Johannesburg — A sudden diplomatic chill has descended on South Africa after developments earlier in the year that seemed to point toward a warming trend in the country's international relations. In the view of many analysts, the South African government has rediscovered the maxim that its international relations are inseparable from its domestic policies. Black unrest and the government's handling of it have caused new strains between Pretoria and the West, particularly the United States and Britain, these analysts point out.
The South African government also appears to have lost much of the forward momentum it gained early in 1984 in regional relations. The government's attempts to reassert its sphere of influence in southern Africa and establish a more favorable regional climate, most notably in initiatives aimed at Angola and Mozambique, have bogged down.
The most stinging development for South Africa has been the suddenly harsher criticism from President Reagan, who earlier in December put aside his usual approach of ``quiet diplomacy'' and in a speech lashed out at Pretoria's policy of racial segregation.
South African President Pieter Botha retaliated, telling the US that neither quiet diplomacy nor loud shouting would prevent his government from doing what it thought best.
But that government is clearly worried about the sudden emergence of South Africa's internal policies as a high-profile issue in the US. Pretoria appears to be bracing itself for harsher Reagan administration rhetoric in 1985 and mounting pressure in the US against business relations with South Africa. (The US is South Africa's leading trading partner.)
Although Pretoria appears most worried about a shift for the worse in relations with the US, the most dramatic deterioration has taken place in its relations with Britain.
In late May, Mr. Botha embarked on the most successful foreign tour of any Nationalist Party leader in South Africa's history.
He visited more than a half dozen European nations, talked with Britain's Margaret Thatcher, West Germany's Helmut Kohl, and the Pope in Rome, and seemed to make a start on ending decades of diplomatic isolation for South Africa.
But Western diplomatic sources here say Botha's gains have been undercut because of the serious black unrest this year in South Africa. Pretoria's plans to consolidate and advance its gains with further contacts with Western governments in 1985 have ``been put on ice,'' as one diplomat put it. Botha had also hoped to follow up his European tour with an African tour this year. But it never materialized.
The sharp decline in relations with Britain started in September when six political opponents of the South African government occupied the British Consulate in Durban.
They were protesting the government's orders that they be detained without trial. All six had been active in opposing the August elections of Indians and Coloreds (persons of mixed-race descent) to South Africa's new tricameral Parliament.
The South African government wanted the British government to evict the men. But Britain refused to force them to leave out of ``humanitarian concern'' stemming from the British government's opposition to detention without trial.
Pretoria retaliated by refusing to return to Britain four South Africans who were to go on trial in October on charges of arms smuggling. The South African government had earlier assured a British court that the men, released on bail, would be returned for the court hearing.
The British government has accused Pretoria of ``gratuitously'' breaking its assurance and warned that the step could ``only have a harmful effect on the development of the relations'' between the two countries. Although all six opponents have now left the Durban consulate (two were immediately arrested), South Africa has made no moves regarding the alleged arms smugglers.
Botha's European tour was made possible largely because of the South African government's peace initiatives (after a period of military aggression) in southern Africa in early 1984. In February South Africa agreed to withdraw its military forces from southern Angola and in March South Africa signed a nonagression pact with Mozambique, the Accord of Nkomati.
Yet South African troops are still in Angola and the accord with Mozambique has failed to bring the expected peace to that country.
South Africa's agreement with Angola appears to have become hostage to larger regional issues. The main issue is independence for Namibia (South-West Africa), now controlled illegally (in the eyes of the United Nations) by South Africa. Both South Africa and the US insist that Namibian independence be accompanied by a withdrawal of the estimated 25,000 Cuban troops in Angola.
In October, Angola agreed to link a Namibia settlement with a Cuban withdrawal. The US, acting as mediator, regarded this as a major step forward toward a Namibia settlement. But Angola and South Africa remain sharply at odds over the timing and numbers of Cubans involved in a withdrawal.
US mediator Chester Crocker said recently the negotiations were continuing and he was optimistic there was ``increasingly a will'' on all sides to reach a settlement. Meanwhile, Pretoria seems in no hurry to withdraw its troops from southern Angola.
The terms of the accord between South Africa and Mozambique called for both countries to stop supporting insurgent movements against each other's countries. Mozambique was to no longer allow the African National Congress (ANC), outlawed in South Africa, to launch raids from Mozambique into South Africa. Pretoria was to cut off South African support for the Mozambique National Resistance movement.
ANC strikes in South Africa appear to have tapered off slightly in the latter half of 1984. But the Mozambique National Resistance campaign against the Mozambican government appears to be intensifying. For years the movement has been effective in the countryside. By late 1984 it had disrupted power supplies to the capital of Maputo.
Mozambican government officials continue to suspect that the resistance movement is receiving crucial support within South Africa.
Pretoria's long-term aim is to reestablish the more favorable regional climate it enjoyed in southern Africa before the overthrow of Portuguese colonial rule in Mozambique and Angola in 1975.
South Africa's regional interests suffered another setback in 1980 when white-ruled Rhodesia became black-ruled Zimbabwe.
But Pretoria seems to have lost much of the forward momentum it had in early 1984 toward reshaping its regional relations to its own liking.