Johannesburg — The South African government appears to be caught in two minds over what it should do to do in the controversial territory of Namibia. On the one hand, the military is emphasizing Soviet designs on South Africa, with South African Defense Minister Magnus Malan warning that the country is "entering a very dangerous phase where the threat against her is escalating."
The view suggested by General Malan and voiced by many South Africans is that an independent Namibia (South-West Africa) is likely to mean the establishment of a Marxist state and a further threat to South Africa.
On the other hand, there is a recognition that some form of independence for Namibia (South-West Africa) is inevitable.
There is strong sentiment, particularly in the Foreign Affairs Department of the government, to push for a settlement now that South Africa has the friendly ear of the Reagan administration. Secret meetings between South African and United States officials in Zurich last week seem to indicate South Africa will reaffirm support for a United Nations plan for Namibian independence if all parties accept a new list of constitutional principles that provide a measure of protection to whites in the new nation.
But political analysts here say it is not at all clear which view -- the military or the diplomatic -- will prevail.
"My idea is to keep it [a Soviet threat] as far away as possible, as long as possible," says one average South African, an office clerk in Johannesburg who strongly supports the ruling National Party government. He believes that Namibia, under the administrative thumb of South Africa, provides an important buffer against Soviet influence.
The government constantly warns South Africans about growing Soviet presence in southern Africa -- and its point was point driven home last month when South African forces captured a Russian warrant officer during their raid into Angola. South Africans are clearly concerned about what form of government Namibia would have after a United Nations-sponsored election.
This translates into potential political problems for Prime Minister P. W. Botha, says political scientist Gerrit Olivier of the University of Pretoria. He points out that in the general election earlier this year, 33 percent of the Afrikaners -- descendants of early Dutch settlers -- voted against the governing National Party.
"The Afrikaner society is confused and not sure where the government is headed," says Professor Olivier. As a result, movement toward independence for Namibia, he says, "is potentially very explosive for South African politics and you can rest assured the government will not take a major risk now in undermining its own support."
Some political repercussions are already being felt. On the heels of the Sept. 24 meeting in New York of the five-nation Western "contact group," a loose alliance of conservative political organizations was formed in South Africa with the stated purpose of fighting any government move toward Namibian independence.
The Herstigte Nasionale Party, the National Conservative Party, and the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (resistance) pledged joint action to prevent whites in Namibia from being "sold out" by the government.
The group rejected the UN plan under Resolution 435 for Namibian independence , which calls for a cease-fire and a UN-supervised election. In a joint statement, the group said the answer in Namibia was the elimination of the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) that has been waging a guerrilla war against South African troops from bases in Angola.
Professor Olivier believes the Namibian situation amounts to a dilemma for South Africa that will not be easily or quickly solved.