Pretoria, South Africa — The best way to promote peaceful change in South Africa is for the West to "unequivocally" oppose Cuban and Soviet involvement in the subcontinent, accept that the South African government is "genuinely and truly committed to establishing a just society," and a leave it free to go about the task "without outside interference."
That is the view of the south African minister of defense, Gen. Magnus Malan, who has emerged as one of the most influential figures in the white government here.
In an interview, General Malan also:
* Confirmed that a three-year-old arms embargo against this country had been largely ineffective, and said South Africa was now "basically self-sufficient" in weapons production.
* Warned that further attempts to isolate South Africa -- such as the imposition of economic sanctions -- could retard the process of internal change in the country.
* Criticized the United States for supplying enriched uranium to India while refusing it to South Africa, but denied that his country is working toward a nuclear weapons capability.
The general's comments came in an interview with this newspaper -- the first he has given since becoming defense minister earleir this year and one of the relatively few times he has spoken to the press in a military career spanning three decades.
During his four-year tenure as chief of the South African Defense Force (sadf), General Malan emerged as an influential figure in government circles. His appointment to the South African Cabinet earlier this year confirmed his status as one of the closest advisers to Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha. (Prior to the Malan appointment, Mr. Botha was defense minister as well as prime minister.)
General Malan's background is typical of many Afrikaners who make up the dominant white ethnic group here. But in the early 1960s, he was exposed to American military thinking at the US Army's Command General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. (American-South African military exchanges have since been terminated; General Malan reportedly was the last South African to undergo the US training course.)
According to at least one colleague, General Malan was profoundly influenced by his American training, and as he progressed through the ranks of the SADF, his own studies are said to have led him to a sobering conclusion: No nation can simultaneously fight an insurgency on its borders and an insurrection at home.
He is said to have concluded that the removal of friction between the races therefore was imperative. Once the rose to the upper echelons of the South African command structure, he set about removing much of the overt racial discrimination in the nation's military -- to the point that it is perhaps one of the most racially mixed sectors of South African society today.
The military often is held up as a model for other institutions -- and a sort of ideological "proving ground" to expose young South Africans to the idea of a peaceful racial coexistence and unity in the fight against a common external enemy (said to be communism). In fact, the involvement of Indian and Colored (mixed race) soldiers in the country's defense effort has been used as one justification for white sharing of political power with these racial groups.
Yet even as the military assumes an ever- growing role in South Africa society, General Malan remains a somewhat elusive figure, generally avoiding the press and shunning publicity. His interview with this newspaper was a rare exception -- and not without conditions attached. Written questions had to be submitted in advance. And when this reporter was ushered into the general's paneled office in the Krygkor (Armaments Corporation) Building in Pretoria, General Malan handed over an 18-page written response. In true military fashion , he had initialed his approval of each page.
Then, over a cup of tea, the general -- a tall, bespectacled, rather intense man -- amplified his remarks. His brow often furrowed as he spoke of the problems facing South Africa. But he nevertheless professed optimism that South Africa would solve its racial conflicts -- if Western nations kept the Soviets and Cubans at bay and stopped interfering in South African affairs themselves.
"There can be no doubt," he said, "that stability in [South Africa] is conducive to Western interests in the region as a whole. . . .
"But," he continued, "present efforts at santions and further isolation of South Africa will only intensify the already unstable situation in southern Africa and invite further Marxist meddling."
"The West should accept the complexity of our problems," he continued, "but even more important, it should accept the fact that we are genuinely and truly committed to establishing a just society. It should recognize our efforts toward this."
But he warned, "The complexity of our problems is conducive to violence if change is either too fast or too slow. The government must strike a balance . . . in transforming the South African society. We cannot effect change merely for the sake of satisfying our critics, most of whom are misinformed."
Those concerned about instability in the subcontinent should worry about the Cuban presence in the region, he says. The Cuban force in nearby Angola represents "potentially the most powerful single military force in southern Africa outside the Republic [of South Africa] itself," he says.
Were it not for the "stabilizing influence" of the South African military, he continues, "Cuban adventurism on the subcontinent would be rampant in a way the US would find very hard to counter without direct intervention."
Western estimates are that there currently are some 22,000 Cuban troops -- together with Soviet and East German advisers -- in Angola and Mozambique. South Africa's military force at present far outnumbers them, however. Western sources peg the number of permanent-duty soldiers at about 72,000 -- including a number of mercenaries that have recently joined the South African forces after leaving the Rhodesian military. In addition, an estimated 165,000 "citizen force" and 90,000 to 100,000 "commando" personnel could be mobilized if needed.
General Malan says the republic's defense capability is sufficient to "ward off any foreseeable military threat to its territorial integrity -- bar a scenario where direct and largescale Soviet or Communist proxy forces become involved.
Such a move would threaten Western supplies of strategic minerals from the region, he warns. For that reason, he says, the US should "state unequivocally" that it "will not stand by idly and grant either Russia or Russians proxy forces a free hand on this continent. In other words, it is time the US and its allies included southern Africa in their global strategic design, instead of drawing the line at the Tropic of Capricorn and trying to believe that what lies to the south of this line cannot possibly affect the security of the West."
Such a Western commitment would promote "stability and order" in the region, he says, "and it is the West's duty to promote this climate . . . while allowing [South Africa] enough time to solve its own problems. . . .
"The Republic would, against the stable background created by such contact, be able to advance towards the removal of discrimination, secure in the knowledge that it has the backing of the West," the general avows.
conversely, he warns, "The further isolation of South Africa would only retard change in our social system . . . . It is only because of her trust in her own strength that the republic is ready to allow peaceful change."
Moreover, says General Malan, efforts to isolate South Africa so far have not weakened the republic's military capability. In fact, he adds, the 1977 United Nations ban on arms sales to South Africa has spurred development of the domestics armaments industry (estimated by Western Analysts to be the world's 10 th largest.)
He characterizes the arms ban as a "mixed blessing," noting that "We are at this stage basically self-sufficent as regards surface weapons. . . There are few weapons or weapons systems we would not be able to manufacture locally, should this become necessary."
But he adamantly denies that the South African arsenal includes nuclear power and due to sould military considerations has no need to."
Nevertheless, he says, South African wants enriched uranium from the US for its nuclear power plants. The American failure to deliver proviously purchased enriched uranium to South Africa -- while at the same time selling the substance to India, which has exploded a nuclear device -- is an example of "the hypocrosy that characterizes international politics nowadays," he complains.