S. Africa shows that might makes peace...if not right

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In southern Angola, South African troops and SWAPO guerrillas are apparently observing their first cease-fire after 18 years of conflict over control of Namibia.

In Mozambique, Indian Ocean resorts are sprucing up for possible visits by South African tourists. This less than a year after South African counterinsurgency units raided the country.

In the tiny kingdom of Swaziland, South African troops recently traded their guns for shovels to help dig out from a devastating cyclone.

Recommended: Four things Syria must do after Bashar al-Assad

These events, observers say, point to two important developments in southern Africa:

* South Africa has regained the political initiative in the region primarily by making its military dominance manifest.

* South Africa's relations with neighboring black states may be entering a more outwardly benign phase, as Pretoria moves to consolidate its military gains with peace largely on its own terms. Some feel this phase may include concessions from Pretoria - most notably a settlement in Namibia (South-West Africa) - since it is operating from a position of commanding strength.

These developments are likely to make the mid-1980s a period of shifting strategies for southern Africa's black states as they try to come to terms with Pretoria's power while not violating their own deep-felt opposition to white-minority rule in South Africa, analysts say.

One implication is clear: The main black nationalist movement challenging South Africa - the outlawed African National Congress - is faced with declining regional support for its insurgency campaign. South Africa has pressured neighboring states economically and militarily to drop any material support for the ANC. This could shift the black struggle back within South Africa's borders.

Pretoria is doing all it can to foster the impression it is taking the extra step to bring peace to the region. Its black neighbors, economically weak and reeling from what they see as a bout of South African-sponsored ''destabilization,'' see Pretoria's moves as opportunistic.

The relationship between South Africa and neighboring states is inherently ''not a coequal one,'' points out Hermann Giliomee, a political scientist at the University of Cape Town. He adds, ''South Africa is insisting on being treated as a regional superpower.'' For now, he says, the black states see it in their interest to acquiesce.

This does not mean they have capitulated into accepting white rule in South Africa, says Michael Spicer of the South African Institute of International Affairs. ''From the perspective of the black states, they are simply changing their strategy. Pretoria holds virtually all the cards, so the neighboring states realize they must adapt,'' he says.

There appears to be a tacit agreement among the region's key black states to allow each country to accommodate itself to Pretoria's demands without criticism from the others. By remaining united, the black states hope to exert maximum pressure and extract some concessions of their own from South Africa, close observers say.

But Pretoria is clearly setting the terms of the uneasy but calmer relationship emerging between itself and its neighbors, analysts agree. South Africa is demanding that no bordering state materially help the ANC in its insurgency against South Africa. It is demanding that Angola stop SWAPO (the South West Africa People's Organization) guerrillas from infiltrating Namibia.

Agreements stopping these insurgencies offer an opening for South Africa to pursue a broader aim, experts say. Pretoria seeks a general rollback of Soviet influence in southern Africa, which rose dramatically with the coming of independent Marxist governments in Mozambique in 1975 and Angola in 1976.

South Africa has long claimed the Soviets have a ''destabilizing'' influence in the region. Many analysts say Pretoria is concerned lest the Soviets encroach on South Africa's goal of maintaining regional hegemony.

South Africa's aim to decrease Soviet influence in southern Africa coincides with a similar goal of the Reagan administration, diplomatic sources say. It is unclear how coordinated the strategy is.

The United States has criticized some South African military actions. At the same time the Reagan administration has taken advantage of the weakened condition of Angola and Mozambique, trying to woo them into closer links with the West.

Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda recently said South Africa was hoping to create a cordon sanitaire of dependent black states on its borders. But he was sure the effort would ultimately fail.

What South Africa is offering in exchange for the strategic neutrality of its neighbors is a cessation of the direct and covert military activities that have hammered them since 1981. Pretoria is also offering closer economic ties to hard-hit neighboring states. While this is being welcomed by some black states, it also fits nicely with South Africa's long-term aim of expanding its economic influence in the region, analysts point out. Developments are clearly going the way Pretoria would like.

South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha has for years been warning South African whites that they faced a ''total onslaught'' from hostile black states and guerrillas, both backed by Soviet power.

This year he told Parliament with satisfaction, ''We are entering a new era of realism in southern Africa.''

A look at some of the key black states and their relations with South Africa helps explain Mr. Botha's satisfaction with the direction of events:

ANGOLA. South Africa and Angola have just agreed to the first cease-fire among the combatants in the dispute over control of Namibia. South Africa has long viewed Angola as regional enemy No. 1 because of its ties to the Soviet Union, the presence of thousands of Cuban troops in the Africa nation, and its readiness to allow SWAPO to raid Namibia from bases in southern Angola.

South Africa began turning the screws on Angola in 1981 with a large invasion against SWAPO bases in Angola. South African troops apparently never completely left Angola after the raid.

Meanwhile, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola has been making substantial gains against the Angolan government. Pretoria is widely acknowledged to provide assistance to UNITA rebels.

These pressures and the economic drain of the deteriorating security situation apparently forced Angola to the negotiating table. South Africa appears to gain more than it gives under the cease-fire.

