Africa's `dirty little secret'. The grim reality behind the war in Namibia
Namibia: The Violent Heritage, by David Soggot. London: Rex Collins. 333 pp. 17.50. BRUTALLY colonized by Germany and ruled by South Africa since the end of World War I, Namibia - or South-West Africa as Pretoria calls it - is a territory twice the size of California with almost 1.5 million inhabitants. Wedged between Angola and South Africa, it has been the scene of a 20-year conflict bloodier than ``the troubles'' of Northern Ireland, a land of approximately the same population that has been fighting for roughly the same period of time.Skip to next paragraph
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Ulster's war has claimed 2,600 lives over the last two decades. Applied proportionally to the United States, that would be a death rate of 400,000, nearly the level of destruction of the US Civil War. The outgoing commanding officer of the South-West Africa Territorial Force, Maj. Gen. Georg Meiring, recently confirmed that the carnage in Namibia was six times larger. Security forces have killed 10,260 ``enemy forces'' or guerrillas of the South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO) fighting for independence from bases in Angola, in addition to the deaths of 1,379 civilians and 605 security personnel.
This little-known territory has been the center of diplomatic activity for years. It was the cornerstone of US Africa policy during the first term of the Reagan administration, when an attempt was made to link a negotiated settlement to the removal of Cuban troops from Angola. This idea was flawed from the start, but it collapsed formally when Washington decided to supply arms to South African-backed antigovernment rebels in Angola. The war in Namibia has spread inexorably to Angola, where it will be further fueled by the regional ambitions of South Africa and the global rivalries of the great powers.
Today, the ravages of the conflict are a sideshow in the array of southern African wars and rebellions. Bypassed by the news media in preference to the drama now being played out in apartheid's heartland, Namibia is like a dirty little secret that no one wants to hear about because it has been relegated to the back burner of diplomatic priorities and seems far from resolution. But David Soggot, a defense attorney who represented many of the main participants in the conflict, exposes the grim reality in a rigorously detailed account from the time of German occupation to the mid-1980s.
Mr. Soggot describes Namibia as a social laboratory of apartheid, a testing ground for military and counterinsurgency techniques and an experiment in social engineering with amended race laws aimed at piecemeal reforms - all in a society whose white population is uniquely affected by pro-Nazi Aryan pride and Afrikaner certainty.
Flesh and bones are put on a historical narrative that is rendered from the point of view of Namibian nationalists.
Of particular note is his treatment of the central role of the Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches, many of whose ministers and priests have been victims of imprisonment, torture, and exile. ``The Bible,'' he writes, ``became the Magna Carta for a new humanity.'' The churches have been the third element in the nationalists' strategic triad, along with SWAPO (the political arm) and PLAN (the military wing).