And now Namibia?

If peace and independence could come to long-embattled Zimbabwe, why not to that other land of turmoil in southern Africa, Namibia? Indeed, why not bring the process to a conclusion with a "Lancaster House" conference of the sort that brought such welcome and unexpected results in what used to be called Rhodesia?

In answer to the first question, there is no reason that namibia (South-West Africa) should fail to reach freedom and order, if an already existing agreement is carried through responsibly by all parties.

In answer to the second, there are various reasons that make a Lancaster approach even more unlikely than it seemed in the case of Zimbabwe. Yet it should not be ruled out, if only because Zimbabwe proved that an unlikely solution can actually come to pass.

What brings such matters up now is the apparent renewal of intransigence by South Africa, which rules neighboring Namibia in defiance of the United Nations, and the reported accompanying hints that South Africa might consider a Lancaster initiative. In view of Pretoria's previous delaying tactics on Namibia, it is hard not to accept the interpretation that here is another one. On the other hand, it might possibly indicate a recognition of the need to move forward making itself felt in the midst of South Africa's internal political divisions on what to do about Namibia.

In any case, the possibility of a conference is complicated by the differences between the Zimbabwe and Namibia situations (and not just the obvious one that Britain and its redoubtable Lord Carrington do not have any special link prompting them to step in). For example, there was little dispute over which groups ought to be represented in the Zimbabwe talks. But it is believed South Africa would want to include not only itself and SWAPO (South-West African People's Organization) -- the parties recognized by the United Nations -- but the unrecognized Turnhalle political grouping seen as subservient to South Africa.

Another point of difference is that there was no independence plan approved by both sides in existence before the Zimbabwe conference. By contrast, South Africa and SWAPO long ago agreed to a plan negotiated through the good offices of five Western nations. It includes such provisions as a demilitarized zone along the border of Namibia and Angola, the withdrawal of armed forces under UN supervision, and the election of an independent government also under UN supervision.

It is implementing the plan, rather than negotiating it, that is the problem now. And South Africa once more has presented obstacles to implementation that effectively prevent it. For example, it has the Secretary General for an end to UN funding of scholarships and office expenses for SWAPO -- but this depends on General Assembly decisions not subject to the Secretary General.

Some see in South Africa's phrasing the possibility of loopholes permitting an interpretation that its demands are being addressed. The question is whether South Africa intends such loopholes and will use them to assist the peace process it is inhibiting now.

The Senate bill, however, remains stymied in subcommittee, where it faces stiff opposition. Efforts are being made to delete the administrative enforcement system -- the very heart of the bill -- and replace it with one that would put housing cases in the hands of federal magistrates rather than administrative law judges who have expertise in housing disputes. Moreover, mandatory use of magistrates would tie up housing complaints in the heavy backlog of cases already in the federal courts, thereby averting the speedy hearings that are needed.

Real estate interests should keep in mind that the proposed amendments to the Fair Housing Act would continue to encourage conciliation wherever possible and would minimize the role of the federal governtment in those states that have a substantially equivalent method for resolving housing disputes. In those that do not, the federal government would be empowered to intervene. According to HUD, more than two million instances of housing discrimination occur each year. In the wake of the significant civil rights progress the US has made in the past two decades, such basic violations of constitutional rights ought not to go unchallenged. It is high time to put some teeth into federal enforcement of fair housing.

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