It calls for South Africa to withdraw from southern Angola. In exchange, Angola has agreed to keep SWAPO and the Cuban troops away from the border with Namibia. In effect, South Africa has stopped the guerrilla war that has simmered in Namibia since 1966 without a firm commitment to Namibian independence.

MOZAMBIQUE. South Africa and Mozambique have agreed not to allow their territories to be used for aggression against each other. Presumably, this means Mozambique, the conduit for most ANC strikes into South Africa, will no longer permit the ANC to operate militarily from its soil. South Africa, in turn, will lessen its widely alleged support of the rebel Mozambique National Resistance Movement (MNR) in that country.

More broadly, a nonaggression pact with Mozambique will be a considerable diplomatic triumph for South Africa. Pretoria may view it as an opportunity to advance its aim of establishing some kind of regional economic body involving all the states of southern Africa, with South Africa at the center.

South Africa once envisioned a ''constellation of southern African states'' with various parties signing nonaggression pacts with Pretoria. Regional black opposition stopped it from ever getting off the ground. But analysts say Pretoria's basic desire for a regional economic grouping probably remains. The agreement with Mozambique could give the concept new momentum.

With the security arrangement, Pretoria achieves a longstanding goal of forcing Mozambique to restrain the ANC. South Africa claims most ANC attacks are staged from Mozambique. The arrangement, however, has required a basic shift in position for Mozambique.

Mozambican President Samora Machel, who keeps a pistol strapped to the waist of his green fatigues, has been a staunch supporter of black ''liberation'' in South Africa. Dropping strategic support for the ANC represents an about-face for him, analysts say.

Also, Machel always rejected any assertion that the MNR and ANC are at all comparable. He sees the ANC as a genuine liberation movement but characterizes the MNR as a puppet of Pretoria.

Why the shift? Large numbers of people are starving in Mozambique, which has been hard hit by drought and recession.

Machel has reportedly also lost control of substantial parts of the country to the rebels. And Mozambique has been struck hard by the South African military , which has raided the capital, Maputo, three times since 1981 because of ANC activities in Mozambique.

Mozambique apparently hopes to regain economic and strategic equilibrium from its rapprochement with South Africa. The Mozambican economy is heavily entwined with South Africa's, and Pretoria has offered some expanded economic cooperation , including more tourism to its northeastern neighbor.

Mozambique also is seeking improved relations with the West. South Africa can help Mozambique achieve a degree of stability that is essential for the Western investment Mozambique needs, many analysts say.

In an interview with a French journalist who recently visited Mozambique, an official involved with the new security arrangements with South Africa explained: ''If we continued our past policies, there would soon be nothing more to destroy in Mozambique.''

ZIMBABWE. South Africa's relationship with this country has been bristly ever since Robert Mugabe came to power in 1980. But Zimbabwe has from the start disallowed any ANC military activity from its soil.

South African Foreign Minister Roelof Botha said recently when asked about relations with Zimbabwe, ''I am satisfied (that) they have become realistic.''

SWAZILAND. Only a few years ago South Africa saw this small country as an important transit area for ANC guerrillas from Mozambique. The threat of military action appears to have been sufficient to bring compliance from Swaziland on the ANC.

South Africa has provided assistance in the wake of a recent cyclone and even attempted to give Swaziland some land it has long sought. The land transfer, stalled by court action, would have pleased Swaziland and helped South Africa shed some of its black population.

LESOTHO. After a devastating strike into this tiny kingdom in December 1982 and economic pressure from South Africa, Lesotho reluctantly became more cooperative in expelling persons it considers ''political refugees'' but whom Pretoria regards as ANC guerrillas.

South African satisfaction with the pattern of events in southern Africa is one reason some analysts say a major concession may be forthcoming. They see South Africa agreeing at last to surrender control of Namibia.

These observers say South Africa has remained in Namibia because it did not want another left-leaning black government on its border. It is commonly thought SWAPO would win an open election in Namibia.

Also, South Africa was concerned about the psychological consequences of a SWAPO victory. A SWAPO government would complete the semiencirclement of South Africa by hostile governments. But Pretoria may see a SWAPO regime as of less consequence to its own interests, given its demonstrated ability to neutralize more powerful states of the region, some analysts say.

Also, the fear of a white backlash may have subsided since the ruling National Party won such a commanding victory in a recent referendum on its proposed new constitution for South Africa.

Those optimistic about a Namibia settlement also cite economic factors. The government will need to devote considerable resources to making its new constitution a success. The constitution will bring Coloreds (persons of mixed race descent) and Indians, but not blacks, into the previously all-white Parliament.

To satisfy Coloreds and Indians that their participation in such a new government is worth their while, Pretoria will be forced to spend more money on their education, housing, and other social services, analysts say.

In a statement to Parliament last month, Prime Minister Botha gave the impression that South Africa now wants out of Namibia. He cited the $1.5 billion it costs South Africa annually to administer the territory.

A Namibia settlement is a major aim of the black states of southern Africa. They believe it could greatly reduce regional tensions and focus international attention on internal changes in South Africa.

Next: The African National Congress

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...