Namibia: A New Era Dawns. AFRICA'S LAST COLONY
ELSIE MASEKE, for one, is sure of the benefits independence will bring. ``We'll all get enough to eat and enough to wear,'' says the 17-year-old student, counting off the list on her fingers. ``We'll get all the things white people have.'' She thinks for a moment, then adds, ``And my biology class will get a microscope.''Skip to next paragraph
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While their expectations may not coincide exactly with Ms. Maseke's, many here have high hopes for this Texas-sized territory. For after almost 70 years of often heavy-handed South African rule and a bloody guerrilla conflict, Africa's last colonial struggle is about to end.
Today, a United Nations special representative is scheduled to arrive to oversee the implementation of UN Resolution 435. That plan - which takes effect tomorrow - calls for a UN-supervised transition over the next seven months leading to elections for a constituent assembly. The assembly will draw up a constitution - and Namibia finally will be free.
But a lot could come between Maseke and her dream of a microscope. For starters, there's the stiff-necked South African military, many of whose top officers are dead-set against Namibian independence. Those sentiments are shared by local security forces, who for years have been trained to exterminate guerrillas of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) - the group most likely to win elections.
Then there's the white community, which largely rejects Resolution 435 and has vowed to fight black majority rule. And an inherently weak economy that's almost totally dependent on South Africa. Add to that the obvious problems SWAPO will have in converting from revolutionary rebels to party politicians - and analysts say you have all the ingredients for potential disaster.
It's as though ``South Africa has built a house on pillars in which it planted explosive devices that could be detonated at any time,'' says Dr. Kenneth Abrahams, a former SWAPO member who now belongs to another opposition group.``If just one of those pillars blows, the whole structure could come tumbling down.'' And, he adds,``we could degenerate into another Lebanon or Northern Ireland.''
To be sure, others believe that with the eyes of the world - and the UN - peeled on this place, there's a fair chance independence will go smoothly.
It's something the 1.5 million inhabitants of this desolately beautiful land come to almost by default. South Africa agreed to give up Namibia - which it has ruled in defiance of UN resolutions - as part of a Dec. 22 peace accord aimed at ending neighboring Angola's 13-year-old civil war. In exchange for Cuba gradually pulling its estimated 50,000 troops out of Angola, South Africa withdrew its soldiers - and accepted 435.
BUT ranking armed forces officers say there's widespread resentment at being forced to accept the link between Namibian independence and solving the Angolan muddle. Indeed, they see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - which essentially engineered the United States-sponsored deal - as having sold out to communists. (That's the way they characterize SWAPO.) Moreover, they worry about setting an example for black nationalists fighting the segregationist apartheid system back home.
While no one suggests that Pretoria's military men might try to torpedo 435, some clearly are trying to influence its outcome. For instance, the managing director of a major company here says a South African colonel - in full dress uniform - dropped in unannounced a couple of weeks ago to give the firm's senior staff a two-hour lecture on the evils of SWAPO and urge them to vote for the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance.
(The DTA, as it's known, is a multiracial crazy-quilt of parties that's closely identified with Pretoria. It's also thought to be SWAPO's strongest competitor.)
South African battalions also reportedly have been passing out DTA literature in the north - and tearing up anything displaying the blue, red, and green SWAPO colors. Harassment by security forces has gotten so bad, in fact, that an urgent court application was filed recently to get them to stop interfering with SWAPO supporters.
Even a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official concedes that ``there are military people who don't want to see this thing happen. It has been, and will be, a major problem. But we think they can be isolated.''