PEACE MAY YET ELUDE NAMIBIA,MARY NEMETHSeptember181989
A TEST OF WILL
PEACE MAY YET ELUDE NAMIBIA
It may provide Frederik de Klerk with his first major test as South Africa’s new reform-minded leader. Last week, Sam Nujoma, president of the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO)—which has been fighting a 23-year bush war against South African troops occupying Namibia— announced that he will return from exile this week. Nujoma is widely expected to become Namibia’s head of state following the territory’s first free elections in November. The elections are part of a UN-sponsored peace plan under which Pretoria agreed to grant Namibia its independence.
But the Conservative Party— which won an unprecedented 39 seats in South African elections last week—opposes Namibian independence. And de Klerk, whose National Party (NP) won a slim majority in the poll, is likely to be vulnerable to the Conservatives’ strengthened position in parliament. Clearly, the likelihood that Namibians will elect a socialist SWAPO government will test de Klerk’s avowed commitment to reform.
South African troops occupied Namibia, then a German colony,
in 1914. And for almost seven decades, Pretoria had refused to relinquish the vast, mineral-rich territory—populated by 1.4 million blacks and 100,000 whites—despite mounting international pressure. But South Africa’s Nationalists, moving cautiously toward reform under former president Pieter Botha, found Namibia an increasingly unacceptable political cost. Finally, last December, Pretoria agreed to leave the territory in return for a pledge by Cuba to withdraw its 50,000 troops from neighboring Angola. And on April 1, the estimated
4,650-member UN peacekeeping force—including about 250 Canadians—began moving into Namibia to monitor the yearlong independence process. Still, observers have accused Pretoria of subverting the coming election, raising concerns that the peace plan could fail.
Confrontation: While SWAPO is widely expected to win the November elections, it remains unclear whether the guerrilla force can win the two-thirds majority in the constituent assembly needed to dictate Namibia’s future constitution. SWAPO suffered a serious blow to its public image in April when an estimated 1,500 guerrillas infiltrated Namibia from Angola, just as UN peacekeepers began to arrive in the territory. Under the peace plan, the guerrillas were only allowed to return, unarmed, in May. The incursion led to a violent confrontation with South African forces that left at least 259 guerrillas and 26 soldiers dead. Then, SWAPO withdrew. In response, Pretoria threatened to abandon the independence plan but, with UN mediation, it finally agreed to proceed.
Nujoma will likely intensify his election campaign after he returns. SWAPO officials last week asked all Namibians to declare Sept. 14 a national holiday “to receive the president in a manner befitting a conquering hero.”
SWAPO’s main challenger in the November election is the multiracial Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), a pro-Western coalition led by white rancher Dirk Mudge. Pretoria openly supports the DTA. And observers have accused the South African-trained counterinsurgency force Koevoet of harassing SWAPO supporters in northern Namibia. UN officials called for their discharge, and last month 1,200 Koevoet members were confined to their bases. Government sources said that de Klerk issued the order just after he became South Africa’s acting president.
Subversion: Still, James Victor Gbeho, Ghana’s representative at the United Nations, told the UN Security Council last month that many Koevoet members had been integrated into the regular police force and that Pretoria has “a deliberate strategy to undermine” SWAPO. Meanwhile, she Canadian observers who visited Namibia in July issued a statement saying that election rules, drafted by Namibia’s South African-appointed government, call for such a cumbersome vote-counting procedure that it could take three weeks to tabulate results. That would raise “impatience and suspicions to the boiling point,” the statement said.
South Africa has rejected accusations that it is trying to influence the election results. And the NP appears confident that it can deal with Namibia, whatever party wins at the polls. Said South African Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha recently: “We expect them to be a good neighbor. After all, they will be nearly totally dependent on us economically.” Moreover, de Klerk clearly understands that, in November, world opinion will judge his commitment to reform by his willingness to allow Africa’s last colony a free and fair election.
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