Johannesburg — South Africa's security crackdown in Namibia seems to be a reminder to all concerned that Pretoria's mood for dialogue on the territory's future has limits.
The arrest of 37 SWAPO leaders and allies on June 9 and a tough warning from the administrator of the territory come as the Reagan administration tries to nudge forward the process of Namibian independence.
Most of the internal leaders of SWAPO (the South West Africa People's Organization), which is fighting South Africa for control of Namibia, were arrested that day. And Namibian administrator general Willie Van Niekerk warns of a tougher attitude in general toward the internal wing of SWAPO if a wave of bombings in the territory continues.
''Unless SWAPO ceases its atrocities against the people of this territory the security forces will have to take further steps against the organization,'' Dr. Van Niekerk says.
SWAPO as an organization is not banned in Namibia, and SWAPO members who do not promote violence are allowed to be there. SWAPO political gatherings are restricted, however, and it appears this is the basis for the detentions.
Those arrests were made at what appeared to be a social function held to celebrate the earlier release of a number of SWAPO prisoners.
The events seem to show an element of frustration on South Africa's part. South Africa has apparently shut down SWAPO's main military bases in southern Angola through an agreement with that country calling for the withdrawal of Pretoria's forces. But sabotage inside Namibia has continued.
Since the beginning of this month some 12 civilians have been killed, 28 wounded, and 12 have been abducted during alleged guerrilla operations, according to the Namibia security forces.
Van Niekerk's statement preceded by three days a scheduled meeting between the chief architect of US policy in Africa, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker, and South African Prime Minister Pieter Botha and Foreign Minister Roelof Botha.
Dr. Crocker's immediate aim appears to be to see South Africa's withdrawal from southern Angola completed. Roelof Botha said three weeks ago that the final withdrawal was imminent, but it has yet to occur.
Crocker's broader objective will be to try to use the withdrawal as a stepping stone for further progress toward independence for Namibia.
The Reagan administration hopes the South African troop pullout will make the Angolans more willing to send Cuban troops back to Havana. The official US and South African position is that a Cuban withdrawal must accompany Namibian independence.
Analysts here say the apparent delay in the withdrawal of South African troops from southern Angola is a sign that Pretoria and the Angola goverment in Luanda may differ over their future relationship.
South Africa would clearly like a continued ban on SWAPO bases in southern Angola.
Prime Minister Botha said during his just-ending tour of Europe that South Africa would like a nonaggression pact with Angola similar to the one it signed with Mozambique last March.
Angola's desires are not clear. But Dr. Crocker has been trying to find an arrangement suitable to both Angola and South Africa.