To listen to South African leaders last week one would have thought that Western perfidy, even more than Marxist bloody-mindedness, was going to lead to the breakdown of the West’s own plan to bring Namibia to independence under United Nations supervision after more than 60 years of South African rule.
Dirk Mudge, leader of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) established in a position of incumbency by South African-supervised “internal” elections last December, threatened to lead Namibia into a unilateral declaration of independence if UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim didn’t come through with a more palatable scheme for UN supervision of elections.
South African Prime Minister Pieter Botha also acted mortified. If Waldheim’s proposals weren’t changed, he said: “We will choose isolation rather than humiliation.” Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha went so far as to threaten that South Africa, sick and tired of being the “target” of the West as well as the East, might be forced into “neutrality.”
The reasons for all the huffing and puffing were two suggestions by Waldheim about the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), which has conducted hit-and-run guerrilla warfare on northern Namibia for the last decade. The first, that SWAPO should maintain whatever troops it had inside Namibia in bases supervised by the UN as during the election, was, said Botha, a “serious deviation” from the plan originally proposed by the “Big Five” Western powers (the U.S., West Germany, France, Britain and Canada) more than a year ago. That said that troops on either side would be “restricted to base”—without mentioning on which side of the border.
The South Africans argued that the Waldheim provision might allow SWAPO to rush troops across the border on the eve of an agreed ceasefire—which was to have been March 15 but which has now been delayed because of the rowleaving the guerrillas with a “psychological advantage” during the elections, by virtue of having troops on home soil.
That seemed like a rather obvious attempt to have it both ways, since South Africa had firmly established a “psychological advantage” for its own favorite, the DTA, by defying the Western powers and holding the December poll.
South Africa’s other objection was that SWAPO troops based in border countries—primarily Angola and Zambia—would not be directly monitored by UN troops. Instead, Waldheim was depending on the guarantee of the five black frontline states—Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania and Mozambique—that the guerrillas would be held in line.
If the differences were real, however,
they seemed too minor to threaten an agreement so important to all parties involved. The frontline states—for all they rail against apartheid—badly want stability in an area dominated by a war in Rhodesia that has drained them both economically and militarily.
Angola, especially, is desperate to get South African troops off its southern border. Not only is Angolan President Agostinho Neto faced with recurrent raids against SWAPO bases on his territory-one last week coincided with Pretoria’s rejection of Waldheim’s planbut the South African army serves as the main supply source for the rival National Union for the Independence of Angola (UNITA) guerrillas who have prevented Neto from establishing a firm grip on his country since independence in 1975.
' South Africa itself would like to blunt
some of the barrage of international
criticism,to say nothingof thethreat of economicsanctions,over its handling of the affair; and to save the $1 million a day it costs to maintain troops in northern Namibia to keep out SWAPO guerrillas.
As for SWAPO, while its military leader, Sam Nujoma, has made enough belligerent statements to convince some observers he would rather fight than vote, his guerrillas have yet to show enough military heft to suggest they can be much more than an irritant; and other SWAPO spokesmen have shown signs of eagerness to get on with the balloting.
At the weekend Botha was still squawking about a Western “swindle,” but neither observers in South Africa nor External Affairs Minister Don Jamieson in Ottawa could bring themselves to believe that he would throw away the potential gains, and risk another Rhodesia, over two such minor matters. Dan Turner
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.