cuban military support, the left-wing Angolan government seems to be abandoning hopes of outright victory in its 22-year struggle against Jonas Savimbi’s South Africa - and U.S.-backed UNITA guerrillas. And by withdrawing from Namibia, in belated compliance with a 1978 UN resolution, South Africa seems to be accepting the likelihood of an unfriendly Marxist neighbor on its northern border.

The willingness of both countries to accept those risks appears largely a result of improved relations between the superpowers. Said Philip Nel, director of Soviet studies at South Africa’s University of Stellenbosch: “With the Cuban troops out of Angola, the guerrilla war will continue, but at a much lower level; with the South Africans out of Namibia, the weak Marxist government that is likely to take over will seem much less of a threat to Pretoria, without heavy Soviet backing.”

The agreement was widely hailed as a personal triumph for U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs Chester Crocker, who initiated and mediated the negotiations among Angola, Cuba and South Africa. Under the accord, the Cubans will pull out of Angola in stages over 27 months, while a special UN peacekeeping force will move into Namibia— where guerrillas of the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) have been fighting for independence for 22 years—and elections

will be held. Before the pact is formally signed, the South Africans are seeking an agreement on procedures to verify the Cuban withdrawal, which could be achieved in time for the ceremony to take place by mid-January.

Canada will probably play a major role in

the proposed 10,000-strong UN Transition Assistance Group, which will move into Namibia to supervise a seven-month process toward independence. Up to 500 Canadian soldiers may be involved in providing logistical support to UNTAG, while Canadian civilians may carry out administrative and election supervision duties. Said Lt.-Col. Alexander Morrison, minister-counsellor at Canada’s UN mission: “There are few countries that possess Canada’s logistic and administrative experience in operations like this.”

Meanwhile, in Namibia—a 321,000-square-mile territory with a population of 1.2 million—many of the 80,000 whites seemed skeptical about a South African withdrawal. “I’ll believe it when I see the UN blue helmets come marching down the street,” said longtime settler Pete Strydom. And many on the extreme right wing of South African politics warned that black rule would threaten the survival of Namibia’s whites. But despite its mineral wealth, the territory has clearly become an economic and political liability for Pretoria. It has cost Pretoria as much as $360 million a year to administer Namibia, and an unnamed South African government official last week called it “an albatross around our neck.” There seemed little doubt that South Africa’s 73-year rule over Namibia was indeed nearing an end.

JOHN BIERMAN

CHRIS ERASMUS