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Southern Africa; Rocked by sabotage, guerrilla raids

By David WinderStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 13, 1983

Ships are sunk in Mozambique harbors. Water tanks are exploded in Lesotho. Railroads are sabotaged in Angola. The southern tier of black African states sees the hand of South Africa behind these acts that have taken place with increasing regularity in recent months. They charge South Africa is out to destabilize the black-ruled nations of southern Africa politically and economically so that it can control events in the region.

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Pretoria denies any complicity. A spokesman at the South African Embassy in Washington says, ''If South Africa really wanted to destabilize southern Africa, it wouldn't have taken this long to do it.'' He insists that South Africa is willing to sign nonaggression pacts with its black neighbors.

South of the political divide that separates black Africa from white-ruled South Africa, acts of sabotage are occurring, too. And South Africa is charging that it is the victim of destabilization in southern Africa.

Some United States officials take the view that when South Africa has struck directly at black states militarily it is because these states have broken a tacit understanding not to allow their territories to be used as training bases or launching pads for attacking South Africa. (The Reagan administration is more sympathetic to the South African government than previous administrations.)

What is not in doubt is that the entire region embracing the white bastions of South Africa and Namibia (South-West Africa) as well as the neighboring black states of Angola, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Mozambique, reverberates with calculated acts of sabotage and political violence.

In South Africa, a succession of explosions last December rocked the continent's only nuclear power plant just 25 miles north of Cape Town. And in Bloemfontein, the heartland of Afrikanerdom, the outlawed African National Congress (ANC) claimed responsibility for the February bombing of a South African government office that handles African work permits. The blast was the 30th reported incident of terrorism in South Africa since the beginning of 1982.

South African newspapers of Feb. 25 and 26 respectively reported a fire in the Atomic Energy Corporation's facility at Palindaba near Pretoria in northern South Africa and major power failures in the western and eastern Cape in the south. The attack Dec. 18-19 on the high-security Koeberg nuclear plant just outside Cape Town, where Soviet-made limpet mines were used in explosions that took place over a 12-hour period, shows that sabotage tactics are becoming increasingly more potent and sophisticated.

David Ndaba, New York spokesman of the outlawed ANC, which was banned in South Africa in 1960 and which takes responsibility for most acts of sabotage, says that so far the targets have been selective. The sabotage has been directed against symbols of apartheid (South Africa's enforced system of racial separation) such as military installations and police stations.

But Mr. Ndaba says his organization will soon be able to raise its level of activity to ''direct armed clashes'' with the South African authorities.

South Africa senses this may be true and is beefing up its military forces to meet its growing security needs. The country is already the strongest military power in Africa south of the Sahara - but its new budget calls for a 16 percent increase in military spending. And military spending tripled over the past eight years.

Much of the new defense spending will go toward a border war in Namibia, where South Africa is fighting a protracted guerrilla war with the South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO).

According to African experts like Prof. Gwendolen M. Carter, an analyst of South African politics who has recently visited southern Africa, the white republic's confidence as a regional economic and military giant is being sapped by an uneasiness over the country's internal security problems and the rise of black militancy.

South Africa's Israeli-like response to acts of terrorism is to hit hard at targets across its borders where it feels the ANC is either taking sanctuary or operating military bases.

But South Africa's assertions that it acts only in self-defense and is willing to adopt a live-and-let-live policy toward its black neighbors are questioned by the ANC and a number of Africa analysts.

''They don't attack military bases. They go for electrical power lines, fuel depots, and railroads. The aim is economic and political destabilization,'' Mr. Ndaba says.