Johannesburg — South Africa has, for the moment, sheathed its sword and apparently embarked on peace offensives with Angola and Mozambique, the two radical states who have most often borne the brunt of its attacks.
But analysts see a qualitative difference in the two initiatives. South Africa and Mozambique enter talks Friday with an apparent tenor of pragmatism and willingness to compromise.
However, discussions about a cease-fire in Angola - suggested by South Africa and met with a counteroffer by Angola and SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organization) are still characterized more by ''posturing'' and ''showmanship'' than substantial progress, say close observers.
The initiatives, coming so close together, may help South Africa appease the West, which has demanded South Africa use more diplomacy and less military force in the region.
Although South Africa likes to portray Mozambique and Angola as complimentary parts of the same Soviet pincer movement into southern Africa, the relationship of each country with Pretoria is actually quite different. It is this difference , both in style and substance, that makes analysts more hopeful about the talks with Mozambique.
Since its independence in 1975 from Portuguese rule, Mozambique has staunchly supported black majority rule in South Africa. But behind the rhetoric, Mozambique President Samora Machel has had a relatively pragmatic relationship with South Africa.
Trade and commercial links, along with quiet government contacts, persist. The net result is that despite opposite ideological points of view, both governments have, as one analyst put it, ''a feeling that they know each other.''
This is in sharp contrast to South Africa's relationship with the other former colony of Angola. Pretoria has very limited contact with the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, partly because it is further away and is less economically intertwined with South Africa. This, in the view of analysts here, has made mistrust between South Africa and Angola a far more serious hurdle than with Mozambique.
Mozambican and South African officials will reportedly meet together for several days in both of their respective capital cities, Maputo and Pretoria. The talks have been organized into four working groups dealing with security issues, economic concerns, tourism, and the Cabora Bassa hydroelectric project based in Mozambique but formerly a source of some electricity to South Africa.
From the South African side, the talks with Mozambique were initiated by Foreign Minister Roelof Botha. Officials in that department say the talks came about largely through bilateral efforts, but that both Portugal and the United States played supportive roles.
South Africa and Mozambique have had at least four high-level talks since late 1981. But the current initiative is seen as more promising. It began with a round of talks between South Africa and Mozambique in Swaziland last December.
South African officials describe the talks as still ''exploratory.'' But close analysts see a new seriousness on both sides. ''The most encouraging thing is that both sides are putting a lot more into (these talks)'' says one political analyst. ''The fact that they are designating top people, and structuring them into four working groups, suggest that both sides mean business ,'' he adds.
As one South African official put it, security issues will be the ''keystone.'' Without progress on that tendentious issue, the talks could quickly break down.
South Africa wants Mozambique to stop, or at least make a more concerted effort to restrain guerrillas from the African National Congress (ANC) from launching sabotage attacks into South Africa. There is no public evidence that the ANC has training bases in Mozambique. But South Africa maintains that many ANC attacks are planned and staged from that country.
For its part, Mozambique wants South Africa to rein in the Mozambique National Resistance. The MNR was established in 1976 by the white Rhodesian government to aid its own civil war. The group is now fighting to overthrow Mozambique President Samora Machel, and by most accounts receives assistance from South Africa.
Analysts see behind South Africa's willingness to hold bilateral talks on the security issue a tacit admission that it could play a role in lessening MNR attacks on Mozambique.
Still, no one expects the security issue to be easily resolved. While Pretoria might want, in effect, to make a direct trade - withdrawing support for the MNR if Mozambique lessens support for the ANC - most analysts feel this will be difficult for Machel.
Machel, as a black African leader who came to power through armed revolt is strongly inclined to support the ANC and is not about to do anything that implies he recognizes the legitimacy of the white minority Pretoria regime, point out close observers.
For its part, Pretoria has made clear that it will continue to pressure, through cross-border strikes if necessary, all black neighboring states that in its eyes materially help the ANC. Three raids have been launched into Mozambique , which has been most resistent to Pretoria's pressures.
South Africa enters the talks in the stronger position, both militarily and economically. Mozambique has been hard hit by drought and recession and has been looking to the West for more financial assistance.
Portugal's role in the talks appears to stem mainly from its concern over the Cabora Bassa plant. The project was built during Portuguese rule in Mozambique and the Portugal still owes much money on the project. South Africa originally signed a contract to buy electricity from Cabora Bassa, but attacks by the MNR in recent years have allowed the project to function only intermittently.
One question that has perplexed observers here is why a South African-supported MNR would hit a hydroelectric plant used by South Africa. Perhaps, some speculate, to disguise its links with Pretoria.
While there has been no major progress on a cease-fire in Angola, discussions apparently continue. Pretoria's most recent offer to talk directly with SWAPO through South Africa's administrator general in Namibia (South-West Africa), has had a favorable but skeptical response from that organization. In a statement from Angola, SWAPO reportedly said it hoped the Pretoria offer was ''genuine'' and would concern only the issue of a cease-fire.
SWAPO apparently is wary that Pretoria would use the talks to bolster the political standing of internal parties in Namibia. Another stumbling block is SWAPO's desire that cease-fire talks be linked to elections in Namibia, a connection Pretoria is not willing to make.